22nd March 2023 Editorial by: Gerard Ruth, Food Safety Consultant
You Can Make an Omelet...Without Breaking a Few Eggs!
Eggs and egg ingredients are ubiquitous beyond what we consume for breakfast, as they are found in countless baked goods, salad dressings, surimi, and protein workout powders. Egg whites are used as clarifying agents for consommé and winemaking, and they are even utilized in medicines like anesthetics and certain vaccines. Cholesterol concerns have diminished a little with clinical studies advocating the need for 'good' cholesterol. Other noteworthy trends are increased egg white consumption and the emergence of omega-3 eggs - where eggs are fortified with two different omega-3 fatty acids - brain cell boosting alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), associated with guarding against heart disease.
Egg's essential array of key amino acids and the 'good' monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats make it a nutritional wonder. Eggs and egg fractions capture most of the cooking and baking words that end in 'ing,' as they are used for their binding, emulsifying, thickening, gelation, glazing, aerating, foaming, leavening, tenderizing, coloring, stabilizing, flavoring, and coating properties.
Yet a significant observable shift away from eggs reflects the younger generation's greater acceptance of vegan diets. Flexitarians, vegetarians, and health-conscious consumers of all ages, while not always avoiding eggs, have upped their dietary intake of alternative protein sources. These novel proteins are mostly plant-based, fiber-rich, gluten-free, and cholesterol free and are already replacing dried, liquid, or frozen versions of whole eggs, egg yolk, or egg white.
The upsurge in egg replacement and substitutes is driven, in part, by higher prices brought on by COVID-related supply chain challenges and the ongoing avian flu outbreak, where more than 43 million egg-laying hens have been culled in the US alone. Besides, egg production is carbon intensive, and food safety concerns are associated with egg allergens, veterinary drug residues, chemical contaminants like PFAS and Fipronil, and potential salmonella cross-contact from tainted raw eggs.
The leading CPG egg alternative protein companies (see Table 1) utilize protein powders, flours, isolates, or concentrates derived from plant-based pulses or legumes, potatoes, seeds, grains, duckweed, seaweed, or algae, which, when formulated correctly, can mimic similar functionalities, texture, and taste to eggs. The finished product can look and taste like an egg product thanks to intricate food ingredients that fuse the plant protein(s) with diverse ingredients like seed oils, lecithin, thickeners, gums, spices, alginates, hydrocolloids, herb extract, nutritional yeast, yeast extract, fibers, cellulose, starches, preservatives, and for color, turmeric's curcumin or carrot's carotenoids. Key pulse and legume proteins include pea, mung bean, chickpea, lupin, fava bean, and soy proteins, and seed proteins favored in egg replacement products are likely to include flaxseed, sunflower, or chia seed. Eunite Foods (NobleGen) uses a single algae organism, Euglena gracilis to generate nutritional Euglena, which is further processed into protein-rich flour (Table 1).
Plant-based egg products typically have less protein and more salt and lack other vital nutrients that can be found in conventional eggs, which is partially addressed by supplementing with other plant-based proteins and nutritional yeast, seaweed, and herb extracts. There is no shortage of plant-based protein ingredient suppliers from local to global. The latter marquee line-up includes companies like ADM, Bunge, Cargill, Corbion, DSM, Glanbia Nutritional's, Ingredion, Roquette, the Scoular Company, and SunOpta. Some ingredient suppliers like Agrana, All American Foods, Aveno Foods, and Deluxe Ingredients offer plug-and-play egg replacement blended flours or powders.
Many ingredient suppliers and CPG companies and co-packers have chosen plant-based or vegan certification, e.g., BeVeg, SCS Plant-Based Certification, non-GMO, organic certification (e.g., USDA NOP), or have achieved certification that some or all of their plant-based ingredients are Glyphosate residue-free, e.g., Puris Foods, Prairie Fava, and Nura USA.
The race to develop the first plant-based fresh or raw whole alternative egg is nearing the finish line as Singapore's Float Foods is set to commercially release their legume-based OnlyEg this year.
Cellular agriculture startups like The EVERY Company, Perfect Day/nth Bio/Onega Bio, and Fiction Foods are developing functional animal egg proteins like Ovalbumin without the chicken via precision fermentation on fungi. This approach is even more environmentally friendly and sustainable. FUMI Ingredients a Wageningen University spin-off, claims to have found a microorganism-derived alternative that is more cost-effective than a chicken egg.
Other food tech startups with exciting egg alternative products in their pipeline include France's Algama Foods microalgal protein approach and La Papondu's fava bean advance, Germany's Neggst that integrates peas and other plant proteins to mirror a fully functional egg, Switzerland's EggField is designing a plant-based whole egg with a novel 'power ingredient,' that negates addition of stabilizers or preservatives.
Australia's Veggletto offers licensing plant-based formulation solutions, and Israeli company Egg 'n' up' is developing cellulose ingredients via 3-D printing to replace eggs in food formulations. For consumers who don't want to give up on eggs because of ALA and DLA, it's worth noting that ALA is found in egg replacement ingredients like flaxseed, flax oil, canola oil, chia seeds, hemp oil, and soybeans. To complete the circle, or more appropriately, the 'oval,' Omega-3 eggs are produced by hens nutritionally fed with flaxseed, where some of the ALA breaks down to DHA!
The future is bright for the alternative egg protein industry, and it is a path that leads to sustainability, stability, and safety. When one considers if the current avian flu would have had greater transmissibility to humans, with subsequent greater human-to-human transmission and severity, it would have produced even more devasting consequences.
Alternative egg proteins can help to lower carbon emissions and buffer future zoonotic transmission crises. The food science and technology platforms are in place, and the market will demand that these new egg replacement products satisfy the consumers, dieticians, physicians, and other stakeholders.
These novel protein egg products will continue to improve. The classic idiom about the goose that lays the golden egg may soon be replaced with "the novel protein that helps make the alternative golden egg!."
Date Published: 22nd March 2023