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Reinventing the Egg

Even if you’re not watching your cholesterol, there are plenty of reasons to avoid eating eggs. Ethical issues aside, industrial eggs provide only about 20% of the energy it takes to produce them. And while some egg substitutes do exist, they often pale in comparison to the real thing. Josh Tetrick, the CEO of Hampton Creek Foods, thinks we can do better.

A food scientist at Hampton Creek Foods tests how plant-based egg alternatives function in baked goods. Video still courtesy of TechCrunch.

A food scientist at Hampton Creek Foods tests how plant-based egg alternatives function in baked goods.
Video still courtesy of TechCrunch

Of the 79 billion eggs laid in the United States each year, a striking 33% are immediately processed for further use in everything from baked goods and pastas to dressings and sauces. In many of these foods, the eggs themselves are no longer important—it’s the function of the eggs in altering qualities like texture and mouthfeel that matters. “Nature created the egg, but man decided to use it in food,” explains Tetrick. “What if we had chosen a plant instead of an egg?”

Eggs give muffins their springiness, keep cookies from crumbling, and hold together sauces and dressings; so replacing the versatile functionality of eggs is no easy feat. Searching the plant world for replacement additives with equivalent versatility is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. But Tetrick is not easily discouraged: “There is so much beauty in the complexity of the molecular biology of plants. We want to tap into that complexity.”

Tetrick’s collaborative team of chefs and scientists is hard at work identifying new egg substitutes. While the details of this research are still proprietary, here is an example that highlights how the basic research process works: The team first chooses a plant-derived molecule or plant product, such as kale powder, and uses it to replace eggs in a common food product. By making mayonnaise with kale powder, the team might discover that kale powder is a terrible emulsifier but gives mayonnaise a nice mouthfeel and a surprisingly eggy taste. Biochemists would then work to dissect the molecular properties of the kale powder that contribute to these desirable qualities.

So far Tetrick’s team has tested hundreds of different plant-based ingredients. As with any scientific research, there is plenty of trial and error. “We fail 99.99% of the time,” admits Tetrick, but his team is quickly honing in on the perfect combinations of plant-derived molecules. Their first product, Beyond Eggs, contains peas, sunflower lecithin, canola, and natural gums extracted from tree sap [1] and may someday replace real eggs in mayonnaise, muffins, and cookies. The team even has an early prototype for plant-based “scrambled eggs” in the works.

Clearly, the team at Hampton Creek Foods has a lot to be excited about. Through their scientific research and culinary creativity, these chefs and scientists are creating healthy and sustainable new food products. Says Tetrick, “What inspires our team, what keeps us excited to come to work every day, is that we are building the future of food.”

Take a tour of the Hampton Creek food lab with CEO Josh Tetrick and TechCrunch blogger Anthony Ha.


References

  1. Stone, Brad. “Venture Capital Sees Promise in Lab-Created Eco-Foods.” Bloomberg Businessweek 24 Jan. 2013. Web. 1 Apr. 2013.

Liz Roth-JohnsonAbout the author: Liz Roth-Johnson is a Ph.D. candidate in Molecular Biology at UCLA. If she’s not in the lab, you can usually find her experimenting in the kitchen.

Read more by Liz Roth-Johnson


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One thought on “Reinventing the Egg

  1. Pingback: Boston Bites Back, Noma Brews Beer, and Bacon Lets You Live Forever | Louisville Restaurants Blog

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