Last Bite: Egg-Free Baking

May 16, 2013

Alternative ingredients in a time of volatile egg prices

It’s tough market times for eggs. An EU Welfare of Laying Hens Directive, activated last year, prohibits European egg farmers from housing hens in battery cages. The U.S. state of California will have a similar law in place by 2015. An avian flu virus blew through Mexico in February, causing the authorized slaughter of over one million chickens. And a U.S. drought continues to influence the price of corn, a major proponent of chicken feed.

These variables won’t help what are historically volatile global egg prices. The average price of a dozen U.S. eggs today is already a dollar above what it was ten years ago, and current USDA projections have the price jumping a few cents every year for the next decade. For manufacturers running on a tight budget, it might be time to try an alternative to eggs-or at least consider a back-up plan. For baked goods manufacturers who especially rely on egg’s functional benefits, there’s no shortage of alternatives.

Milk Proteins

Milk proteins offer similar function to eggs in baked goods. They add strength, improve texture, and can even reduce cracking in cakes, cookies, and other treats. But there’s an argument among the dairy industry that milk proteins are more versatile. As Terese O’neill, Arla Foods Ingredients (Viby J, Denmark) sales manager, says, “The chicken did not design the egg for the baker.”

Some milk proteins, on the other hand, can be designed for the baker. O’neill says that Arla Foods’ Nutrilac functional milk proteins can be fractionated and modified using natural processes to achieve desired functionality. They’re available as standard products or fully customizable ones, and the company’s main objective is to match egg-based control products whenever possible. These dairy derivatives are also easier to store, requiring only room temperature storage instead of a freezer or refrigerator needed for liquid eggs.

Dairy is no stranger to price fluctuations, but this market generally appears more stable. And at an inclusion rate of just 40% Nutrilac (the remaining 60% is usually flour), cost savings will occur.

Modified Starch

American Key Food Products LLC (AKFP; Closter, NJ) takes a different approach to egg replacement by offering Emfix emulsifying starch. Unlike egg and dairy, Emfix isn’t allergenic. It’s a modified potato starch free of gluten and genetically modified ingredients.

The potato starch boasts a longer shelf life than eggs, and that extra freshness will transfer into finished products. Replacing egg with Emfix will also result in less fat, less cholesterol, and fewer calories in finished products. AKFP says that its ingredient is available with kosher certification and that it’s competitively priced versus other commercial egg replacers.

Flax and Whey

Forget the nutritional profile of flax (Linum usitatissimum) for a moment. Flax can offer function, too. By adding flax to its whey-only egg replacer, Glanbia Nutritionals (Fitchburg, WI) has an egg alternative with better moisture controls and volume: Optisol 3000.

OptiSol 3000 exploits whey’s ability to behave like egg proteins by creating better crumb structure and moisture control in baked goods. But growing research on flax shows it to be a potent hydrocolloid with binding abilities and moisture control all its own. Combining whey and flax, Glanbia has found, offers a synergistic effect.

Flax is both clean-label and historically price-stable, according to the company. Work on this egg alternative, thus far, is focused on cookies, muffins, cakes, and pancakes.

Bill Gates

No, the American business entrepreneur isn’t a viable ingredient for baking solutions. But Bill Gates is influencing an eggless future for baking. Khosla Ventures, of which Gates is an investor, recently got behind Hampton Creek Foods (San Francisco), an upstart food laboratory responsible for Beyond Eggs, a completely plant-based egg alternative.

While the ingredient is still in beta form, Beyond Eggs is said to mimic the real foaming, coagulation, and color of eggs. It’s based on peas, sunflower lecithin, natural gums, and canola.