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Ingredient Investigation: Getting to know hydrolyzed vegetable protein

Ingredient Investigation: Getting to know hydrolyzed vegetable protein

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One of the most common rules of reading food labels is to only buy foods that contain ingredients that you can pronounce. However, we have to be more careful than that.

Foods are being made with ingredients that we can technically pronounce, like hydrolyzed vegetable protein. It’s fairly easy to say, and it has vegetables and protein. So how bad can it be?

Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) is primarily a flavor enhancer. It goes by many other names, such as hydrolyzed protein, hydrolyzed soy protein, hydrolyzed wheat protein, TVP, texturized vegetable protein and hydrolyzed whey protein.

The vegetable portion of HVP is usually soy, but can also be wheat, corn or whey-based. It is produced by taking one of these constituents (soy, wheat, corn or whey), boiling it in hydrochloric acid and then neutralizing the solution with sodium hydroxide. This process is called hydrolysis.

HVP is found in prepared soups, sauces, chilis, stews, hot dogs, gravies, seasoned snack foods, dips and dressings. Also look for it in packaged stocks, bouillons, frozen food products, marinades, chips, breads and stuffing products.

It is added to these and other products to provide a savory, meat flavor often referred to as “umami.” On food labels it is often described as “natural flavoring” so look very carefully at the ingredient lists!

Is it safe?

In short, no. After hydrolysis, one of the amino acids left is glutamic acid. You are probably most familiar with glutamic acid in the form of monosodium glutamate, or MSG. Hydrolyzed vegetable protein contains 10-30 percent MSG.

While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified MSG as a food ingredient that is “generally recognized as safe,” the use of MSG remains controversial. Since the 1960s, increasing anecdotal evidence and reports from consumers have linked MSG to symptoms such as headaches, sweating, numbness, rapid heartbeat, nausea and weakness. People who are especially sensitive to MSG can also have reactions to the reduced amounts of MSG found in hydrolyzed vegetable protein.

Another concern that should be raised about HVP is that it is most commonly produced using genetically modified products, such as soy and corn. GMO foods are still new in our food system and very little research has been done to show the safety of these products to our long-term health.

While everyone should avoid HVP, people who are sensitive to gluten, soy or milk should be especially careful since HVP is often produced using these foods as a base.

What should I do?

Open your pantry and start reading labels on all food in cans, boxes and packages. Do you see hydrolyzed vegetable protein or one of its other names listed? Throw it out and find a replacement that does not contain HVP.

Look for recipes to make your own sauces, gravies and salad dressings, play with herbs and spices to make your own mixes and opt for raw nuts, plain pretzels and fruit as snacks. Not only will you save your health, but you’ll also be saving money.

Tanya McCausland, practices holistic and therapeutic nutrition at Simply Well in Carlisle. She supports clients through nutrition and lifestyle counseling focused on hormone balance, digestive health, pre/post natal nutrition, food allergies and many other health challenges. Learn more about her and her programs at


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