The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

December 8, 2013

Food-tech startups aim to replace eggs and chicken

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The American Egg Board, which represents U.S. producers, said eggs can't be replaced.

"Our customers have said they're not interested in egg substitutes. They want real, natural eggs with their familiar ingredients," Mitch Kanter, executive director of the board-funded Egg Nutrition Center, said in a statement.

The industry has reduced its water use and greenhouse gas emissions, and hens are living longer due to better health and nutrition, he said.

Hampton Creek's quest to replace the ubiquitous chicken egg is also backed by PayPay co-founder Peter Thiel and Khosla Ventures, a venture capital fund started by Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla.

In its food lab, biochemists grind up beans and peer through microscopes to study their molecular structure, looking for plants that can fulfill the culinary functions of eggs. So far, the company has analyzed some 1,500 types of plants from more than 60 countries.

The research has resulted in 11 "hits," said Josh Tetrick, the company's CEO.

"Our approach is to use plants that are much more sustainable — less greenhouse gas emissions, less water, no animal involved and a whole lot more affordable — to create a better food system," said the former linebacker on West Virginia University's football team.

The company's first product — the mayonnaise — is sold for roughly the same price as the traditional variety. It soon hopes to start selling cookie dough and a batter that scrambles like eggs when fried in a pan.

"The egg is a miracle, so one of the hardest parts of replacing it is all the functions that it can do," said Chris Jones, the company's culinary director of innovations and a former contestant on Bravo TV's Top Chef.

While Hampton Creek takes aim at the egg, another Gates-backed company is targeting the chicken itself.

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