On Artificial Eggs

Quite a bit of chatter these days about the all-vegetable, Bill Gates-funded artificial egg. This story and others prompted reader Rainey to ask if I had an opinion on it. I’d be very curious to test artificial eggs in a home kitchen, Rainey, since I have a strong feeling that their main utility will be in the packaged foods industry where manufacturers are forever looking to replace the functional characteristics of animal-based ingredients with vegetable alternatives that won’t spoil and won’t fluctuate wildly in price.

I’m more skeptical about their applicability in the world of baking and pastry. According to the above linked piece, the developers have found a formulation that works great in a cake batter. That may well be the case. But how well will that formulation work for a meringue? As a base for chocolate mousse or ice cream? As a glaze?

The amazing thing about eggs is not that they do one thing well, but that they do so many things well. Packed as they are with different proteins, lipids and emulsifiers, they’re the kitchen’s ultimate utility player. I don’t see a food manufacturer replicating all that in a single product. And if they can’t, why would the majority of people — who aren’t especially bothered by poultry farms or any egg related health issues — buy multiple products for different uses when they can have it all in a single, nature-made package?

Eggs have an awfully well developed brand, as we marketing types like to say. I don’t see people giving them up wholesale for something lab-created. My guess is that they’ll be a successful product, but not a game-changing one for the average home cook. They’ll be a godsend for some, just another choice at the grocery store for others. I wish the developers well since I think artificial eggs will have broad applicability in the industry at large, and will be a blessing for many protein-starved people around the world. I’ll definitely try some when I find them!

13 thoughts on “On Artificial Eggs”

  1. I think vegans have at least the prospect of new opportunities. People with cholesterol issues could have some sense of a solution as well as people who are troubled by the issue of salmonella. I can’t remember if there was an evaluation of the protein equivalence or what the price difference might be so perhaps there’s a possibility of more a more affordable source of protein for people with economic disadvantages. I am, as I said in my e-mail, skeptical but I can see that some benefits are possible.

    I’m grateful for your expert evaluation and I’ll be watching to see how this market develops and what we all might be able to take advantage of. I’m a (soft core) natural food hippie in my heart but I can remember being quite shocked a number of years ago when I read a whole list of health and longevity advantages from some of the preservatives that go into processed foods.

    1. It’s not like they’re making eggs out of edible oil products – it’s vegetable-based.

      And as Joe has pointed out, having a protein source that’s easy to make, doesn’t fluctuate a lot in the market, and doesn’t spoil easily is something that can be of huge worth to people in areas of extreme poverty, who have very little to no ready access to protein sources.

      Plus “natural” isn’t always good for you. i.e. Arsenic, cyanide, St. John’s Wort (in large enough quantities), digitalis (unless you have certain heart conditions), etc. The knee-jerk “Chemicals are bad for you!” response to man-made items is problematic, as all the food we eat, if broken down into its constituent parts, are in fact MADE of “chemicals”.

      Not to say man-made is always better or even good, but that it’s a more complex relationship than “Natural = good; Man-made = bad”.

      1. Also a good point. The great boon of our affluence is that it affords us all manner of choices. Artificial eggs will be yet another one of those. I’ll be very curious to see how the market reacts to them. My guess is that they’ll make an initial splash, then fade from view as they’re mostly rejected by American consumers but mostly embraced by the industry at large. They’ll be good business, and might turn out to be huge on the consumer level in places like India. But how do you say…I could be wrong.

  2. I, for one, plan to stay with real food. How did the human race manage to survive for so long if real food is so bad for us?

    1. Heh. As my grandmother used to like to say “it’s a wonder any of us survived!” 😉

  3. I can see how this would be useful in industrial applications, or for vegans, but I don’t see it being very useful in fortifying the diets of developing countries (as stated in the article). It seems unlikely that there are many places that could grow the mix of plants needed to produce this, but couldn’t just raise chickens.

    1. A thoughtful point, Mike. Perhaps it was meant in the context of international food aid, who knows?


      – Joe

    2. …but, since this stuff seems to be presented as a dry powder that doesn’t require refrigeration is it possibly it would still be more practical to ship it and store it where it might be needed most.

      I went to my local WF today to see if I could get some and start experimenting with it. They didn’t even seem to be aware of it yet altho within about 15 minutes they were coming up to speed on the process for ordering it and hope to have it stocked next week.

      They are currently carrying some other powdered egg substitute (who knew?) but it expressly says it’s not suitable for scrambling or whipping. So it seems that there is, at least, something breakthough about Beyond Eggs (the brand name).

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