What came first: the plant or the egg? Wait, that’s not right. From times of yore, it has been the conundrum of the chicken and the egg, but now Josh Tetrick, founder of startup Hampton Creek Foods, wants to remove chickens from the equation altogether.
Tetrick has gathered a host of specialists such as food scientists, chefs and molecular biologists in his kitchen-cum-lab in San Francisco to figure out how to create a product that would do the work of an egg but be made out of plants. To develop this product, called Beyond Eggs, the team had to dissect an egg down to its microbiology and nutritional components. They studied 287 types of plants to create 344 prototypes of an egg-yolk product that replicates the way an egg coagulates, can be emulsified and aerated – all the reasons why it is such an important ingredient in so many facets of cooking.
The result is a powdered plant-based egg that can be used to replace eggs in foods such as baked goods or dressing and sauces, which, for now, will be sold to food manufacturers rather than directly to consumers. For Tetrick, the goal was not to make a vegan or eco-product but to create something that could actually be a better alternative to eggs for everyone. He says:
Our food system is so goofed up—its negative impact on the environment and on our health and its treatment of animals. Our product is about taking something out of the food supply that’s not needed and replacing it with something better.
Beyond Eggs are cholestoral-free, safer (no salmonella), cheaper, more humane (95% of egg-laying hens are battery-caged) and have a smaller carbon footprint. The product is sustainable in a planet with an ever-growing population and an inefficient food ecosystem.
To be successful, Tetrick believes Beyond Eggs has to appeal to a wider audience. As a vegan himself, he explains that people who are vegan eat vegan because of their lifestyle choice, not because it tastes good. Tetrick wanted a product that would end the compromise between health, cost and taste. For this, he has the Twinkie test:
Let’s stop compromising. Let’s give my dad a Twinkie that tastes just as good and feels just as good but is less expensive.
Hampton Creek Foods is backed by venture capitalist firm Khosla Ventures (where Bill Gates is an investor). They have raised $2 million already and are hoping to have their egg replacement products in food by the end of the year.
For now, you can sign up for a sample to try in any baked good. And in case you were worried that your chocolate chip cookies will taste funny without the real deal, Bill Gates couldn’t tell the difference.