The TVP Taco Experiment

[TVP tacos photo 1]“TVP Taco” sort of sounds like something that should be illegal, like the new hot drug or assault weapon. But have no fear; TVP stands for “textured vegetable protein,” and as far as I know it’s never resulted in any possession charges. What should be illegal is Gimme Lean Ground Beef Style, the slimy meat substitute that I tried making tacos with before.  After this failed attempt, my wife and I began to wonder if our taco days were over now that we don’t eat meat.  So when my sister, who works in a vegetarian restaurant, told me that they used to serve TVP Sloppy Joes, I grabbed onto a last glimmer of hope.

You can probably find TVP near the grains in your supermarket.  The brand I got was Bob’s Red Mill, found alongside the rest of Bob’s products, like bulgar, oats, etc.  According to the package, “TVP is made from defatted soy flour that has been cooked under pressure and then dried.”  Doesn’t sound too exciting, but what soy product really does?  As you might know from reading Junk Food Isn’t Healthy; Health Food Isn’t Healthy, I’m not a big fan of overly processed foods (or anything masquerading as meat).  But there’s nothing besides soy flour in this, and if it means I can eat tacos that resemble the ones I used to eat, then I’m all for it every now and then.

[TVP tacos photo 2]The results of the TVP Taco Experiment were nothing short of brilliant (if you’re as into tacos as we are).  While the TVP didn’t taste like much in and of itself, it really took on the flavor of the taco seasonings.  But best of all, the texture made it a dead ringer for ground meat.  If there’s a ground beef or turkey recipe that you used to love but can’t make as a vegetarian, you’ve got to try a TVP version.  I’m thinking lasagnas and pasta dishes with bolognese ragout (TVPese ragout?).  And Erin and I are so excited that taco night is back.  Arriba!

I’m not really sure how to rate this one.  This way of making tacos is so standard that it’s kind of hard to give it a rating.  I’ll say this.  However many cows you would give normal tacos, subtract maybe a cow ass or a hoof.  But that’s it.  So if normal tacos are 4 cows out of 5 for you, then these are 3.8 cows.  The TVP doesn’t add flavor the way meat does, but the texture is perfect.  They’re tacos, and if you like tacos then you’ll like ’em.  If you don’t, you won’t.

So here’s the way we like to make our tacos.  Obviously, if you don’t like one topping and prefer something else, use that instead (unless it’s meat).  To steal a phrase from a fast food icon (let’s call them TVP King), “Have it your way!”  Jalapeno hint: cut out the white ribs on the inside if you don’t like much heat.

Vegetarian TVP Tacos Recipe

Ingredients (for 10 tacos)

  • 12 hard or soft corn tortillas
  • 2 cups dry TVP
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1 packet taco seasoning (as few fake ingredients as possible, or make your own)
  • shredded cheese (I believe in using real cheese or 2% milk cheese, not nonfat)
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
  • 12 romaine or green leaf lettuce leaves (whole leaves, don’t chop!)
  • a handful of chopped cilantro
  • salsa, taco sauce, and/or hot sauce (green sauce made from pure jalapenos is my favorite)
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 lime, cut into sections

Rehydrate the TVP by mixing with just less than 2 cups of boiling water in a bowl and letting it sit 5-10 minutes until the water is absorbed.

Prepare the tortillas however you like.  If using hard, I heat them in a 325 degree oven for 5 minutes.  If using soft, I heat them for 30 seconds each side in a dry skillet over medium heat.

Add the oil, rehydrated TVP, soy sauce, taco seasoning, and 1/4 cup of water to a pan over medium heat; stir occasionally until the water is absorbed.

Place one lettuce leaf in each taco shell (this way if it breaks, the lettuce holds everything in place).  Add cooked TVP, cheese, salsa, scallions, jalapenos, cilantro, and fresh lime juice.  I like that order, but only YOU can decide what’s best for your TVP tacos.



Dig this post?
Spread the word!

Keep in touch:

Don't Supplement, Complement

complementNo Meat Athlete has help develop Complement™, the perfect nutrient formula for plant-based athletes. Complement brings together, in one place, the three essential nutrients that are missing from a reasonably diverse, whole food plant-based diet:

  • B12
  • D3
  • DHA/EPA Omega-3s.
It's everything you need to complement your diet, and nothing you don't. Click here to learn more.


  1. Hey glad you liked it! I’ll try to find that sloppy joe recipe. I found TVP at David’s in the bulk section. I can’t remember how much it was but probably cheaper than the individually packaged ones.

    • Love your website and your taco recipe! Thanks so much. Been a vegetarian for a couple years and found this TVP recipe for sloppy joes. Makes enough for two nights worth for 4 adults and my family loves them! Serve on toasted hamburger buns (bagel setting on toaster) and topped with cheese. For a change, boil up some elbow mac and top with sloppy joe mixture and cheese. 3 Tbs veg. oil, 1 med. onion diced, 1 green bell pepper diced, 1&1/2 C boxed veg. broth, 2&1/2 C tomato sauce, 1 can whole pitted black olives, sliced, 1 Tbs chili powder, 1 Tbs sugar, 1 Tbs soy sauce, large dash hot sauce, 1&1/2 C TVP and 1/8 to 1/4 tsp black pepper. In large deep skillet, saute onion and pepper 5 mins. Reduce heat to med. low and add remaining ingr. Simmer uncovered for 25 min. Stirring occasionally.

  2. I use veggie ground round and enjoy it! The trick is not overheating or it turns to rubber. Mine is made by Yves and you can even get a mexican flavour!

    Ashley’s last blog post..Hello from Thailand

  3. Is TVP the same thing as seitan? My college had a vegan cafeteria (oh, Wesleyan University I miss you) and they served some delicious seitan dishes! One of my favs was a mix of seitan, peppers, and onions.

    Megan (The Runner’s Kitchen)’s last blog post..FoodBuzz Party at David Burke Townhouse

    • Seitan is made of wheat gluten, while TVP (texturized vegetable protein) is usually (I think?) processed from soy. Quite different in taste and use. Reconstituted TVP (it comes dehydrated in various sized chunks) reminds me a lot of couscous. I find seitan has a meatier texture.

  4. I love the tip about putting a whole lettuce leaf in the taco shell!

  5. Gimme Lean is a weird kind of fake beef, but it’s really good for recipes that call for meat to stick to itself. I use to make a killer meatloaf, and it’s also probably good for meatballs. You won’t find it slimy when you’re twirling it on your fork. TVP is great for sloppy joes and tacos but doesn’t hold together for those meals where ground chuck is supposed to be pressed into a patty or shape.
    .-= orangehairboy´s last blog ..Michael J. Nelson, why did you break my heart? =-.

  6. If you can get Tamari soy sauce it really makes a difference. Also using Better Then Bullion base instead of plain water to rehydrate with adds more flavor (and salt, so watch out). Also, if you are feeling lazy, my supermarket has a veggie boxed taco meat by Fantastic World which changed my life when i became veg.

    available here, too, if you can’t find it in the organic section type stuff:

  7. Hello,
    I have been a vegetarian for 12 years now. And have recently chosen vegan lifestyle. I tried this recipe on my carnivore family without telling then. Only, I used filling in toquitos….they are none the wiser. My husband and kids are pretty much vegetarian, with the occasional chicken. They loved it. But, my side of the family never new. Thanks!

  8. Tvp is similar to tofu in that it will be as tasty as “what you cook it in”. I saute tvp with tomatoes, lime juice, onions and garlic. When preparing dishes South of the Border, I like to go buffet style. I like to use lettuce or cabbage leaves instead of fried shells. I have black beans, mexica-tvp, pica de gao, guacamole and plenty of sautéed peppers and onions. Yummy!

  9. Kim Hogan says:

    SOUNDS GREAT!! LOVE the idea of the full lettuce leaf in to avoid a spilled split taco, happens to everyone at least once. THIS is what’s for dinner tonight!


  10. You can make TVP taste like ground beef but you need to prepare right…Dont use water..Use Beef Broth (Or if VEG then use the ones old in the store to taste like beef..(You may even want to boil down the beef stock to 1/2) You can also use powdered stock (Which make doubling a breze)But simmer the stock for about 15 to 20 minute to give the stock a chance to get that powdery taste out.
    Also you may want to try adding a spoonfull of instant coffee (More if using more liquid..Experiment)It gives the stock (Even beef stock) a meatier heartier flavor..Also gives the TVP a better color..
    Okay now start cooking it in a fry pan to help it dry out and get more meatier…You can do this(While stirring it so it doent tick and burn) Till its to your liking..One other way to make it a bit more meaty..Half way through the cooking the TVP to dry it some, pull it out of the pan and add some oil to the pan..One or 2 spoonful should be enough..But try a non flavored oil or it wont tate exactly like what you expect..So no virgin Olive oil, etc..
    You want to heat the oil some and dump i the TVP back in the pan and start to mix the oil into the TVP while continuing to fry it.. This will give you the fatiness of ground beef..Experiment with the amount of oil to see what right for you…
    And since this recipe has spices in it you may want to add those to the TVP as well before mixing it with the beef broth..Will give you a better flavor.
    If you end up with a big chunk of TVP (didnt mix it well, Left it on the stove to long.. Use a food procesor with a metal blade and pulse it to resemble ground beef..
    I usually always use the processor to make it reemble ground beef for recipes calling for it but then I let it go to a little dryer side so it crumbles good. It might take you a while of doing it to figure out the right dryness consistency.
    It isnt a quick thing but you can make a lot ofit at a time and freeze it in the serving sizes you need to defrost for latter use.
    Check around other TVP recipes on other sites and see what they add to their TVP to make it taste like ground beef and go from there.

  11. Thank you for sharing your recipe. We tried it today and it was fantastic!

  12. I like reconstituting my tvp with a broth of boiling water and vegan “chicken” bouillon cubes. I’ve been craving tacos, and I’m looking forward to trying this recipe!

  13. Barbara says:

    If you are a vegan, instead of beef stock, try to find Lieber’s Consomme, beef flavor. It will probably be in the Kosher section. I have used the chicken flavor for matzoh ball soup and enjoyed it. It’s parve, which means it has no meat in it. You can also buy veggie bouillon cubes.

  14. Nathalie says:

    Trying this tonight. Newly vegetarian. Your website is wonderful. Thk u 😉

  15. Awesome!!! Definitely rehydrate in a low sodium “beef” flavored broth. I also added a dash of liquid smoke. Then I sautéed in a pan with onion, added vegetable oil (3 tbs to fry and make it a little meatier) I tossed in jalapeño slices. I also sautéed onion and green bell pepper to add on top like fajitas. So good!

  16. Since cows are some of the most abused animals on our planet [forcibly impregnated, calves dragged away for veal–to keep the milk fountain flowing–abused, often tortured, violently slaughtered] may I suggest that the vegan cheese companies are improving by leaps and bounds. Keep giving them a try, for the love of sentience, please!

  17. Beyond Meat has several different “crumbles: that work well in tacos. I am married to a Mexican American and he can’t tell the difference. Also, if you want to avoid “game meats” or TVP all together, try a true veggie taco with black beams, shredded carrots, shredded yellow squash and shredded zuchini, along with cilantro, tomatoes & avocado. Let me know if you want recipe and I post it here. Matt is fantastic! A big help to all us vegan/vegetarian athletes! Love love love the new book No Meat Athlete Cookbook!!!

  18. Is there a specific reason soy sauce is used? I have never used soy sauce in my regular meat tacos, but have noticed multiple TVP tacos recipes that call for it.

  19. Cara Gates says:

    You don’t like beef but cheese is okay? Oh boy!

Leave a Comment