Scientists at Hampton Creek are working on a product called Beyond Eggs, a plant-based substitute for egg protein.

Hampton Creek has only been in existence for about a year, but its 17-member team has already created 344 fake egg prototypes and studied 287 types of plants that could be useful in production.

They’re working on creating the perfect eggless mayonnaise--one that has the optimal stability, mouthfeel, and taste. She shows me a closet lined with hundreds of jars, all filled with mayo prototypes.

After going through a number of tests (droplet particle size, thickness, etc.) every single test batch is jarred and stuck in the mayo library to check for shelf stability.

The company’s researchers are also working on multiple eggless baking products, including one called "Eat the Dough" that’s a replacement for people who like to eat cookie dough, but don’t want to deal with all the Salmonella that can come along with it.

Bill Gates has publicly endorsed the company, and in taste tests, reportedly couldn’t tell the difference between a Beyond Eggs muffin and one made with eggs.

2013-05-01

Co.Exist

Inside The Company That's Producing The Most Realistic Fake Eggs You'll Ever Taste

We took a visit to Hampton Creek, a startup trying to engineer an eggless future, to see how they’re engineering new versions of cookies and mayo that don’t involve any chickens. The results will amaze you. So will their "mayo library."

If you eat processed food and you’re not a vegan, a decent portion of your diet probably comes from factory-farmed eggs. Sure, you may stick to cage-free eggs when you’re cooking omelets, but 95% of eggs in the U.S. come from battery-caged facilities where birds are packed body to body in impossibly small spaces. This is not entirely the reason behind the existence of Hampton Creek, a San Francisco startup that makes a plant-based egg substitute so believable that it’s about to sign two deals with Fortune 500 food companies that want to use the stuff in sauces and dressings.

Why Go Beyond Eggs?

When I step into Hampton Creek’s airy warehouse space, I’m greeted by a dog, a couch, and a handful of researchers hard at work on refining the company’s products—in this case, that means they’re doing everything from making cole slaw to mixing up mayonnaise. CEO Josh Tetrick sits me down to tell me the story behind why the company is honing in on the egg market. It’s not an appeal to vegans—though of course, they’re welcome to eat Beyond Eggs products, too.

There are the environmental issues, of course. 18% of greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, and much of the arable land and fertilizer in use today goes towards feeding and dealing with factory farm animals. And then there’s food safety—something that has recently been shoved in the spotlight by the new bird flu scare in China. Animals in close contact breed disease, and it doesn’t take much for a seemingly harmless bird virus to take hold in the human population.

But the big thing for Hampton Creek is the size of the market. About 33% of eggs end up as ingredients in food products like muffins and mayonnaise. There’s a $6 billion market for egg ingredients globally, and production costs are rising around the world. Beyond Eggs costs 18% less than real eggs. So it’s not unreasonable to think that big food producers would want to slip a cheap and convincing egg substitute into their products (both of the companies that Hampton Creek is about to work with plan to disclose that they use Beyond Eggs). Tetrick believes that Hampton Creek can thrive as its own consumer-facing brand as well.

Mayonnaise Everywhere

Hampton Creek has only been in existence for about a year, but its 17-member team has already created 344 fake egg prototypes and studied 287 types of plants that could be useful in production. On the afternoon when I visited, the company had already created eight mayonnaise prototypes. "Plants can bind like an egg in a cookie, hold oil and water in mayonnaise, scramble like an egg, and puff out in a muffin," says Tetrick. You just need to know which plants to use and how. That’s what Hampton Creek’s lab members work on figuring out every day.

Megan Clements, the Director of Emulsion Innovation (yup, Director of Emulsion Innovation) at Hampton Creek, is devoting many of her waking hours to creating the perfect eggless mayonnaise—one that has the optimal stability, mouthfeel, and taste. She shows me a closet lined with hundreds of jars, all filled with mayo prototypes. After going through a number of tests (droplet particle size, thickness, etc.) every single test batch is jarred and stuck in the mayo library (that’s right, mayo library) to check for shelf stability.

Hampton Creek’s extensive testing seems to be paying off. Clements tells me that the company took samples to a nearby university campus, fed the mayo to over 200 students without telling them it was eggless, and then asked them to compare it to one of the most popular mayonnaise brands on the market. The eggless mayo won.

Making the perfect egg substitute requires, as we mentioned earlier, the perfect balance of plants. And so in addition to a mayo library, Hampton Creek also has a plant protein library. "We want to find ones that act like egg proteins," explains senior scientist Joshua Klein. One protein might work best for emulsification, one might work better in baking, and still others may have other egg-mimicking uses. Hampton Creek wants to find them all. It’s a daunting process; few—if any—companies are trying to do what Hampton Creek does, so the company has to create its own plant flours.

So what do Hampton Creek’s best batches actually taste like? The fake ranch mayo I tested was rich, creamy, and light years ahead of the leading vegan mayo brand I also sampled.

Cookies and Dough

Mayo creation is just a piece of what happens in the Hampton Creek lab. The company’s researchers are also working on multiple eggless baking products, including one called "Eat the Dough" that’s a replacement for people who like to eat cookie dough, but don’t want to deal with all the Salmonella that can come along with it.

During my visit, Hampton Creek had gathered a group of community members to taste test cookies made with the Beyond Eggs baking product (a separate product from Eat the Dough). Hampton Creek’s first baking product contained a GMO ingredient—something that health-conscious customers didn’t appreciate. The version tested while I was at the lab had the GMO ingredient swapped out with another plant source.

I joined in the testing and sampled three cookie samples without knowing which ones were made with the Beyond Eggs product. In the end, I chose the two cookies made with Beyond Eggs as my overall favorites. The control cookie made with egg was, in my opinion, worse by far. But I’m no cookie connoisseur, and unfortunately, I didn’t get to ask the other testers what they thought. But I know that Bill Gates agrees with me—he has publicly endorsed the company, and in taste tests, reportedly couldn’t tell the difference between a Beyond Eggs muffin and one made with eggs.

Shweta Rao, the Director of Bakery Innovation at Hampton Creek, also prefers the eggless cookies. "The palette gets used to it tasting a certain way," she says. "The flavor profile is cleaner, not as overpowering."

Beyond Factory Farmed Food

Interest in factory farming alternatives is growing rapidly in the venture capital world. Hampton Creek has $2 million in seed funding from Khosla Ventures. As BusinessWeek points out, Khosla and fellow Silicon Valley VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers have backed 12 startups in the past year that are "trying to engineer healthier and cheaper alternatives to eggs, chicken, cheese, salt, and candy."

One of these startups, Beyond Meat, is backed by Twitter’s cofounders. And like Beyond Eggs, the company’s product (vegan meat, in this case) is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.

There are people who will protest loudly that these products are examples of the artificial crap pumped out of a broken food system, but they’re mostly just made out of plants. And the world needs alternatives to the factory farming industry before our population gets even larger. There is no time to wait for the one perfect solution—there won’t be one, anyway.

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20 Comments

  • ben_marko

    Not that I want to sound heartless, but they're chickens, people. They live about 2 - 3 years. Don't get me wrong - I think Beyond Eggs sounds great - but these birds are being bred for a single purpose: to feed a growing population through the most efficient means possible. The reason chickens are in those big warehouse barns is because of that very reason. How likely is it that we can convince ourselves to get our produce and other foodstuffs (ike eggs) from a local organic source? Unlikely. Small scale at the very best. Plus you need to supply cities with food that they would not be able to grow themselves. Beyond Eggs seems like a perfect substitute for processed food that uses eggs. But I seriously doubt that anyone will substitute the real thing for Beyond Eggs when it comes to breakfast. People just like real eggs better.

  • Achaikit

    Cholesterol from eggs is not bad cholesterol, it's good cholesterol. There is an obsession with low-fat, but in truth, fat from animal products (that are not factory farmed) is good for you. It's the fat from plant-based oils that does harm to our bodies, because our bodies are not made to process these types of fat. Processed foods are made of these plant-based oils. There is a correlation between processed foods and obesity, depression, and cancer. So you feed people now with these processed foods, but you have a whole host of health problems down the line, further increasing our healthcare costs. It's just scary what marketing can do to people, and the sexy appeal of the startup culture is making this new product a glamorous thing, rather than looking at the possible health risks.

  • Ron Pickarski

    Back in the late 70's I created a vegan mayonnaise and have used egg replacement systems in my proteins, bakery mixes, pudding and made egg less meringue in culinary Olympic competition in Germany.  While I admire their efforts, there is no one egg replacement system that functions universally like an egg.  If they are selling their egg replacement system as an ingredient it will cost far more than purchasing the ingredients and building them into the recipe or industrial formula.  This goes to their business model or business plan. 

    They definitely have the right idea but seem to be going down the wrong road with it.

    Ron Pickarski

  • Jennifer Wallace

    I'm a vegan who cooks all kinds of things everyday without eggs. Ground flax seeds combined with warm water binds all sorts of baked goods. I make KILLER yeast rolls that curl your toes without an egg in site. 
    Can't say i'll have a use for this product--I've already figured out how to make stellar dishes using natural egg replacers, but something like this could be a very positive move toward the health and happiness of the world as we continue to grow and consume. 

  • Christianne Gonzalez

    We think our product is a positive step in the right direction too. It's awesome that you have already found a way to bake without using eggs! -Christianne with the HCF Customer Loyalty Team

  • Sunho Lee

    the problem isn't eating meat/eggs/dairy so much as the sheer quantities pumped in nearly every kind of processed food.  by switching most of that to plant based ingredients, and saving eggs for omelets, meat for steaks, milk for hot cocoa (etc.etc.) we could all enjoy some animal products and the animals wouldn't have to suffer so much and be subject to antibiotics and disease, etc.  i don't know for sure, but probably 90% of animal products consumed by humans are in things like baked goods, snack foods, hell even french fries have beef ingredients...  and the reason is, it's cheaper for the big companies to use factory farmed milk, eggs, and meat.  

    they only care about profit, and will change quickly (many already have started) if companies like this can get off the ground.  this is a multi-billion dollar idea that would change the world for the better.  

    by the way, a lot of milk-derivatives are extremely bad for you, and have been a major suspect in the obesity epidemic in the western world.  if you look at the history of disease in, say, the US, and correlate it increase in consumption of processed animal ingredients you will see that there seems to a relationship there.....

  • Christianne Gonzalez

    We definitely agree with you and think that our product is an excellent way to decrease our use of animal products, specifically eggs produced by chickens in battery cages. Beyond Eggs for Cookies is also non-GMO, soy-free, cholesterol-free, allergen-free and dairy-free too! -Christianne with the HCF Customer Service Team

  • Sunho Lee

    in fact, i do think that eggs are nearly a perfect human food...at least if you were to find a wild bird's nest and eat those.

  • Sunho Lee

    they aren't as perfect as you think...if you don't think what goes into the chicken goes into the egg, you are very, very naive.  and what goes into most of the chickens is chemicals..growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, genetically modified grains, and who knows what kind of cleaning solution, insecticides, fungicides, etc. are sprayed inside those factories.  not only that, when an animal is stressed, scared, in pain, or whatever else, hormones are released in the body.  this is why stress is so bad for human beings..the body makes poison and poisons itself...so the eggs contain all that stuff too.  

    in Korea they eat dogs...but the instant they kill the dogs, they cause them to suffer and be in a state of shock/fear/anger...if you see the dead bodies of these dogs, you can see that every nerve is tensed, and the eyes are bulging almost out of the sockets, the agony of the dying animal is very obvious.  they do this for the precise reason that the adrenaline and hormones being released are supposed good for male "endurance" (meaning sexual performance)..this is a very old practice..i'm just saying that as a bit of proof of the stress changing the meat.  i'm not gonna say the Koreans are evil to do that....it's a very old cultural practice.  at least it's an instantaneous thing...the chickens are in that state their whole lives,maybe.

    anyways, if you think that this kind of product is perfect, i feel that you are misguided.

  • addzies

    Indeed the production system is broken, but the egg in itself isn't. It's unnecessary to engineer an egg alternative for anyone other than those who are intolerant to them. If you "hope to change" the broken system of egg production then focus on the problems facing that broken egg production system and not the egg, because the egg in itself is already perfect. 

  • Christianne Gonzalez

    Hey Addzies - You know, the way eggs are produced definitely is not perfect. Here's the deal: 99% of the 1.7 trillion eggs laid each year are produced by food-pumped, antibiotics-pumped, unhealthy chickens that are squeezed into battery cages for two years of their lives. Inhuman treatment and massive water consumption are a major part of the current egg industry. It's a broken system that we hope to change with our work, but we also think that sustainable, free-range eggs are an important part how the world will answer this challenge as well. 

    I am always here if you ever have any questions or concerns. Please feel free to email me at christianne@hamptoncreekfoods.com. -Christianne with HCF Customer Loyalty Team

  • Billbruehl

    I'm not convinced.  I am suspicious tho.  This whole thing sounds like something from Onion; that is, it sounds like satire.  Besides aren't the plants they have to use also going to become factory produced?  And don't plants deserve the same good treatment we want to give to animals?

  • Christianne Gonzalez

    Hi Billbruehl - While I am certainly a fan of The Onion, this is for real! We've worked to create a non-GMO, no-soy, dairy-free, cholesterol-free and vegan friendly egg substitute and we're super excited to roll it out this June. The plants we're using (think peas, chickpeas and sorghum) will not be factory produced but grown in the ground like plants should be :) 
    -Christianne with the HCF Customer Loyalty Team

  • IzzieKay

    Hmm... my take on this is that when it comes to food we humans should try to stick to nature as much as possible. There's many ways of modifying foods for purportedly practical reasons, and while cross-breeding/artifical selection works with nature, many other forms such as genetical engineering don't. So far, it has been shown, that any way of processing/altering foods from their natural state generally leads to a reduction in nutritional value or unforseeable health side effects. Vitamins in the whole fresh food are always better assimilated by the body than synthetic or altered nutrients (which may be even harmful). Also, from my research in the field of nutrition I gather that human beings definitely are omnivores, i.e. most healthy when consuming wholesome organic animal protein in addition to plant foods. I know that in today's world meat and animal protein are still a luxury that not all people on the world can enjoy. But given that these engineered foods would probably be aimed at Western nations anyways, I think that we should invest more energy in promoting and helping small to medium scale farms that rely on a polycultural (diversity of plant crops and coexistence with cattle) instead of the monocultural principle. These produce the most healthful food (esp. when local), and a polycultural (organic) agriculture seems to be the most sustainable in the long term. The cattle help fertilizing the fields, and the pasture and harvest residues are used as cattle feed, while the soil is nourished instead of being depleted and polluted.

    Free-range organic eggs have an array of nutrients vital for human health that is very unlikely to be emulated by an engineered food. The nutrients are complex and fragile and can easily be damaged when any processing occurs. I'm excited about the advance of technology in general, but when it comes to food we should stick to and work with nature when possible.

  • Izzie Kay

    Thanks for your comment, Christiane Gonzalez. I agree with you, and also with the comment of Sunho Lee above who says that it would be great to use your product as egg replacement in processed foods (eggs in processed foods have likely lost any nutritional benefit by then) in order to reduce the demand for factory-farmed eggs, while supporting a more ethical approach to chicken farming (free-range, organic) to produce eggs that can be enjoyed as a wholesome food.

  • Christianne Gonzalez

    We definitely agree that we need a more sustainable and natural food production system. And we have no problem with eggs in general, just the way they are produced. 99% of the 1.7 trillion eggs laid each year are produced by chickens that are squeezed into battery cages for two years of their lives. GMO food, antibiotics, inhumane treatment and massive water consumption are a major part of this current egg industry. It's a broken system that we hope to change with our work. We also think that sustainable, free-range eggs are an important part of how the world will answer this challenge too. I'm always here if you have any questions or concerns. Please feel free to email me at christianne@hamptoncreekfoods.com.  - Christianne with the HCF Customer Loyalty Team

  • IzzieKay

    I absolutely endorse this product for a purpose like yours. I just disagree with the premise that it should be the goal to "engineer an eggless future". While factory farming is certainly to be condemned, there are better ways (organic, free-range, local) that need to be supported.

  • Nusbaum

     All your points may be valid but for people like me who are intolerant to eggs, diary & gluten, a product such as Beyond Eggs could be life changing.