Textured Vegetable Protein, or TVP, is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It's generally sold dried in little unattractive beige nuggets, which need to be cooked in a bit of liquid to be reconstituted. Like tofu, it is tasteless unless cooked in something flavourful. Unappetizing name aside, TVP is a brilliant invention for vegetarians - it feels and satisfies like ground beef.
TVP can be added to any dish you would normally add ground beef to. Great in chili. The texture is so much like meat (albeit chewy meat) that you can even fool meat eaters if you take the precautionary step of marinating the TVP in tomato juice for a while before cooking to hide the white colour. If you need TVP for a recipe but don't have any, you can make a reasonable facsimile by crumbling tofu (not too small) and freezing it, and then defrosting it. The tofu will pick up an interesting texture that is similar to TVP, if not as convincing.

Until recently TVP was not available to the general public, and existed solely as a mystery ingredient of food items such as microwave burritos. Now you may obtain both flavored and unflavored TVP in a variety of textures, each with approximately matching flavor and texture.

TVP is quite an important part of the vegetarian diet in the Western meat-eating countries because it allows the vegetarian to use traditional Western food recipes and simply substitute a TVP product for meat. It is also often used as a meat substitute for non-vegetarians without telling them (like in some school cafeterias.

Textured vegetable protein is generally made from the soya and is essentially hard tofu made to look and taste like meat. The look is not hard to master, the taste depends on the manufacturer.

The TVP products made by Morningstar Farms seem to be the most successful: They make TVP hamburgers, patties, hot dogs, etc. In the US they can be found in your grocer's freezer.

Linda McCartney, the late wife of Paul McCartney, popularized TVP among English-speaking vegetarians on both sides of the Big Pond. In one of her books she said how surprised her guests were when she served them traditional Western dishes: "We thought you were vegetarians." The dishes she served were indeed vegetarian but her guests couldn't tell the difference, even though she told them they were made from TVP.

My personal favorite is TVP Stroganoff.

TVP, a popular vegetarian meat substitute, comes in many shapes. Most common is the granule, which consists of irregularly sized chunks ranging from split pea to peanut size. When reconstituted, this can stand in for hamburger or chicken or tuna, depending on how you flavor it. TVP granules are available at most health food stores, either in bags or in bulk. Other, rarer forms are slices or rounds, which tend to be cheaper by weight than the granules, but you have to go to an Asian grocery store to find them.

You can drop plain TVP into highly flavored stews, where it will provide chewy pieces with a meat-like texture and soak up the flavor of the broth. Unadulterated TVP, outside of stew, has a strange, soy-wrapped-in-plastic sort of taste, which I've found can be minimized by reconstituting it in lots of liquid, which I then discard. The reconstituted TVP should then be flavored with something that masks any remaining TVP-ness, like soy sauce, veggie broth, sesame oil, vinegar, or various combinations of the above, or any other flavorings you choose. If you sautee the TVP until crisp after flavoring it, it's even better. Avoid immersing pre-flavored TVP in anything liquid until right before you eat it, because the flavoring will leach out into the liquid, leaving you with relatively tasteless, but chewy, chunks.

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