Has science cracked the world's first animal-free egg through fermentation?

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

The Every Company as developed lab-cultured eggs that are 'nature identical' to proteins found in animal-derived eggs. GettyImages/munandme
The Every Company as developed lab-cultured eggs that are 'nature identical' to proteins found in animal-derived eggs. GettyImages/munandme

Related tags Egg white protein fermentation

Using yeast and animal protein DNA it's now possible to grow hen-free eggs in a lab. But what does an omelette made with them taste like?

If The Every Company had its way, the egg would always come before the chicken. In fact, the chicken needn’t be part of the analogy at all.

This is because the Californian start-up has developed a way to produce a liquid egg from precision fermentation-derived proteins in the lab. No chicken. No battery farm. No shell.

The hen-free liquid egg is the result of nine years of product development funded by more than $233m from notable investors such as American actress Anne Hathaway, Grupo Bimbo – the world’s biggest bakery manufacturer, and beverage giant AB InBev.

Will vegans eat lab grown eggs?

While lab-grown eggs may not be suitable for vegans due to their origin from animal cells, they could still appeal to individuals who follow a plant-based diet for environmental or ethical reasons. Lab-grown eggs offer a sustainable alternative to traditional egg production, reducing the need for large-scale egg farms and the associated environmental and ethical impact. Additionally, these eggs could provide a solution to the challenges posed by disease outbreaks in poultry farms, ensuring a stable and consistent supply of eggs for consumers.

Why grow eggs in a lab?

Despite rising demand for eggs due to their nutritional value and affordability compared to other protein sources, a number of factors have recently contributed to egg shortages and soaring prices. Not only did an avian flu outbreak led to millions of hens being culled worldwide, rising feed and fuel prices increased the overall cost of egg production.

Concerns are also growing over the environmental impact of egg farming, especially on an industrial scale. As well as producing a significant amount of waste, it can also lead to the spread of diseases such as salmonella and, of course there are the ethical concerns raised by animal welfare campaigners about the cruel conditions battery hens are forced to endure.

It should come as no surprise therefore that according to Future Market Insights, the global egg replacement ingredient market is expected to register a CAGR of 5.8% between 2019 and 2026, with an anticipated value of $1.53bn.

Rather than go down the plant-based path – as has previously been done with aquafaba, flaxseeds or chia – to mimic egg whites, The Every co (formerly Clara Foods) is focused on making ‘exactly the same, nature identical’ proteins found in eggs through fermentation.

egg white Susan Vineyard
Clara Foods says it can make vegan meringues with its cell-cultured egg white proteins. GettyImages/Susan Vineyard

How do you make an artificial chicken egg?

In 2015, Arturo Elizondo teamed up with Dave Anchel to establish the Silicon-Valley-based biotech company The Every Company (formerly Clara Foods) with the aim to develop a scalable yeast fermentation platform to decouple proteins from animals. It does this by using yeast to convert sugar into ‘super-functional’ proteins that are similar to those found in animals and animal products – all without the animal.

“For nine years my dream has been to build a food system humanity can be proud of,” said Elizondo who is SEO of The Every Company. “By decoupling the egg from the chicken, Every Egg is going to change the way we think about one of the most ubiquitous foods on the planet.”

What does a lab grown egg taste like?

“Our approach has been to make sure that the taste, texture, and culinary functionality of these proteins matter,” says The Every Company Chief Technology Officer Ranjan Patnaik.

The Every Egg is designed to replicate the flexibility of traditional hen-laid eggs, serving as a 1:1 replacer in any application, from the intricate art of bakery to something as simple as an omelette. Indeed at the launch of the Every Egg in New York in December of 2023 Chef Humm of Eleven Madison Park created a crème brûlée to showcase its versatility.

“At the end of the day, we have to make sure consumers accept the molecules…and ingredients we are making,​says Patnaik.

But it is not all about functionality. Every claims its products are significantly more sustainable food option than their animal-produced counterparts. “A fermentation approach will always be better from a life cycle assessment (LCA) perspective, compared to the incumbent process and incumbent supply chain of accessing eggs through the poultry industry,” says Patnaik.

Precision fermentation in an eggshell

Whereas most consumers perceive eggs to be made up of egg white and yolk, for Every, the product is much more complex.

“For us, egg whites have hundreds of proteins, and so does the yolk – which has many factors and ingredients in it,” explained the CTO. “So from a precision fermentation perspective, we are really opening the egg up at a molecular and individual protein level.”

Cracking the culinary potential of lab grown eggs

Every is working to disrupt the conventional egg market with the development of ingredients for sports nutrition, baking, and other industrial uses. In the culinary space, the company has successfully used its ingredients to make vegan meringues, pancakes, and scrambled egg alternatives.

Further, the business is addressing functionalities from emulsification to foaming and thermal gelation, by mixing and matching proteins and ingredients. The CTO also suggested there is potential for egg proteins to offer new functions.

“Mining the egg opens up some new functionalities that were not possible to access through complete egg whites,” he explained. “Some proteins might be good at foaming and not good at emulsification, but the ability to address them individually, or in combinations – because we have access to individual proteins as ingredients – [enables us] to address all of them. And sometimes, [we discover] new functionalities,” said Patnaik. Some of these novel applications, he continued, work in ways that ‘frankly, real eggs can’t match’.

How The Every Egg is made

The Every Company kickstarts the precision fermentation process by mixing two ingredients: sugar and yeast. From there, it uses ‘advanced yeast engineering and fermentation technologies’ to selectively cultivate the ‘perfect strain’ of yeast. The result is a protein ‘tailored for purpose’. “We put the DNA of the proteins – identical to what you would find in eggs – in microbes and use very traditional bioreactors…as a technology platform to make these individual proteins into ingredients. They can later be combined and leveraged in the way we want,” says Chief Technology Officer Ranjan Patnaik.

Will lab-grown eggs be more expensive?

“The investors in our company are large commercial partners…At the end of the day, food is all about price points and accessibility. At Every, we are laser-focused to make sure that our proteins are accessible around the world,” explained the CTO, “and are at price points that can compete [with conventional eggs].”

Indeed, earlier this year, the start-up moved to a new headquarters to support its next expansion phase with a new laboratory that offer expanded R&D fermentation capacity. It also brought fermentation veteran Scott Hine on board to scale the platform at a lower cost.

Europe ‘definitely’ on the cards

Currently, the start-up is concentrating on a rollout across North America. However, as egg is ‘ubiquitous around the world’, the company’s intent is to ‘address everywhere eggs are used’ – and ‘especially in places where there is plenty of history of fermentation technology’.

Europe is such a place. Concerning timelines, the CTO predicts Every will focus on the EU ‘a little later and after North America’, but acknowledged that ‘things do change’ and ‘technological innovation and breakthroughs do happen when you least expect it’.

“Sometimes it does help to scale much faster, but the intent is definitely there to be commercialised in Europe.

 

pancakes bhofak2
Clara Foods has also made vegan pancakes and scrambled eggs with its 'nature identical' proteins. GettyImages/bhofak2

 

 

Egg production in numbers

In 2020, there were 7.9 billion laying hens globally, producing 1.6 trillion shell eggs.

The largest egg producer is China which produces over 64% of the world's eggs.

The price of a dozen eggs doubled in the US during the avian flu epidemic, peaking in January 2023.

US based Cal Maine Foods is the world's largest egg producer selling more than 1.14 billion dozen eggs annually.

Related news

Related products

show more

Study: Natural Preservation Is What Consumers Want

Study: Natural Preservation Is What Consumers Want

Content provided by Corbion | 11-Jun-2024 | White Paper

If you’ve been trying to decide between the consumer appeal of a natural solution and the efficacy of a conventional preservative, there's good news....

Enhance Your Product Line with Non-GMO Lecithin

Enhance Your Product Line with Non-GMO Lecithin

Content provided by ADM | 09-May-2024 | Product Brochure

Unlock the full potential of your formulations with ADM's plant-based lecithins! Our diverse product range delivers the consistent functionality you...

Case Study: Make Your Meat Go Further

Case Study: Make Your Meat Go Further

Content provided by ADM | 07-May-2024 | Case Study

The rising cost of meat has become a significant concern for consumers worldwide, leading many to reconsider their dietary choices.

Related suppliers

Follow us

Products

View more

Webinars