Anyone who has spent any amount of time barely making ends meet, like me and my wife currently are, knows that sometimes when shopping for food you have no choice but to go with the cheap stuff. Which is how I came to be eating a can of Southgate Beef Stew this evening. That’s a brand I hadn’t even heard of previously and I’m not even sure where we got it from. I normally would be reluctant to even try it, but when you end up with weeks like this one where the bank account is literally at $0 available until Friday you start looking at the stuff that’s been in the cupboard for awhile.
So I grabbed the can opener and dumped the contents into a bowl and slapped it into the microwave which is right about the time I took a close look at the label on the can. This is what I saw:
Yeah, that just rolls right off the tongue suggesting a savoriness of a unique and special kind. I always get a little nervous when something on the label sounds as generic as possible or includes the word PRODUCT in it. Just what the fuck is TEXTURED VEGETABLE PROTEIN PRODUCT anyway?
Turns out it’s pretend meat:
TVP is made from a mixture of proteins extracted primarily from soybeans, but also cotton seeds, wheat and oats. It is extruded into various shapes (chunks, flakes, nuggets, grains, and strips) and sizes, exiting the nozzle while still hot and expanding as it does so. The defatted thermoplastic proteins are heated to 150-200°C, which denatures them into a fibrous, insoluble, porous network that can soak up as much as three times its weight in liquids. As the pressurized molten protein mixture exits the extruder, the sudden drop in pressure causes rapid expansion into a puffy solid that is then dried. As much as 50% protein when dry, TVP can be rehydrated at a 2:1 ratio, which drops the percentage of protein to an approximation of ground meat at 16%. High quality TVP can be mixed with ground meat to a ratio of up to 1:3 (rehydrated TVP to meat) without reducing the quality of the final product, sometimes improving it if the meat used is poor. TVP is primarily used as a meat substitute due to its very low cost at less than a third the price of ground beef, and when cooked together will help retain more weight from the meat by absorbing juices normally lost.
It’s commonly used in “Vegan” versions of foods normally made with ground beef. Or, as in this case, in cheap foods to lower the cost. The clinical nature of its name makes it sound somewhat suspect, but it’s actually used in a lot of stuff. You can buy it in bulk and there are lots of sites on the web with recipes for it. All things considered it’s probably the last thing in that stew I should’ve been concerned about.
As for the stew itself, well, it tasted like cheap stew. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t anything that I’d develop cravings for either. It did the job of Food-as-Fuel that I needed it to do this evening ensuring that I’ll survive long enough to see better days with more flavorful foods.