Eggs: the powerhouse of nutrition
The egg is a key element in a diet and nutrition, as it contains most of the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that the human body requires. Eggs can be consumed in many ways, either separately or in different preparations, from cakes, to bread, to sauces. The egg is in fact a very versatile ingredient, thanks to its many properties that allow its use as an emulsifier, gelling agent and binder, while also providing excellent nutritional qualities. However, more and more people around the world are becoming interested in consuming plant-based products, and this trend is also affecting the egg segment. In particular, the global market for egg alternative ingredients is growing, with a projected value of more than $1.5 billion by the end of 2026.
According to the Good Food Institute’s report “Plant-based egg alternatives: Optimizing for functional properties and applications”, people choose egg alternatives because of health concerns, such as allergies and high cholesterol, but also because of ethical issues.
As such, the growing demand for these types of products presents an opportunity for food manufacturers to align their products with consumer needs. In addition to this, alternatives to egg can be beneficial for food manufacturers for production and storage reasons, as eggs tend to be highly perishable products with a short shelf life, requiring high attention, as they contain allergens.
According to the report “Eggs the perfect partner for a sustainable diet” a very important issue for both consumers and producers is the sustainability. In fact, the report points out that although the egg segment has a smaller environmental footprint than industrial beef production, it faces some issues related to the for collecting eggs, which are related to aspects such as environmental pollution, poor worker conditions and animal treatment.
The most versatile ingredient
Eggs are ingredients widely used by producers in the food industry, precisely because they have the ability to bind together components within different food preparations. First of all, eggs have good gelling capacities which help creating the typical structure and consistency in some foods, such as creams in pastry making. In the same time, thanks to the lecithin present in yolk, eggs are used for the preparation of sauces, as they are capable of binding water and oil by creating an emulsion. Thanks to their capacity of binding fats, eggs are also used as a binding agent in products such as meat or sausages. Even in bakery products, as well as in fresh pasta, eggs are used for their binding capacity, for their protein contribution, as well as for coloring and taste. Finally, among their many capacities, eggs can also intervene on a very delicate process such as the stabilization of foam, in preparations such as meringues, or soft cakes.
Thanks to these abilities, eggs can give different consistencies to preparations, also affecting the taste of the product, which can become creamy and thick in case of sauces, or in gel in products such as creams and puddings. Moreover, eggs can also contribute to the so called Maillard reaction, when used in preparations exposed to high temperatures. This chemical reaction occurs when amino acids and particular types of sugars are heated together at high temperatures, producing a change in the color of the food.
Egg alternatives and replacers
There always have been ingredients used as alternatives to eggs in food products, which usually have only some of their characteristics and functional properties. Among them we can mention lecithins, such as soybean, sunflower and rapeseed lecithin, which act as emulsifiers. Legume proteins are also good substitutes for eggs, thanks to their emulsifying and gel-creating properties. Similarly, cereal proteins also have emulsifying and gelling capacities, typical of gluten and essential in bakery preparations. Besides these ingredients, also gums, such as agar, or starches, are used as egg substitutes to join different ingredients together.
Although these egg substitutes manage to reproduce some of the egg’s characteristics very well, there is currently no vegetable product on the market that can act as a perfect and complete substitute on its own, containing all the functional properties, reproducing the taste, shape and nutritional characteristics of the conventional egg. However, there are currently valid products on the market in the form of mixtures that distinctly replicate the egg white and the yolk. In conclusion, there is still room for further innovation in order to improve the offer of vegetable alternatives to eggs, both in terms of differentiation, for example by producing vegan hard-boiled eggs and in terms of process, cost functionality and taste.