Building a Better Egg

Food & Beverage Home Science
Building a Better Egg

The egg is a near perfect food. It’s packed with protein, vitamins, and minerals. It tastes good and lends itself to a wide variety of foods–baked goods, sauces, pasta, and of of course omelets. And it comes in a tidy, easy to transport package. But the way the vast majority of eggs are produced in this country is anything, but perfect. In fact, it’s rotten.comingtobayareamakerfaire_2013

Industrial egg production requires vast quantities of water- and petroleum-dependent corn and soy for feed. Chicken waste fouls the air and water. Massive, centralized egg factories regularly lead to mass contamination such as an outbreak of salmonella in 2011 that sickened more than 1,000 people and led to a recall of more than half a billion eggs.

And our industrial egg system is brutal on hens. Shortly after birth their beaks are burned off with hot blade–without painkillers. Then the birds are forced to live a nasty, short life crammed into a “battery” cage about as big a door mat with four other hens, unable to lift their wings.

This is what goes into the production of “cheap” eggs. But Josh Tetrick thinks he’s found a better way.

Screen Shot 2013-04-26 at 2.06.35 PM
Source: Hampton Creek Foods.

Josh is CEO of Hampton Creek Foods, a San Francisco-based food technology company named by Bill Gates as one of three companies shaping the future of food. Hampton Creek makes an egg substitute out of plants called Beyond Eggs. No chickens required. Josh says he’s not out to reform what he sees as an “absurd” egg production industry, but to render it obsolete with a better alternative.

“Our food system is totally broken,” he says. “We just look at the system and we think it’s totally crazy town.”

Josh was an aspiring football player turned entrepreneur. He led a United Nations business initiative in Kenya. He  worked for President Clinton and the president of Liberia and taught street children as a Fulbright Scholar in Nigeria and South Africa. He graduated from Cornell University and the University of Michigan Law School.

Josh also thinks it’s crazy how little innovation has been applied to food production. He’s trying to change that.

To build a better egg, his company is looking at a range of plants with egg-like functionality, i.e. coagulation, volume building, and emulsification. They have isolated these properties in plants like sorghum, rapeseed, and a kind of pea to produce an egg substitute that will hit the consumer market in two months. He says his plant-based eggs will be 40 percent less carbon intensive than industrial eggs and will incorpate several organically grown plants. The product won’t be sold by the dozen, but rather in bags for use as scrambled eggs, for baking, and other uses.

Is it possible to make a better egg? The proof, of course, will be in the pudding.

While I don’t think he’ll be cooking up omelets, Josh will be a featured speaker at Maker Faire Bay Area next month. 


38 thoughts on “Building a Better Egg

  1. Justin Ross says:

    Our industrial egg system *is* abhorrent. Even then, though, the egg is a nutritional powerhouse. For their size and price, eggs are ridiculously good for you.

    A plant-based replacement is, without question, going to be lacking in the nutrition that makes eggs so great.

    So what’s the solution? IMO, it’s local farms that don’t treat their chickens like egg factories to be abused and discarded. There are more and more of them every day. Most people in the U.S., whether they know it or not, have at least one or two farms relatively close-by that are producing eggs (and meat) from well-treated, pastured animals. Even if it’s a bit of a trek, fresh eggs will last quite a while in the fridge, so you could go once every few weeks and stock up.

    These eggs have more flavor, even MORE nutrition, and have a significantly lower environmental impact than industrial egg “factories”.

    A number of these farms are listed here:

    If you disagree with the meat, egg, or dairy industry, and want to make that point via the wallets of those in charge, abstaining completely is not the best way to do so. If, for example, a meat-eater goes vegetarian in protest of the poor treatment of feedlot animals, the meat industry sees that as money that’s just gone; nothing they can do about it (they don’t know why you stopped eating meat. Your point is not made).

    If, however, that same meat-eater starts getting humanely-raised, pastured meat from a local farm, the meat industry can see that. If enough people do so, and enough of the money starts moving from feedlot meat/egg/dairy producers to more sustainable options, the smart move for businesses will be to start moving to that sort of system, as well.

    Just a thought.

    1. Steve Reaser (@screaser) says:

      Why “A plant-based replacement is, without question, going to be lacking in the nutrition that makes eggs so great.”

      I see no reason to believe that.

      With the right plant-based proteins, vitamins, and minerals going into the production of non-animal “eggs” there is no reason at all that these fauxeggs can’t be even *more* nutritious. It might take some doing, but it is completely possible… and if this thing is to have a chance of taking off, that should be part of the mission.

  2. Lux Lee says:

    Nice idea but keep the levels of hysteria lower, OK?

  3. Jeff Carter says:

    Did a PETA write this article?

  4. chuck says:

    I’m as ‘yay science!’ as the next guy around here, but this seems silly. Rather than re-engineering the egg we should just raise better eggs. My buddy has a small urban brood that supplies his family, several neighbors and my wife and I. He’s not even raising prime birds, they’re all retired production reds, but he’s producing enough to feed a dozen people.
    A few households per block could supply an entire neighborhood with ultra locavore eggs and even chicken. The benefits are not just nutritional. Sharing produce with your neighbors opens doors and makes your neighborhood a better place.
    Barter builds a community, economics destroys it.

    1. knitpicky says:

      Yes! It’s really encouraging to see cities loosen the city-chicken regulations. Having backyard chickens is so easy, delicious, and dare I say community building!

  5. anansi133 says:

    My neighborhood has two different hoseholds with their own hens. I know making a chicken tractor, hen house, or incubator might seem more Mother Earth News than make magazine, it’s a lot more accessible than some industrial process kludging plants in imitation of animals.

    An arduino controlled chicken coop producing eggs that are cooked in a sous vide technique, that makes more sense to me!

  6. Alan S. Blue says:

    What I need are ideas for robotically shelling an egg without breaking the yolk.

  7. chuck says:

    Wow, your head would explode if you ever saw veggie sausage.

  8. Peter says:

    I’m in the UK, and to be honest, I hardly ever see any eggs that aren’t labled “free range”. Surely the problem of battery farming doesn’t require the development of a new GM egg-replica, it just needs improvements in animal welfare.

    1. haydn says:

      Free range still have there beaks damaged, unless you are willing and able to inspect the locations all your animal products are produced, you can never be sure of the welfare standards of the animals used. I did finally after years of trying to eat ethical eggs and dairy go vegan.

    2. NYCs Only Eric says:
  9. Kevin says:

    Oh boy! Organic food? So the plants replacements will be even less efficient than eating actual eggs? YAY! We get to eat plants with 8-10 times more pesticides because organic pesticides are less effective! Hooray!

    1. NYCs Only Eric says:

      Now you are just making assumptions based on what facts?

  10. robbomills says:

    I won’t be happy until I can crack an egg open and bacon falls out.

    1. Stett Holbrook says:

      Bacon and eggs in one! Genius.

  11. Donald says:

    I’m allergic to eggs, so this is fantastic news!! I’ve often wanted to delve deeply enough into protein chemistry to reproduce the physical properties of egg whites without actually using real egg whites. The currently available substitutes are lacking. Yeah, you can make a pancake with them, but if you want to make mousse or cheesecake or quiche, or brownies, forget about it. I doubt whether these plant-based eggs will ever replace real eggs on the breakfast table, but I think they could replace real eggs in packaged foods where consistency and lack of animal origin would be real wins for food manufacturers.

  12. Ryan says:

    This is great! I love the idea that we could soon be living in a futuristic world where using animals becomes obsolete. I, for one, have better things to do than bother with tending to “humane” backyard chickens. Props to Hampton Creek Foods for creating a more efficient and healthier egg.

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Stett Holbrook is editor of the Bohemian, an alternative weekly in Santa Rosa, California. He is a former senior editor at Maker Media.

He is also the co-creator of Food Forward, a documentary TV series for PBS about the innovators and pioneers changing our food system.

View more articles by Stett Holbrook
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