20 Ways To Use Textured Vegetable Protein In Your Cooking

Textured vegetable protein, or TVP, is a protein alternative consumed by vegetarians and vegans worldwide. It is heralded for its nuanced flavor and likeness to ground beef. This ingredient is sold under several monikers, including soy protein and soya, which are all made by the same process. Defatted soybeans are cooked, cut based on the desired product size, and dehydrated for easy shipping. Most retailers sell the protein dehydrated, meaning home cooks must use a 1-to-1 ratio of broth or water to return the product to its sponge-like texture. If dry, textured vegetable protein can be stored in an airtight space for up to two years, or stored rehydrated in the fridge for up to five days.

Once textured vegetable protein is rehydrated, it can be used for numerous culinary applications inside and outside the plant-based eating realm. Here are some of our favorite ways to use textured vegetable protein.

Add it to a meatless chili

If you're looking for a simple dinner that you can make in a slow cooker or for an easy Sunday night dinner, chili should be in your rotation. Adding textured vegetable protein to your chili, either as an accompaniment to ground beef or turkey or as its stand-alone protein. It contributes a chewy texture and meat-like quality to your dish. We recommend hydrating your TVP for this recipe in broth to increase its flavor.

One of our favorite ways to improve the taste of the TVP is to add spices directly to the liquid you're rehydrating the TVP with; our favorites include a few tablespoons of taco seasoning, bay leaves, or a little hint of seasoned salt. Add the rehydrated TVP to your recipe when you add your beans, and allow the chili to cook for several hours for the most optimal flavor.

Roll it into meatless meatballs

One of the most considerable sacrifices vegans have to make is not being able to eat meatball subs or indulge in their grandmother's famous meatball recipe. But with TVP, no plant-based eater has to make this sacrifice. You can instead make vegan meatballs at home with ground cashews, bread crumbs, almond milk, tomato paste, onions, and a bit of aquafaba (chickpea liquid) as a binder. While this recipe initially uses tempeh as the primary protein, adding rehydrated textured vegetable protein will give you a meat-like texture that grainy tempeh won't even come close to.

We love spicing our meatballs with spices and herbs like thyme, rosemary, and oregano. Add a sprinkle of these dried herbs to the water you're rehydrating your TVP with for an undercurrent of Italian flavor in every bite.

Make a vegan burger

It can be hard to replicate the texture and taste of a burger with only vegan ingredients. However, TVP has the chewy texture needed to make a burger that may even convince you to think twice about eating an animal-based one ever again.

The key to making a good vegan burger with TVP is to focus on the binding ingredients in the recipe. TVP alone will not stick to the other ingredients you use, whether rice, quinoa, or beans. Carrot baby food is an unexpected ingredient to keep veggie burgers from falling apart. This purée is mild in flavor but has enough moisture to help keep the components of your burger together in a single patty. Combine the baby food with a scant amount of dried breadcrumbs or panko for the ultimate veggie burger.

Cook up tomato sauce for a protein-packed pasta sauce

Pasta with tomato sauce is one of very few Italian dishes that are vegan to start with. But when you add a hefty protein boost from textured vegetable protein, you'll find that your pasta recipe will be more satiating than eating just the pasta on its own.

To make a TVP bolognese sauce, you'll first want to rehydrate the TVP with your choice of seasoning and liquid. For example, adding a scant amount of soy sauce to your TVP will add a salty element contrasting the pasta sauce's umami flavor. You can also simmer the TVP in broth with the same pan you cooked your onions in; this will enhance the flavor of the TVP immensely. Then, add the rest of your sauce ingredients and let the mixture simmer until flavorful.

Substitute for ground beef in tacos

Taco Tuesday is an important weekly occurrence in our household — and the vegans never miss out. You can substitute TVP for ground beef in your favorite taco recipe for a meaty flavor and similar texture to taco meat. Start by cooking finely minced garlic and onions until translucent before adding your dry TVP, taco seasoning (or homemade mixture of cumin, coriander, cayenne, and salt), and vegetable broth to the pan.

Allow the mixture to simmer for a few minutes until the TVP is fluffy — like the texture of cooked rice. You may need to add a bit of extra taco seasoning to your mixture because the vegetable broth tends to dilute the Mexican-inspired flavors. You can use this mixture for taco night and add it to salads or grain bowls.

Use TVP slices to make schnitzel

Have you ever made schnitzel? It's a meat, which can be pork, beef, mutton, lamb, or chicken, pounded super thin before being breaded and fried. Schnitzel is typical in European countries like Austria and Germany but only comes in meat-based varieties. If you can access TVP slices, you can make your vegan schnitzel at home. These slices are more disc-like than the tiny crumbles used to make taco filling or vegan bolognese but are processed using the same methods as the smaller minced soy variety.

The TVP slices should first be hydrated in boiling water so that they are flimsy. Then, the slices can be coated in an egg-replacement mixture, transferred to a breadcrumb dip, and then shallow fried in your oil of choice.

Make your own bacon bits for salads

If you've ever had bacon bits on top of a salad, you may have inadvertently tried TVP. Many brands use textured soy flour to make bacon bits instead of meat, like McCormick's Imitation Bits. You can make bacon bits at home with TVP by mixing tamari or soy sauce, liquid smoke, maple syrup, paprika, and garlic powder together before using it to coat dry TVP crumbles. Add dried cayenne pepper or chipotle powder to the mixture if you want some heat in your crumbles.

Then, dry the crumbles in a low-temperature oven for a few minutes, shaking often to prevent burning. Finally, you can use your vegan bacon bits to garnish your baked potatoes, soups, or cheese fries.

Use it in sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joes are one of the comfort foods you may have forgotten about, but that's okay, we'll remind you why they're great. This sandwich combines ground meat with a mixture of extended ingredients — like ketchup, breadcrumbs, and even cheese.

TVP is a much cheaper alternative to ground beef with the same texture and taste. In addition, if you add TVP to your recipe, you will not have to worry about rehydrating it beforehand. Instead, allowing the crumbles to simmer in the sauce with the tomatoes, sweeteners, and salty ingredients will help round out its flavor — whereas using broth-hydrated TVP would only dull out the flavor of the Sloppy Joe's, and that's the last thing you want with this classic dinner item.

Make a vegan chicken salad with soya curls

Soy curls are one textured vegetable protein shape you may have never seen. They are made by an Oregon-based company, Butler Foods, with the same ingredients as minced TVP. The whole soybeans are cooked down before being placed through an extruder, which can change the desired shape of the product. It is unlikely that you'll find these curls at your local grocery store — but some natural foods grocers or co-ops may carry them.

Soya curls have a similar texture to chicken breast, making them a perfect addition to a summery chicken salad. First, rehydrate each 1½ cup of soy curls with 2 cups of vegan broth or stock for about 10 minutes. Then, drain the remainder of the water, dry the curls, and chop them into tiny pieces. Since the curls are already cooked, you can immediately add chicken salad ingredients, like mayonnaise, minced veggies, and seasonings. Serve your "chicken" salad with a crunchy ciabatta roll or crackers.

Add it to fajitas

Fajitas are a veggie-forward dinner idea that will make your tastebuds sizzle. But what happens when you don't have any meat to enhance your fajitas? We recommend turning to soy curls. However, the texture is similar to chicken, so you'd be better off seeking an alternative vegan protein like seitan if you're looking for a steak-like fajita.

Start by rehydrating your soy curls with vegetable broth, allowing them to hydrate while you slice your other veggies (we recommend yellow onion and bell pepper). Then, remove the curls from the bowl with a spoon, draining the excess liquid that was not absorbed. Next, toss the curls and veggies on a sheet pan with a medley of dried chipotle, cumin, chili powder, and garlic. Then, bake on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet for about 25 minutes or until the soy curls turn slightly brown and dry.

Substitute it for meat in a stir fry

There is a wide array of vegan proteins you can use in place of meat in stir fry ranging from seitan cubes to tofu. Our favorite protein for stir fry, though, are soy curls or TVP. If you're looking for a more traditional stir-fry experience with a texture similar to chicken, you should stick to using soya curls for your recipe.

Some instances necessitate the use of TVP crumbles over soy curls. If you want the veggies to be the main star of your dish, like with Chinese eggplant stir-fry, you should use the veggie protein mince instead. You can enhance the flavor of your stir fry by rehydrating your mince with soy sauce, tamari, vegan fish sauce, or vegan oyster sauce.

It can be a meat replacement in curry

Indian is one cuisine that is notably vegan-friendly because of the emphasis on ingredients like potatoes, beans, and lentils. One way to add more protein to your next vegan curry meal is to add soy curls. You can make your favorite butter chicken vegan with this easy substitution. If you're making it in a slow cooker, then you can add the dehydrated curls to the pot with the puréed mixture of garlic, tomatoes, onions, a splash of water, and optional chickpeas for about 10 minutes. Then add your cream mixture and additional seasonings to the pot and bring to a boil.

One tip to add extra flavor to the soy curls is to soak them in hot salt water before adding them to your curry. Adding salt will help round out the more complex flavors in your curry dish.

Whip up shepherd's pie

Shepherd's pie may not be your favorite meal (it's not ours — that's for sure), but we give it some kudos for being easy to make vegan. Many recipes call for lentils instead of ground beef, but the flavor of the lentils is less to be desired. TVP mince is the superior option for making shepherd's pie because you won't taste any grassy flavor from the "meat," and you can better control the flavors by adding ingredients like vegan Worcestershire sauce or liquid smoke.

You can flavor the mince layer of your shepherd's pie by adding ingredients like frozen peas and carrots, umami-rich mushrooms, onions, and garlic. You could also add a bit of leftover aquafaba to help thicken up the mixture.

Put it on pizza

There are very few pizza toppings that vegans can rejoice over. But if you have TVP crumbles handy, you can make your own vegan sausage crumbles at home. Start by combining water, soy sauce or a gluten-free replacement, and Italian herbs like oregano and fennel together, then add your TVP and allow it to soak. We also recommend adding a few drops of liquid smoke or smoked salt to highlight the smokey notes of the sausage.

If you're using this sausage replacement on pizza, you won't have to bake or dehydrate it before using it. However, if you are baking your pizza in a home oven, you can set the stove to broil to help crisp up the outside of the sausage.

Turn it into vegan sausage

Textured vegetable protein is the perfect ingredient for homemade vegan sausage because it resembles the meaty consistency of traditional ground sausage. Plus, you can flavor the sausage depending on whether you're looking for a breakfast or an Italian sausage. Breakfast sausage is perfect for pairing ingredients like apple, sage, roasted fennel, and maple syrup, while Italian sausage typically takes on the profile of seasonings like oregano, rosemary, and thyme.

You can make your patties or sausage links at home by adding TVP, broth, and binding ingredients like chia, flax seed, and aquafaba. Like making homemade meatballs, you'll also need to add a binding flour to help keep the patties together. We recommend using oat flour because of its nuanced flavor and superior binding capabilities.

Stuff peppers or tomatoes

Stuffed peppers are the comforting meal you didn't know you needed. You can stuff peppers or tomatoes with almost anything, but our favorite ingredient is TVP. The meaty texture of the vegan protein is easily influenced by the other flavors in the mix, including beans, garlic, and cheese.

Making stuffed peppers, otherwise known as gemista, is very easy. First, you'll need to purchase your veggies, including green bell peppers or large beef tomatoes, tomato puree, zucchini, a grain (we love wild rice, but you can also use quinoa or couscous), seasonings like oregano and garlic, and beans (to add a bit of texture, but are optional). Add rehydrated TVP to the mixture with the wild rice and the beans, thus replacing the ground beef.

Make it into vegan jerky

Beef jerky is a convenient and protein-dense snack but unsuitable for vegans or vegetarians. If you can access soy curls, you can make your jerky at home — it's perfect for road trips, on-the-go snacking, or when you're craving something savory.

Soak your soy curls in vegetable broth for about 10 minutes to start making your jerky recipe. First, ring out as much water as possible using a clean kitchen towel to maximize the marinade the curls will soak up. Then, mix the curls with seasonings like soy sauce, liquid smoke, paprika, vinegar, onion powder, and garlic powder. You'll want to let your curls saturate for a few minutes before transferring them to a lined baking sheet and baking at a low temperature for about an hour. The resulting snack pieces are salty and textured, just like jerky.

DIY soyrizo

Soyrizo is a vegan Mexican chorizo made with textured vegetable protein. Unlike the ground beef replacement for tacos, soyrizo has much more concentrated spicy and salty flavors. You can substitute soyrizo for Mexican chorizo in almost all applications — including chorizo and egg breakfast wraps. You can also incorporate soyrizo into a taco recipe or as a meat replacement in your chili. We also love adding a sprinkle of spicy meat to a baked potato.

The trick to making a good soyrizo is using many spices and seasonings. If you want a darker color, try to purée chili peppers or sun-dried tomatoes and add them to the rehydrated TVP. Otherwise, stick to dried spices like cayenne, ancho chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, and black pepper.

Bulk up grain bowls

Grain bowls are the perfect filling, light lunch, or dinner option. Adding TVP mince or soy curls is an easy way to increase your meal's protein content without having to add meat. Plus, you can mix the seasoned mince into your rice; its nuanced flavor may even make you forget it's there. You can also season your TVP or soy curls to suit whatever tastes you are preparing in your bowl. For example, if you make an Asian-inspired bowl with rice, nori, and egg, try hydrating your TVP with soy sauce or coconut aminos.

TVP is a nutrient-dense protein for your bowls, as a cup of TVP mince contains 36 grams of protein. To compare, 1 cup of soy curls contains only around 15 grams of protein.

Create some chicken nuggets

It's hard not to love the nostalgic taste of chicken nuggets. And with soya chunks, you won't have to give up your obsession with this perfectly engineered food product. These chunks are another shape of TVP and resemble the texture of the soy curl — just in a circular shape. Once you've pulled your soya chunks out of the rehydrating liquid, pat them with a towel to remove the excess moisture. Then, season with a blend of spices like oregano, garlic powder, and onion powder, and if you like a little bit of heat, add some jerk or creole seasoning. Finally, fry the chunks directly in oil until a light brown color appears.

Since the chunks are already cooked, pan-frying them just develops a delicious crispy exterior outside the "nugget." You can also use an egg replacement and roll the nuggets in breadcrumbs before frying for a more traditional chicken nugget texture.