TVP is what meat eaters disparagingly call “filler.” It may be used by cafeterias and large families to stretch ground beef when making tacos, meatloaf or casseroles. Knowingly or not, it is a common source of protein for everyone from vegans to omnivores.
Intentionally Use Textured Vegetable Protein
Unprepared textured vegetable protein resembles blonde Post Grape Nuts (wheat meal)—a cereal I despised as a child but grew to appreciate unsweetened occasionally as an adult. Even with this acquired taste, TVP straight out of the package is bland by comparison—virtually inedible. One reason is because it is dehydrated soy protein—most of the time. It can also be made from wheat gluten or other vegetables.
First, A Bit of Controversy
Jump directly to the recipe or continue reading the backstory. You might be surprised to discover how many processed foods contain TVP. The USDA may not require listing it on the label unless the meat-to-TVP ratio is less than 7:1. The disclosure threshold actually varies for specific foodstuffs. TVP is commonly found in frozen foods, sausages, hot dogs, meatballs, canned chili, spices, infant formulas, protein bars and dried snack foods. Soy protein may also be injected into pork products or added to brine in order to meet the minimum 17% protein content. [1,2]
Some brands of TVP, sometimes listed as soy protein isolates, include undesirable flavor additives like MSG. For our purposes, let’s assume we are using plain soy protein with no additives.  Trace amounts hexane are used in the manufacture of TVP. Critics also contend that isoflavones found in soy products, though natural, exhibit estrogen-like effects in the body. Extrapolating this, some may conclude there’s a possible link to hormone-related cancers. It should be noted that researchers have not reached a mutual conclusion on the matter. Some studies even suggest soy products may benefit cancer patients.
Hexane is a cost-effective and highly efficient method for separating whole soybeans into soy oil, soy protein isolate, or texturized soy protein (TVP). Tofu and soymilk are very rarely processed with hexane-extracted ingredients.
Sally Scroggs, a registered dietitian and senior health education specialist at M.D. Andersons’ Cancer Prevention Center in Houston, Texas concludes “We have gone from saying, ‘No soy for breast cancer survivors’ to, ‘It's not going to hurt.’” Scroggs says, “Now it looks like we can say, ‘It may help.’”
I realise it is unsettling to begin a recipe by discussing health consequences. Nevertheless, this unassuming staple, at less than two bucks a pound, stirs controversy—even among people who already unknowingly consume it. Realistically, just about everything is harmful in large doses. Meat, potatoes, eggs, cinnamon, water, even pure oxygen may all be harmful or toxic in excessive quantities. So exercise good sense. Vegetarians, like everyone else, require protein three times a day. Protein sources should be varied. They might include nuts, beans, lentils, cheese, tofu and occasionally TVP.
This insight into the TVP controversy is not meant to convince staunch proponents from switching sides. It is difficult to determine how much of the debate is fanned by special-interest groups. I posit the contents of common breakfast sausage is far more harmful than TVP but I am a vegetarian. If you are inclined toward the protein supplement in question and there are no soy allergies, continue reading this recipe.
Nutritional benefits of Textured Vegetable Protein: One cup of prepared TVP contains 224 calories (11.2% of recommended daily amount), 26g carbohydrates, 12g fiber, 32g protein, 81% RDA potassium, and 16% RDA calcium. 
How to Prepare Textured Vegetable Protein
There is no single way to prepare TVP. Some cooks dump it unmodified into soups or sauces as a thickening agent. Rehydrating with liquids like vegetable broth or tomato sauce produces more appetizing results than plain water. We are aiming for a slightly crumbly though moist consistency that sticks together, for lack of a better analogy, like hamburger meat. This is great for tacos. If you add it to soup or chili, however, it is likely to disperse into the liquid.
In restaurants, cooking times are significantly reduced with proper prep. Sous chefs arrive early to chop and simmer frequently used ingredients. The one thing you can prepare in advance for this meaty filing is the seasoning. You could measure everything out each time you cook, buy it preassembled, or skip the nitrites and prepare a batch to use as needed. Here’s the mixture I keep on hand courtesy of the Food Network.
Emeril‘s Southwest Seasoning 
- 2 Tbs chili powder
- 2 Tbs ground cumin
- 2 Tbs paprika
- 1 Tbs dried oregano
- 1 Tbs ground coriander
- 1 Tbs cayenne pepper
- 1 Tbs garlic powder
- 1 Tbs crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 Tbs salt
- 1 Tbs black pepper
You will end up with a half cup of seasoning that can be used for soups, chili and more taco “meat” in the future. Now let’s rehydrate that TVP with the ingredients in the “meat” column. This produces about a cup and a half of taco filling, sufficient for about a dozen tacos. Scale recipe as required for the amount of people.
I am a cilantro-chomping, jalapeño-popping foodie. This is a baseline recipe that is not too spicy in my opinion. Nevertheless, some diners can’t stomach the least bit of hotness. If that’s your case, you may substitute bell peppers for jalapeños.
You can also add more ingredients like corn, black olives and celery but, as I said, I am establishing a baseline focused on achieving the ultimate texture. When using this for a taco filling, you’ll likely have extra toppings anyway. Once you get the technique down, you can adjust to your own tastebuds and sense of adventure.
- Add Ragu tomato sauce to the water in a microwave-safe container and heat for 2 minutes or simmer the liquids in a pan.
- Heat olive oil in a non-stick skillet while dicing onions and peppers. Sauté veggies with a dash of salt and pepper until onions are slightly translucent, yet firm.
- Stir dry spices into TVP. The flax seed adds vital omega-3 fatty acids but flavor will not be affected if unavailable. Slowly pour in warmed liquid while stirring.
It takes a combination of heat and liquid to reconstitute dehydrated TVP. With about half the liquid mixed in, the TVP will begin to resemble coarse taco meat. Add the moistened TVP to the pan of onions and stir in remaining sauce as needed. Lower heat and simmer. Most of the water within it will evaporate within a few minutes. Click an image on this page to view photos of the progression. When the desired constancy is achieved, there are a couple more options.
A nearby vegetarian restaurant charges $5 per veggie taco. A family of four could easily spend over $50 in tacos alone, before adding beverages or sides. Using this simple recipe, you could conceivably prepare ten times the amount of tacos for half that cost.
To make tacos, shred some lettuce, dice tomatoes and mince cilantro. Warm taco shells in a pan lightly greased with olive oil. Add contents and fold. This versatile meaty filling can also be used in frittatas, egg rolls, empanadas, enchiladas, pizza topping or mixed with more tomato sauce and served over pasta.
With this recipe, we manage to replicate a savory “meat” filling for a variety of foods that is rich in omega-3 (flax seed), potassium, and protein with no artery-clogging trans fats. It is so tasty, diners won’t even realize it doesn’t contain meat—unless you spoil the surprise. Now that’s something to keep everyone A Bit More Healthy.
- Non-Meat Ingredients. fao.org
- Comprehensive List of Reasons for Label Modifications and Returns. usda.gov
- All About Textured Vegetable Protein - TVP® usaemergencysupply.com
- Is TVP Healthy? livestrong.com
- Emeril's Southwest Seasoning Recipe. foodnetwork.com