The rising trend of alternative vegetarian proteins shows no signs of slowing down.
Plant-based chicken tenders, sausage patties, and even beef jerky have begun showing up on grocery store shelves at breakneck speed.
The latest food to get a plant-based makeover? Eggs.
When I first received an offer to try out plant-based eggs, I gave it a hard pass. Like many non-vegans, I was skeptical that faux eggs could create the same fluffy, chewy effect as the real thing.
Besides, eggs are pretty innocuous health-wise. As a nutritionist, I’m well aware of their many dietary benefits.
Did I really need to replace them with a shape-shifting mixture of mung beans, soy, and other ingredients?
Despite my reservations, the more I heard from fellow foodies about how much they loved their animal-product-free omelets and scrambles, the more curious I became.
Before long, a box of plant-based eggs arrived at my door and I began experimenting.
Here’s what I learned about how eggless eggs hold up to their original counterparts in cooking and baking, plus a look at their pros and cons for health.
Though they may seem like a relatively recent invention, egg-free eggs have been around for a while. Several varieties are available, each with its own ingredient list.
Many older iterations of faux eggs are intended primarily for use as a binder in baking, not as solo foods. These often begin with a base of flax or chia seed.
You can even make your own:
- Combine 1 tbsp. flaxseed meal with 2 1/2 tbsp. water.
- Let rest for 5 minutes.
- Add to your recipe.
For eating on their own, a fresh harvest of faux eggs has recently hit the market with more options rolling out in 2021.
Some brands, such as Follow Your Heart’s VeganEgg, have a soy milk powder base that has to be reconstituted with liquid before use.
Volumizing agents and emulsifiers like cellulose and carrageenan add to the mix to mimic a fluffy egg-like texture, while nutritional yeast, salt, and herbs help recreate the savory flavor of eggs.
For my own DIY test kitchen experiment with faux eggs, I tried JustEgg, a stand-alone product intended for eggy eating (not just baking).
JustEgg comes in both pourable and precooked form. It’s made with a blend of mung bean protein and canola oil, plus spices and other flavoring agents to give it that signature eggy taste.
If you’re considering trying egg-less eggs, you probably have nutrition and ethical concerns in mind. These products do stand out for certain dietary and planetary pros.
Without animal products, vegan eggs contain no cholesterol. For heart health, this may be a plus, as the
On the other hand, the cholesterol in eggs isn’t the dietary devil it was once thought to be.
“Recent research shows that you no longer need to restrict dietary cholesterol from eggs, since there wasn’t a strong connection made between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol levels. An egg a day is not associated with heart disease among healthy people,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN.
Taub-Dix is the author of “Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label to Table.”
“This easing up of restrictions doesn’t mean that we should be eating four-egg omelets every day. Moderation is still the same song we sing when it comes to most foods,” she says.
For many people, the environmental benefits behind plant-based eggs are another major selling point.
Egg-laying hens, even
Meanwhile, without any animals involved, animal cruelty is a nonissue with vegetarian eggs.
Just because faux eggs are made with plants doesn’t mean they’re a superior nutritional alternative to chicken eggs.
For one thing, fake eggs have less protein.
Compared with roughly
Then there’s the matter of sodium.
A single serving of JustEgg packs 170 milligrams (mg) of sodium, and a serving of VeganEgg comes with 150 mg. A large chicken egg’s sodium content? A mere 65 mg.
Faux eggs are also a far more processed food than chicken eggs.
A diet high in ultra-processed foods has been linked to an increased risk of obesity and cancer. Not surprisingly, the level of processing it takes to achieve faux eggs is reflected in their ingredient lists. Compared with the one-word ingredient label of chicken eggs, this can be off-putting.
However, even unpronounceable ingredients aren’t necessarily cause for alarm.
“Some people may not be happy about unfamiliar ingredients on the ingredient list, like transglutaminase. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) classifies transglutaminase as GRAS (generally recognized as safe), and the USDA deems the ingredient safe to use in meat and poultry products,” says Taub-Dix.
|Chicken eggs||1 serving JustEgg||1 serving VeganEgg|
|Total fat||4 g||5 g||1 g|
|Saturated fat||1.5 g||0 g||0 g|
|Cholesterol||207 mg||0 mg||0 mg|
|Sodium||65 mg||170 mg||150 mg|
|Carbohydrates||0 g||1g||5 g|
|Fiber||0 g||0 g||1 g|
|Sugars||0 g||0 g||1 g|
|Protein||6 g||5 g||3 g|
Nutrition stats aside, the question on everyone’s mind when it comes to faux eggs is: How do they taste?
I put them to the test in my own kitchen with three favorite recipes for quiche, muffins, and scrambled eggs.
First on the agenda in my personal food laboratory was quiche, an easy breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
I whipped up my first-ever vegan quiche with JustEggs’ liquid mixture, a sprinkle of cheese, and a dusting of salt and pepper.
After baking for 20 minutes, my creation emerged from the oven looking — I kid you not — exactly like regular baked eggs. Food science is magic.
I poked at it with a fork to test its texture. Indeed, it matched what I’d expect from my usual quiche almost perfectly, down to the top layer of crispy eggy crust.
In fact, the JustEgg mixture seemed to even hold together better, with a thicker, less goopy structure than regular eggs.
Now for the moment of truth: How did it taste?
The flavor of the eggless quiche was definitely very close to real eggs, but not exactly spot-on, with a little too much savory. Still, I’d never believe what I was eating was made of beans.
Next, it was time to try faux eggs in their most basic preparation: scrambled.
Going into the pan, the bean-based liquid looked indistinguishable from beaten eggs. As the mixture cooked, it even clumped up just like real eggs.
Texture-wise, though, the mixture seemed a bit stickier. It even stuck to the pan like real scrambled eggs. Plus, since the faux eggs didn’t brown, it was hard to know when they were done.
Upon tasting my scramble, I wasn’t sold on taste. Due to their added flavoring, the vegan eggs didn’t need salt, but they left an unpleasant aftertaste that lingered.
I’m constantly whipping up muffins for breakfast, so a taste test using these baked goods was a near-guarantee for me.
Instead of cracking an egg into my favorite banana muffin recipe, I poured in a bit of JustEgg. To my surprise, there was no noticeable difference in the finished product, either in flavor or texture.
Baking gets my vote as the best place to use vegan eggs.
Both real eggs and faux eggs offer advantages for health and nutrition.
As a non-vegan, I’m personally not ready to “fly the coop” just yet by replacing chicken eggs with faux eggs.
For goals like reducing cholesterol, scaling back on animal protein, or to reduce your planetary footprint, plant-based eggs can make an ideal choice.
Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a nutritionist, freelance health writer, and food blogger. She lives with her husband and three children in Mesa, Arizona. Find her sharing down-to-earth health and nutrition info and (mostly) healthy recipes at A Love Letter to Food.