Textured vegetable protein (TVP ), tofu, and tempeh are three different soy products that are commonly used as meat-substitutes in vegan and vegetarian dishes. With the right preparation and seasonings, all of them can be turned into a convincing faux beef or chicken, and all of them are high in protein. However, out of the three, which one is the best protein?
Textured Vegetable Protein
TVP is made from defatted soy flour - a byproduct of making soybean oil. It is sold as dehydrated flakes or chunks that are similar to croutons or dried cereal. When TVP is rehydrated, its texture is almost indistinguishable from meat. TVP has two major pros: it's inexpensive and it contains a lot of protein in a small serving - 1 ounce of TVP contains 15 g of protein. The only problem with TVP is that it's a highly processed food, which is why I rank it lower than tofu and tempeh.
It's best to think of TVP as cheap protein. I use it as filler in veggie burgers, chili, and soups, to add some extra texture and protein. I do not recommend living on the stuff – it's not "health food."
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Tofu - bean curd - is a minimally processed food made from soybeans, water, and a coagulate. The best way to think of tofu is as this: cheese is to milk, as tofu is to soymilk. Much the same way you are eating milk in a solid form when you eat cheese, you are eating soymilk in a solid for when you eat tofu. Tofu does not contain nearly as much protein per serving as TVP - 1 ounce of tofu contains 2 g of protein - but I still rank it as a higher quality protein because it is far less processed.
Tempeh is made from cooked, slightly-fermented soybeans. It is very dense and chewy, and can be added to stir-fry's, burritos, sandwiches, soups, and just about any other dish you can think of. Tempeh is the least processed food when compared to TVP and tofu. Fermenting the soybeans actually increases their nutritional value. 1 ounce of tempeh contains about 10 g of protein, but can vary depending on the brand. That's not quite as much as TVP but a lot more than tofu. I rank tempeh as the best quality protein out of the three.