We tried an elusive ‘scrambled egg’ product that’s been in development for 4 years — here’s the verdict

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For food startup Hampton Creek, the egg is ground zero.

The San Francisco-based company’s mission is to transform the way we eat by replacing the animal products in our food with ingredients that can be made from plants.

It all began with a product called “Beyond Eggs,” a pea-based egg-replacement that can be used for baking but not eaten alone. Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick, a long-time vegan, portrayed the product as the first of a long line of products that would eventually turn our food system — which he calls “completely broken” — upside down.

“We’re trying to take the animal totally out of the equation,” Tetrick told NPR in 2013.

Tetrick is right that our food system isn’t sustainable — producing a half-pound of beef results in roughly 7 and a half pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, or the equivalent of driving nearly 10 miles. Producing the same amount of potatoes, on the other hand, requires about a tenth of that CO2. Decreasing the amount of meat Americans consume could make a big difference for the planet.

Hampton Creek’s message has resonated with consumers. Three years after the company was founded, it raised more than $120 million. Since debuting the pea-based “Beyond Eggs” in 2013, the company has released a line-up of plant-based alternatives to foods that rely on animal products, including cookies, dressings, and a popular eggless mayonnaise that’s sold in stores like Wal-Mart and Whole Foods. 

In 2015, Hampton Creek was named a “Technology Pioneer” by the World Economic Forum; that same year, its revenues grew 350%. Its products are now served in 2,300 public schools and 400 universities, as well as stadiums and even the US Senate.

But Hampton Creek still hasn’t cracked the eggless egg — at least not one that can be cooked and eaten on its own.

Peas are the centerpiece of “Just Mayo”, while the company’s “Just Cookies and “Just Dough” feature sorghum. But neither of those ingredients have yielded a stand-alone egg substitute. Various test versions of an eggless scrambled egg product, which Tetrick said might eventually be called “Just Scramble,” have repeatedly failed to hit the mark. Alice Park, a science writer for TIME, wrote in 2014 that one version of the scramble tasted more like tofu than eggs.

But Hampton Creek has kept at it. Their latest version of the scramble (which is not yet on the market) is made with mung beans; Tetrick and other staff members have taken to simply calling it “Jack” or “the magic bean.”

On a recent tour of the company’s headquarters, we gave it a taste. Ben Roche, one of the company’s heads of product development, poured some of the yellowish liquid into a frying pan. 

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After a few minutes, the scramble began to look, well, like scramble. Along the bottom of the pan, a soft layer of what looked like perfectly-beaten eggs began to solidify, and as Roche stirred, the mixture started to take on a more defined shape. Again, it all looked like typical egg behavior.

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Roche scooped the finished product into a small bowl for me and sprinkled it with a bit of sea salt. The product certainly looked like eggs — it had the texture and the characteristic pastel-yellow color, and it was steaming like a hot plate of scrambled eggs normally would.

I shoved a forkful of the scramble into my mouth. It didn’t taste like eggs. But it wasn’t bad, either.

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Next, Joshua Hyman, Hampton Creek’s other head of product development, introduced me to the company’s latest iteration of the eggless egg: patties. These don’t have an official name yet, but Hyman told me envisions them being sold in schools and universities much like their egg replacement product.

Hyman slid what looked like an egg sandwich towards me — the egg patty (which is the same as the scramble, but formed into a patty shape) was inside a toasted bialy smeared with a light dusting of “Just Mayo”.

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I tried a small bite of the sandwich — which had preemptively been cut into quarters as though in acknowledgement of my skepticism — and was blown away. The texture was perfect and the taste was distinctly egg. It didn’t seem like it could be the same product, but perhaps all the “Just Scramble” needed was a bit of crispiness and a smidge of creamy pea protein. As we talked, I ate three more pieces. Running out of time, I put the fourth in a bag to take home.

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Hyman told me that he envisions the patties being sold as an alternative to the scrambled eggs that normally go in foods like egg sandwiches and breakfast burritos.

In addition to the scramble and patties, the company is testing out a reduced-fat version of their original mayo product and a caramel-flavored ice cream. Tetrick also told me they’re “close” to producing lab-grown meat, something the company has been rumored to be working on for years. The product will likely be chicken, according to Tetrick.

“Right now if a really great burger was a 10 and a McDonald’s burger was a 6, this is a 4. We’re not there yet,” he said.

SEE ALSO: The healthiest things you can order at 15 of your favorite fast food chains

DON’T MISS: An eggless mayo startup is out to beat Hampton Creek — here’s the verdict

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