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Monday, April 27, 2020

To TVP or Not to TVP: That is the Question


Does anybody, here, use TVP in their meals regularly?

TVP stands for Textured Vegetable Protein, also called TSP (textured soy protein). It's made from defatted soybeans, after the oil is extracted for making vegetable oil. The defatted soybeans are then processed into bits and chunks. If you've ever eaten a cheapo frozen burrito (hello, 7-11 from my college days), then you've probably had some TVP. It's that chewy bit mixed in with the other ingredients to fake a meat texture. Because it is made from beans (soybeans) so it has all of the protein associated with beans. Soybeans, in particular, contain all of the essential amino acids. And it can be really cheap, depending on where and how much you buy at any one time. The bits are often cheaper than the chunks; but the chunks are preferred for a more meaty approximation. Also, some TVP has wheat flour in it. There is also gluten-free TVP, which is oddly often less expensive than non gluten-free.

With so many US meat processing plants experiencing shutdowns due to COVID-19, it's my understanding that we could see some meat shortages in the next several months. Depending on how quickly the US can get the virus under control in the regions with these production facilities, these shutdowns could end in a couple of weeks, or go on for a couple of months. This situation is affecting the poultry, beef, and pork industry. And you know how it works with shortages, there may be some product, but what you find in the grocery store is more expensive than you're used to. So, with this in mind, I'm looking to other sources of high-quality protein to fulfill my family's nutrition needs. We've covered ourselves in the bean category, now on to TVP.

My experience  with TVP is with the bits, because, you know -- cheaper. So, here's what you need to know about TVP bits to see if they will work for you.

You can buy TVP prepackaged (Bob's Red Mill is one brand) in health food sections of the grocery store, in the bulk bins of some supermarkets, and online. It is very worth it to check prices at multiple places, as I found TVP for a reasonable price per pound as well as for pries that bordered on extortion levels. Years ago, we were able to buy TVP in bulk at a local upscale market for the lowest price per pound anywhere (99 cents/lb when other stores were charging $2.99/lb). Today, a great price per pound would be in the $3 to $4/lb range. As with many other food items, when you buy larger amounts at one time, you get a price break. I paid $3.19/lb this month, but bought 25 lbs to get that price. It is a lot of TVP. However, TVP lasts a couple of years in dry conditions ( it's shelf-stable).

You can buy plain TVP or flavored TVP. Flavored will cost you more. Plain TVP has little flavor of its own and takes on the flavors with which you cook it.

Plain TVP can be added to spaghetti sauce and taco/burrito filling, added to canned tuna to stretch a single can for more tuna sandwich servings, on top of rice and covered with gravy, in casseroles, soups and stews, made into patties or balls with the help of a binder, added to any hot cereal to boost the protein content, or even, as my husband likes, eaten just as it is, as a cold cereal with milk. But I think most folks use it in spaghetti sauce, casseroles, and soup.

TVP is a dry product. It rehydrates in hot water in about a 1:1 ratio, with maybe a bit less water than the dry TVP, and takes about 10 minutes for this step.

TVP keeps for a couple of years in my pantry. Official sites state that TVP needs to be kept in an airtight container in cool and dry conditions. The pantry is fine if you'll eat it within a year, but to extend it's shelf life, it can be stored in the fridge or freezer for 18 months.  In my personal experience, we've kept TVP for 2 to 3 years and had no issues with it, with no off-taste or odor.

1/4 cup of dry TVP contains 12 grams of protein, approximately the same amount of protein in 3 ounces of beef. When I serve beef to my family members, I serve about 3 ounces per person. There are 17 of these protein-based servings in 1 pound of dry TVP.  (I use grams of protein as my comparison data when looking at the cost per serving.) At the price I paid, $3.19/lb, each 12-gram protein serving cost about 19 cents. The current price for ground beef in my grocery stores is around $3/lb. So, a 3-ounce serving of beef would cost me about 56 cents. I admit, I did get a great price on TVP. But let's say I paid $4.99/lb for TVP (places to find it in that price range in a minute). At $4.99/lb, each serving would cost 29 cents. That's just under half the price of beef in my area. The price difference based on protein narrows until about $10/lb for TVP, compared to $3/lb for beef.

Our local Walmart sells Bob's Red Mill TVP for $3.28 for a 10-oz bag, that's $5.25/lb. You can find TVP online for less. I bought my 25-lb case at $3.19/lb from Nuts.com. They offer various levels of discount for buying in quantity. They carry this gluten-free TVP for $4.99/lb bought in 1-lb bags, $4.84 in 5-lb bags, $4.49 for 15 lbs, and down to $3.19 in the 25-lb case. A warning, 15 pounds is still a lot of TVP, yielding about 255 individual servings, while 25 pounds yields about 425 servings.

My suggestion for someone who has never tried TVP: buy a single bag (such as Bob's Red Mill 10-ounce bags from your local grocery store) to see if you like it. If you determine that it would work for your family, then search out larger quantities, such as what I found online. Nuts.com has a minimum order for free shipping -- $59. Otherwise the shipping to order just one 1-lb bag would make the TVP a bad value compared to current beef prices. (Per their website, shipping is $6.99 on orders under $59.) They do, however, carry a wide selection of pantry-stable foods, including dry yeast, which I know many folks have had a hard time finding locally.

Another option -- Swansonvitamins.com. Here's Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free TVP for $2.56/12-oz bag, or $3.41/lb. Shipping is $4.99 or free for orders over $50 (possible limited-time free shipping at $25 spend going on right now). 

One more place -- iherb.com carries Bob's Red Mill 10-oz bags for $3.70, which works out to $5.92/lb. The other day, retailmenot.com had iherb.com coupon codes for 5% off your total order, bringing the cost per pound down to $5.63/lb (working out to 33 cents per 12-gram protein serving). Iherb.com offers free shipping at $20 minimum purchase. (I used iherb just the other day for something else, powdered soy milk.) So far, I've been impressed with their site. They include specific expiration information on the page for the items -- something that you often don't know until you receive your order and look at the package for yourself. Depending on what else you might need that they carry, it may be easy to reach a $20 minimum purchase to get that free shipping.

Remember, when you make your price comparison between TVP and something like ground beef, TVP is a dehydrated product, while fresh meat is not. That is why I suggest comparing protein-comparable cost per serving, using a 3-ounce serving of ground beef (containing 12 grams of protein) compared to the cost for 12 grams of protein in TVP (which weighs about .9 of an ounce). 

Just a note--all of the above online sources had stock as of Saturday evening, but may be out of stock, presently.

If you made it this far, bravo! I wanted to share as much as I could so you would have something to base a choice on, should you also be looking for meat alternatives. I understand that TVP is not everyone's "thing." Some folks have digestive issues or allergies with soy. But for my family, it is working out well. 



And just so you know -- I have no connections to any of the above companies, except that I have ordered from each of them at one time or another.

15 comments:

  1. Hi, Lili--

    I'm just skimming my daily sites quickly this morning, because I'm running late. But I didn't notice in your comprehensive-as-always tutorial on TVP one thing that might affect some of the ladies who read this. TVP, being a soy product, can be a less-good option for people with low thyroid function. So, if any of you start eating a lot more TVP, and feeling more low and sluggish, it might be the soy.

    If you can use it, though, TVP can be a great resource! Thanks for all the great details, Lili!

    Keep hanging in there, everybody! Sara

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Sara,
    Thank you for adding this information. It could be very helpful for specific individuals. I know some folks do avoid soy products for various reasons.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have used TVP many times, and it is wholesome and tasty. BUT it is also very gassy if consumed regularly, even to the point of causing abdominal cramping if I eat it too often. I find it's great to add a little to a meal now and then, but I wouldn't want to have it as my sole protein source in bad times.

    I don't have an exceptionally delicate digestive system - I eat beans and broccoli with no problem. So, caveat emptor.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Interesting info from all of you. My current strategy is to buy a little more meat than I need each week to store away in case of shortages. Everything is such a guessing game right now. I have low thyroid so I appreciate Sara's input. All things to consider!

    ReplyDelete
  5. You can also find tvp at Mexican grocers as "Carne de soya". I haven't checked the price recently, but I know I saw I've seen it in the bulk section there.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I have never used dehydrated TVP before and I appreciated you cost analysis. However considering the extra warnings about the thyroid and digestive issues, it will probably not become a big part of our diet. However, I will mention it to my sons who do not have similar health issues.

    ReplyDelete
  7. First time poster! First found you on Carol's Living Simply FB group, been reading your blog for a while.

    For anyone not sure if they have ever had TVP, if you have had any beef product at Taco bell, you have. They use it in their ground beef mixture.

    I think I could eat it that way (substitute for part of the meat), but not all by itself. I know Big Lots sells Bob's Red Mill products, will check there if I ever get back. I may grab a bag from WM if I can figure out which aisle it's on as a just in case.

    LisaCNC

    ReplyDelete
  8. We've been avoiding industrial seed oils recently to reduce our consumption of omega 6 fatty acids. I'm also not keen of the processing involved in extracting the oils from the seed, like the high temperature and chemicals. I recently read about this, and since have used only olive oil sparingly, no frying. The high degree of processing involved makes me want to shy away. Best to void processed foods in general for a healthy heart.

    Tomorrow, we're going to brave grocery shopping for the first time in over two months. In February, we bought enough for two months, and we still have quite enough for a few more months at the rate we're not eating like before, but we're going to stock up for about a year's worth on basic items depending on the expiration date. Virus case count in our state is stable and low, so now is a good time before clusters break out.

    Have a good day,
    YHF

    ReplyDelete
  9. Kris, I don't know if you'll come back and see this today or not. Not everyone with low thyroid has noticeable trouble with soy, just like I think maybe you were in on the conversation when Lili and I chatted here about kale and cruciferous veggies, another food that some hypothyroid people have trouble with and others don't. If you find that soy IS a problem, it's tougher to avoid during a time like this, because there's soy in LOTS of canned foods (maybe because it's been cheap?) You'll also find it in a lot of "vegetable" oils, mayonnaise, and ... darn, there was another thing I was thinking of, but I can't remember now. Anyway, if you or anyone here needs to avoid it, the good news is that a lot of labels do SAY in the fine print if it may contain soy.

    Take care, everybody! Sara

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hi Christa,
    Thank you. i did not know that. I have an Hispanic grocer nearby -- I'll check for carne do soya ("soy meat"). This is very helpful.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thank you, Lisa. I haven't been to Big Lots in several years. I'll check ours for TVP when this virus is reduced and/or I need more. Bob's Red Mill is my preferred brand for Gluten-Free TVP. Thanks for the suggestion on where to find it.

    That's interesting about Taco Bell. I had no idea they used TVP in the beef mix. Now I know why I like the beef tacos, there. I like the texture of TVP -- it's chewy, without the risk of a bone or gristle fragment.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hi Anonymous (sorry, you didn't leave a name so I don't know who you are),
    Gosh, your tummy troubles with TVP sound horrible. I get that with oats that aren't softened through cooking, like with oatmeal cookies or granola -- just tears my stomach up.

    It's true -- like with every food on the planet, there are some folks who are allergic to or intolerant of soy, even if they can eat other varieties of beans. And there are some folks who are allergic to or intolerant of the additives that are *sometimes* added in the making of TVP, such as gluten or MSG. Folks need to read the labels on all products if they have sensitivities. There are brands of TVP that are gluten-free and contain nothing besides the soy product, however.

    TVP is not for everyone, as I said in my post. But it can be a good source of protein for those for whom it does work. I've had the exact opposite issue (compared to your experience) with TVP and beans -- TVP causes less gassiness (well actually *no* gassiness) for me than whole beans (some beans are worse than others for gassiness). And I DO have an exceptionally delicate digestive system. So, it's a matter of YMMV and not that TVP will definitely cause issues for everyone.

    Thank you for posting your experience, as it does bring up an issue that might affect someone else, if they have similar issues with soy or additives.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hi Kris,
    I'm glad that you have regular opportunities to stock up on meat at the grocery store. Unfortunately, that's not been an option for many. Even if I could get out to a store, our local stores are putting strict limits on so many products, especially meat right now, so no one will hoard it all without thinking of their neighbors.

    About soy and thyroid issues -- if someone has a diagnosed medical condition, I think it's super important to have a discussion with their MD about foods and supplements that could worsen their condition or interfere with any prescriptions. There's a lot of misinformation online about what is safe for various conditions. Best to get the advice of an MD and not Dr. Google/any random person on the internet.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hi YHF,
    Good luck with the outing -- stay safe, wear your mask, wash, wash, and wash again when you get home. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

    I haven't been in a store in 2 months, now. I have no idea of what store shelves look like in my area, although friends have filled me on on what they've seen and experienced. Good luck. I hope stores in your area are well-stocked.

    As I said in my post, TVP is not everyone's thing. I did want to clear something up for anyone reading the comments in the future, though -- TVP is a fat-free product and therefore does not contain Omega-6 fatty acids. Folks may have other issues with TVP, but any form of fat wouldn't be one of them.

    Several years ago, we could afford to use cold-pressed oils all of the time. We were very happy with the quality of those oils, then. But they were on the expensive side. For now, we''re using a combination of fats as a way to reduce our risk for any one type of fat. It seems that every decade there is a new study that says XX type of fat is good and YY type of fat is bad, and the types change with the decade. So, we use some poly, some mono, and some animal/saturated. And we use them all in moderation, probably a lot less than most Americans because we cook from scratch 99% of the time.

    Good luck with shopping.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hi Live and Learn,
    As we say in our house -- "all the more for meeeeeee!"

    Seriously, sorry you may have medical conditions that affect your life -- not fun. I'm glad you can recognize when something may not work for your conditions.

    ReplyDelete

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