Incredible, edible eggs – in addition to our scrambled, over-easy and poached breakfast favorites, they also provide the glue that keeps our meatballs from becoming mush and our cookies from crumbling. It's irreplaceable… or is it?
What if we could take the hen out of egg production? I realize that's a risky proposition for an editor of a farm publication, but when we're talking projections of about 9 billion people on this planet by 2050, it's an intriguing concept.
Wait, it's no longer a concept. Hampton Creek Foods out of San Francisco, Cal. has developed an egg substitute called Beyond Eggs.
Really? I wondered if I might be able to track someone down at this company. Remarkably, I found a few articles about this product on the internet and also a discussion thread where the CEO of Hampton Creek Foods actually responded to some comments on Beyond Eggs -- even leaving his e-mail address. Wow, you don't see that kind of disclosure all that often, particularly with anything controversial. So I zipped off an e-mail and within hours, I got a response. And, the next day, I had a nice chat with CEO Josh Tetrick.
He's a highly energized, 32-year-old visionary that might be onto something. He's got the attention of a couple Fortune 500 companies, including one that is doing a product launch with Beyond Eggs this spring.
So what exactly is Beyond Eggs? Tetrick put together a team of food scientists, chefs, biochemists, and molecular biologists to deconstruct the egg, and analyze its 22 special functions. They searched and tested hundreds of plant-based alternatives looking for that same sticking magic and taste of nature's hailed perfect food. The result – the team produced a grayish-green powder that can be hydrated to get the job done. It's true make up is proprietary, but Tetrick says the team looked at pea, chickpea, rape seed, sorghum, several varieties of algae and tree gum, to name a few. Together, this concoction of natural plant proteins mimics the properties and taste of eggs. Tetrick even goes where no other has gone before and says that in some circumstances, "it even surpassed the egg – particularly in mayonnaise." Ouch… hens, you best sharpen your claws, them's fightin' words.
At this juncture, Beyond Eggs is not targeting the fresh egg market for say scrambled eggs or deviled eggs… let's face it, that's a tough one to crack.
But, where this product could have a real impact is in baked goods, like muffins and cookies, and in sauces, like ranch and mayo. That market consumes about a third of the 93 billion eggs produced in the U.S. each year, according to USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service. Tetrick is working with manufacturers to supply a product that best meets their exact needs.
I really wanted to hate this concept of fake eggs, which is rooted in my deep homage for untainted, whole foods and respect for egg producers – although, sorghum, pea and chick pea farmers might benefit. There was also a little push back for me because it carried an underlying anti-animal, vegan agenda.
Tetrick, who admits to being a vegan, adamantly refutes that Beyond Eggs is, well, anything beyond substituting the egg. He contends it's about producing a product that is more shelf-stable, requires fewer resources (including water, energy, land, feed) to produce, is easier to transport and less expensive.
"This product is not about the morality of eating animals," Tetrick says. "This is not a way to say we don't respect farmers. I'm not saying you shouldn't eat eggs or animals. That's not my business."
Tetrick claims Beyond Eggs in its dry powder lasts 20% longer than "battery-produced eggs" and is 18% cheaper than "battery-produced eggs." He was careful not to include cage-free or free-range in his comparison, which clearly points to a marketing strategy to attack conventional egg production. He did ante up on that point saying he was concerned about the confined conditions and "undesirable places where 99% of our current eggs are produced. We wouldn't be doing this if people had chickens in their back yards," he says.
Animal welfare, antibiotic use, and environmental and food safety concerns were all part of his selling package. What I couldn't find anywhere was the nutritional comparison. Tetrick merely said they were similar and, "there are plenty of protein-based plants that are very close in nutritional value."
Beyond Eggs is also cholesterol-free and may be the answer for those with egg allergies.
"We still have a lot more R and D to go," he says. "We're working to minimize processing because the more steps away from the natural state of the plant, the worse it is for us."
I certainly have mixed feelings about this product. I do know that the most natural state of an egg is one that comes from a hen. What do you think?