You Down With TVP? Get Vegetarian Beef Without the Pre-Made Price

an open-faced burger made of TVP with a side of vegetables
Photo courtesy of Cat Hiles

One of the first questions people tend to ask upon hearing I am a vegetarian is, “Where do you get your protein?” Many meat-eaters seem to be under the impression that the only way to reach your daily protein quota is to eat huge hulking chunks of meat while doing 500 bicep curls.

However, there are many non-meat sources of protein out there. One of the cheapest and easiest to work with is textured vegetable protein, or TVP.

What is TVP?

TVP is an incredibly versatile ingredient made from defatted soy flour, which sounds fairly gross but just means it’s had the fat removed and has been cooked under pressure and dried, according to Bob’s Red Mill.

TVP appeals both to new vegetarians, who might miss meat but aren’t quite sure about alternatives like tempeh or seitan, as well as seasoned vegetarians who need a cheap and easy source of protein. Each ¼-cup serving contains just 80 calories and 12 grams of protein, which is 24% of the daily FDA recommendation for someone eating 2,000 calories per day. Bob’s Red Mill sells TVP for $2.99 for a 10-ounce bag, but you can also find it in bulk at specialty stores — I found mine at Whole Foods for $2.49 per pound.

Even before I became a vegetarian, I was familiar with TVP. My mother used it to make spaghetti sauce and chili when I was younger due to its low cost and the fact that neither of us were particularly fond of meat. As an adult, I have used it to make things such as burgers and chili, and I find it quick and simple to use. TVP itself doesn’t have a taste, but it takes on the flavor of whatever it’s mixed with, similarly to tofu.

Looking to experiment with TVP? The following two recipes are a great place to start.

“Beefy” Burgers

Photo courtesy of Cat Hiles.

I’ve been making veggie burgers for a few years using beans as a base, and the main problem I’ve had is getting them to retain their shape. Luckily, I found this recipe from The “V” Word, which uses TVP alongside black beans.

The addition of TVP to this recipe helps the patties stay burger-shaped. It also prevents them from oozing out the sides of the bun, as can often happen with bean burgers. The result is a delicious base recipe, to which you could easily add more herbs and spices if you wanted to try a different flavor.

Next time I make these, I might try adding some smoked paprika for a different take. To cut costs, consider substituting chickpea flour for a cheaper flour (such as whole wheat).


1 ⅓ cups water

1 “beef” bouillon cube: 29 cents

1 ½ cups TVP granules: 70 cents

One 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained: 99 cents

¼ cup oats: 15 cents

2 tablespoons arrowroot: 29 cents

½ cup mushrooms, chopped: 66 cents

½ red onion, minced: 15 cents

2 tablespoons ketchup: 15 cents

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce: 20 cents

Seasonings: 84 cents

½ teaspoon black pepper: 6 cents

¾ cup chickpea flour, divided: $1.62

Total: $6.22 for 8 burgers

Vegan Chili with Sweet Potatoes and TVP

Chili is a fall and winter staple, but finding a decent meat substitute can be tricky. I usually just load up on the beans, but adding TVP, like in this recipe from Vegan Runner Eats, adds even more protein and works well for vegetarians and vegans who aren’t crazy about beans.

This recipe produces a meaty chili with plenty of flavor that will appeal to vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. It’ll also appeal to your wallet, as the same number of servings of Amy’s Organic Chili will cost you $14.24 — almost $6 more than this recipe. If you prefer a thicker chili, Vegan Runner Eats recommends blending some of the beans with tomatoes and chilis before adding the mixture to the pot.


1 cup dried TVP: 47 cents

2 carrots, peeled and chopped: 40 cents

1 red bell pepper, chopped: 99 cents

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped: 50 cents

2 celery stalks, chopped: 31 cents

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced into ½-inch cubes: 49 cents

3 garlic cloves, minced: 18 cents

2 cups cooked pinto beans, or 1 can, drained and rinsed: 99 cents

One 4-ounce can of canned green chilies, mild or medium: 98 cents

One 8-ounce can tomato sauce: 42 cents

3 cups vegetable broth, divided: $1.49

Seasonings: $1.10

Total: $8.32 for 6 servings

It can be hard to find affordable foods when you cut out meat, especially if you are short on time in the kitchen. TVP is a versatile addition to your pantry that you can use to make a variety of dinners, whether you’re looking for a substantial burger to satisfy your carnivorous friends or a hearty chili to warm you on a frigid fall evening.

Try out these recipes to start, then experiment with new ones, and you’re sure to find new staples in your weekly menu.

Catherine Hiles loves trying new vegetarian recipes. Sadly, her 2-year-old daughter refuses to eat anything but boxed mac and cheese.