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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.

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