My first encounter with textured vegetable protein was at my great aunt and uncle’s vegetarian home restaurant in Thailand. The vegan and vegetarian food culture out in Asia is strong and has an ecosystem of fresh produce. The abundance of locally grown fruits, vegetables and herbs make a fantastic place to eat non-animal based meals.
I don’t go back to my birth country very often, but when I do, I’m always enlightened by the way food is prepared, cooked and consumed.
In the world of vegetarians and vegans out in that part of the world, textured vegetable protein is highly accepted and is sold in giant sacks for anyone that wants to bulk buy.
But what is textured vegetable protein? What does it taste like? and how do you cook with it?
I’ve recently started to foray into textured vegetable protein as part of my regular diet and here are my findings.
What is textured vegetable protein?
Textured vegetable protein goes by a few names – textured soy protein, soy meat, soya chunks, plant-based meat, and vegan meat are a few common names.
Textured vegetable protein is often shortened to the acronym TVP, which is less of a mouthful and sometimes easier to market to meat-eaters who may bulk at the idea of a non-meat based ‘meat’.
TVP was invested by a food processing company – Archer Daniels Midland in the 60s – and was widely used in the 70s in school lunch programs as a meat extender.
TVP is often made from soy protein (a protein that is isolated from soybeans) and/or soy flour. TVP can also be made from cotton seeds, wheat, and oats, depending on the manufacturer.
The final product often gets extruded into different shapes, such as flakes, nuggets, strips or chunks. The TVP then gets heated up to 150–200°C , which often results a porous structure that can soak up liquid when it gets rehydrated.
Nutritionally, TVP is 7% water, 34% carbohydrates, 1% fat and 52% protein. It is extremely high in folate and contains a good deal of iron and several of the B vitamins.
Sometimes its association with vegan meat can put off meat-eaters. However, TVP is often used as a meat extender in many commercially produced products such as chicken nuggets and beef burger patties. It is also a good way to stretch the budget and make your mince go a bit further.
Because TVP is high in protein, it makes a good addition and alternative to boosting your protein intake if you’re looking to go plant-based or want something that will make a good high protein alternative.
What does TVP taste like?
In the grand scheme of things, TVP doesn’t really taste like anything in particular. It has a gentle beany smell to it and a slightly nutty taste if you were to eat it raw.
This makes TVP quite versatile when it comes to cooking with it. Being highly porous means that it’ll absorb whatever flavorings you add to your recipe. If you mix it with meat, it’ll take on the taste and blend right in.
This means that when you’re cooking with TVP, you’ll need to add a little bit more seasoning than usual.
I learned this the first few times when I made my food either too salty or too bland. You’ll need to experiment a little to get your spices and flavors right for you.
How do you cook with TVP?
Before you can do anything with TVP, you need to rehydrate it.
The general advice is to soak it in water – but remember, TVP absorbs whatever flavors you use on it. This means that if you soak it in water, it’s going to taste like water.
And that’s where a lot of people go wrong (unless you plan to add it to meat as an extender).
Season your rehydration liquid with either soy sauce, salt, sugar or whatever flavor profile you’re after. I figured that if I rehydrate my TVP in vegetable stock, it gives the nuggets more dimension in flavor than just watery blandness.
Rehydrating TVP only takes about 10 minutes in a warm liquid. Or you can throw them into your soups, broths, curries, and stews dry. They’ll absorb whatever you’re cooking. Just be sure to put in a little bit more liquid than usual because the TVP will soak it all up.
If you got the chunks instead of the flakes and want it took like more like meat, you can put them in the blender after they’ve been rehydrated and it’ll look like tuna flakes in its natural, unflavored form. If you follow the recipe below, it can end up looking and tasting like ground beef.
How do you make TVP taste like meat?
Maybe you’re curious about how to make TVP taste like meat. I’m not a vegan or vegetarian but I am working on becoming more mindful of the animal products I consume.
I still like the taste of meat and sometimes, I just want to whip something up quickly when I don’t have any mince in the fridge or when the budget is running a bit lower than usual.
The trick to making TVP taste more like meat is to add a little bit of liquid iron. Why? that’s because iron is what gives meat its ‘meaty’ taste.
Here’s a rough guide on how I make fake mince for a speedy, meat-free patty for my burgers. This recipe also works for nuggets as well. Instead of turning it into a burger patty, you just make nugget shaped things instead.
Quick Vegan Beef Patties
- 1 cup TVP
- water to soak
- 5 mL liquid iron
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/4 cup dried potato flakes
- dried bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup tomato pasta sauce or any kind of thick tomato thing
- 2 mL soy sauce
- vegetable oil to fry
How to prep/cook:
- soak the TVP in warm water for about 10 minutes or until TVP is soft to break with fingers
- squeeze out water and chuck the chunks into a blender
- throw in all your other ingredients except for the bread crumbs
- blitz with the blender until it’s all mixed together
- if the mixture looks too dry, a little bit of water at a time. If the mixture looks too wet, add equal parts flour and potato flakes. The mixture should be thick enough to form into a pattie shape without falling apart.
- Crumb with bread crumbs. This step isn’t compulsory but gives it a nice texture.
- Fry up your patty in a pan on low heat. If it breaks apart, it means that your patty is too dry. Don’t worry, it’ll still taste good.
- Once golden brown on both sides, serve however you like.
Here’s a picture of the one I made.
I know it has an egg in it, so this burger is more vegetarian than vegan. I guess this is what flexitarianism looks like.
If you have got dried potato flakes on hand and need something to stick it all together, an egg works as well. You can also get creative and add your favorite flavors like curries and chillis to the mixture as well to give it dimension.
The burger patty I made in the picture below, however, is 100% plant-based.
Where can you buy TVP?
TVP is a vegetarian and vegan staple in Indian cuisine, so you’ll most likely find them in the bulk buy section there for really cheap. I haven’t really found them at the Asian store out here in New Zealand and there is one brand of TVP available at the supermarket.
I’m not sure what it’s like out the US or Canada but I’ve heard you can get it in the health food section. I’m guessing it’s the same for UK and European countries.
If you don’t want to go hunting down for it, here are a few that I found on Amazon and the liquid iron that I used for my quick vegan beef burger patties.