Many baked goods rely on proteins to develop structure and height. For simple products such as bread and buns, the gluten from wheat typically suffices. Sweet goods, on the other hand, contain heavy ingredients such as sugar, shortening and inclusions like chocolate, fruit and nuts. This is too much for a gluten matrix to handle on its own, and that’s where egg proteins enter the equation.
“Eggs are a very complex source of fats and proteins that can be used in hundreds of applications,” said Mindi McKibbin, director of research and development, Rembrandt Enterprises, Inc.
Egg products are dried, frozen or liquid forms of whole eggs, whites only or yolks only. Sometimes these formats include additional ingredients to improve functionality, expand applications or even provide cost savings.
Eggs also provide more than 20 desirable functions ranging from foaming to ingredient binding to thickening. No single replacement ingredient can perform all the same functions as eggs.
“Besides for nutritive value, egg ingredients provide important functional properties to baked goods,” said Bill Gilbert, principal food technologist, Cargill. “It’s impossible to replace eggs with any single ingredient and still provide similar nutrition and function. Yet, some bakers prefer formulating vegan and seek out replacers. Economics is also another consideration.”
The good news for bakers is that the egg supply currently is abundant and pricing attractive. This is also true for cage-free eggs, where players in the natural foods space tend to gravitate.
That said, there are real reasons why bakers might prefer egg replacers or at least have formulations on hand that replace some or all eggs with other functional ingredients. One reason for replacing eggs is to remove a common allergen from the recipe. Another is that eggs and egg products have had numerous supply and demand challenges over the years, and it’s always better to be prepared than be scrambling.