U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack testified before Congress on July 22 that the federal government is "planning for a circumstance where we are simultaneously having to deal with 500" detections of bird flu this fall. That on top of the deaths this spring of 35 million egg-laying hens, which represents a loss of about 12 percent of the U.S. egg industry, will put a significant burden on the food industry. In the wake of this supply-chain devastation, food manufacturers are seeking solutions to keep businesses operational with egg replacement ingredients, says the Soyfoods Association of North America.
While consumers will see impact from these outbreaks, the most substantial concern is shortages of egg products used in food manufacturing. The highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5 outbreak has greatly driven the price of eggs up for manufacturers—during May alone, prices more than doubled. The industry doesn't see any sign of relief in terms of either supply levels or costs.
There is an industry-wide demand for more cost-effective and sustainable alternatives to reduce the dependence on eggs for food safety and cultural considerations. Plant-based alternatives offer a vegan-friendly option that is also dairy and egg allergen-free without fear of salmonella contamination.
Many ingredient companies are providing a wide range of soy-based options to manufacturers that produce, among other things, cookies and cookie dough, pancakes, muffins and cakes; pasta; vegetarian meat alternatives; sauces, dressings and dips; and breading and binding for meat and seafood. Several soy options are available for application-specific uses—from foaming to replace egg whites to oil-binding stability for mayonnaise-type salad dressing.
"Soy makes a better egg replacer than other types of ingredients because, like whole eggs, soy is largely protein and fat. A fraction of the oil in a soybean is lecithin, the same strong emulsifying agent found in egg yolks," said Jon Stratford, sales manager at Natural Products, Inc., which has a line of vegetable-based egg and milk replacement systems called Scotsman's Mill. "In addition to the functional similarities with whole eggs, soy helps to address some of the main risks associated with eggs."
"The key in approaching egg substitution is understanding the properties in that given application and therefore what would most effectively contribute similar physical characteristics and eating quality," said Felix Johnson, Ph.D, senior principal scientist at DuPont Nutrition & Health. He added that customers have shared some of the advantages of using a soy-based ingredient, including "the elimination of egg allergen concerns since more Americans are allergic to eggs than soy, moving to a stable formulation cost since egg prices fluctuate significantly more than soy, and simplification of food handling, storage, and food safety considerations by moving away from egg ingredients."
Benefits of utilizing a soy-based egg replacer include:
- Lower cost (often less than half the price of egg products)
- Stable pricing
- Sustainable, consistent source of supply
- Animal protein free
- Long shelf life
- Food safety concerns including ease of handling vs. liquid eggs
"Food manufacturers have been hit hard by these outbreaks and are seeking long-term solutions for stability, both in price and availability," said Lesley Nicholson, marketing manager at Archer Daniels Midland Company, which is seeing a significant influx of calls from customers looking to find a sustainable product that won't impact taste or texture of the final product. "With many different soy-based ingredient options available, our team is working hard on a whole process solution for customers to determine which combination of ingredients is best for each product application."
"Our scientists looked at every function that eggs provide in food and designed application-specific blends to replicate that functionality," said Nicole Weidner, vice president of sales and marketing at Harvest Innovations, which produces an EggOut ingredient line. "Soy is a necessary component of our egg replacement blends to replicate the emulsification and texturization that egg protein provides."
With egg prices soaring in retail outlets, households are also feeling the impact. Instead of cutting back on scrambles, custards and cakes, consumers can look to tofu as an easy and affordable substitute that does not compromise taste and improves upon nutrition. For baking, one egg can be replaced by ¼ to ½ cup of silken tofu to produce the desired consistency and add moisture. Tofu can also be sautéed with favorite breakfast veggies for a protein-packed scramble.