The conundrum which has frustrated philosophy students and school children for generations- which came first, the chicken or the egg?- can finally be put aside. Not because there is a satisfactory answer, but because it is no longer relevant (alright, I will grant you that it never was incredibly relevant).
In a similar spirit to our earlier reports on synthetic beef, we were very interested to hear about a new plant based egg substitute, or chicken-less egg, which is coming to the market.
Over the past several years “free-range” eggs have begun appearing in grocery cases. The usual scenario of egg production takes place, not on a farm but in a poultry factory. During the period of their lives that chicken hens lay eggs, they will normally produce one egg each day. To meet the high demand for eggs, egg factories keep thousand of hens in uncomfortably small cages where they are force fed a diet calculated to maximize egg production. The feed is mostly corn and soybean based, both of which require a large amount of land and chemically based fertilizers to grow.
One answer to the “dimly-lit, feces and urine smelling industrial warehouses” where most of our eggs come from is free-range eggs. The theory put forth by marketers is that the eggs which are produced by happier free-range birds are inherently superior to those from an egg factory. In actual fact, all the producer needs to do in order to call his chickens “free-range” is to give them an opportunity each day to get out of their cage. Whether or not the chicken chooses to leave the cage, or if they are even physically able to, is beside the point. Unless you can personally visit the farm and see the hen cavorting about the barnyard, think long and hard about whether free-range eggs are worth the extra money.
The chicken-less egg does away with the chicken altogether. The product which has been devised by Hampton Creek of San Francisco is completely plant based. Although the formulation is obviously proprietary, Hampton Creek founder Josh Tetrick states that 11 different plants are used. The first products to come to market are a sandwich spread called Just Mayo and a baking product called Beyond Eggs which is intended for cookies. Just Mayo uses proteins from peas to achieve the proper consistency and Beyond Eggs powder uses sorghum.
Beyond Eggs has been tried in cakes and brownies, but the performance has yet to be satisfactory according to a Hampton Creek spokesman. Cookies made with Beyond Eggs and sandwiches featuring Just Mayo are available at California Whole Foods Markets, and will soon be sold on line. Hampton Foods has announced that Just Scramble is due for release in March 2014.
Beyond Eggs is not the first egg substitute on the market, but Hampton Creek is working hard to have the most egg-like performance. Not only are they a healthy alternative to eggs (plant based products are naturally free of cholesterol), they are also reported to cost 19% less than chicken eggs.