There’s an egg shortage going on in the US because of an unusually severe bout of avian influenza (AI) that hit the American poultry business this spring. The only way to eradicate AI, a viral infection also called bird flu, is to destroy the infected flocks. But that’s no comfort to bakers whose products require the functionality and flavor of eggs.

On June 5, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported 46 million poultry lost to AI, about 40% of the US flock. Hens laying for the processed egg industry were particularly vulnerable. As a result, industry watchers estimated that egg supplies would be down significantly for the time being and perhaps as long as two years. Egg ingredient prices reached historic highs in June.

“Most [bakers] need to replace 50% or more of their eggs,” noted Bill Gilbert, certified master baker and principal food technologist, Cargill, Plymouth, MN. “Some are being rationed in their supplies right now, and others have been completely shut off.”

All of this sent bakers scrambling to cover their egg needs. Fortunately, a good number of suitable ingredient alternatives that address this problem now exist.

Why do bakers like eggs?

Eggs really are one of nature’s most perfect foods. High in protein and relatively low in fat, they also offer multiple functional properties. Bakers have long taken advantage of their stable foam characteristics to lighten baked foods and create unique textures. Egg flavor, too, is favored by consumers in many baked items.

“There has been a lot of discussion about egg replacers,” said John Howeth, senior vice-president, foodservice and egg product marketing, American Egg Board, the communications arm of the egg industry, “and we understand that food processors need ingredients that provide the functionality of eggs. Egg replacers are a good stop-gap measure, but for performance, taste and consumer recognition on food labels — eggs are preferred.”

What shoppers prefer is critical in these clean-label times. “Consumers like eggs [in food products] because they’re natural and familiar — a typical kitchen cupboard ingredient,” explained John Gelley, sales manager, US, Arla Food Ingredients, Basking Ridge, NJ. “As such, if you’re looking for a replacement for eggs — whether out of necessity or choice — it’s important to choose an egg replacement solution that performs just as well as eggs that won’t force you to compromise on your commitment to clean labels.”

While bread products like bagels use small amounts of eggs, the same is not true of some variety breads and rich pastries. Challah, for example, requires 14% eggs, and Danish pastry usually needs 12% whole eggs. Muffins can range from 12.5% for bran muffins, 24% for corn muffins, 30% for basic cake muffins and 90 to 105% for creme-cake styles. Brownies often call for 50% liquid whole eggs, yet cookies are in the low range, 2 to 7% whole egg solids. Waffles, too, are relatively low in egg content, around 2 to 3% dried egg yolk. Pancakes can clock in at 10 to 15% liquid whole egg. Angel food cake tops the list at a whopping 275% liquid whites. (All figures are in bakers percent, based on flour weight.)

What replaces them?

In recent days, as egg prices soared and supplies plummeted, more and more ingredient suppliers brought out — or reintroduced — egg extenders, substitutes and replacers to address these problems.

But bakers have long turned to these products for several reasons, according to Tom MacDonald, vice-­president, Brolite Products Co., Inc., Streamwood, IL. “We developed Egg O Nomic originally to address allergen issues for certain markets and help bakers avoid running egg-containing doughs and batters on those processing lines,” he said.

Kurt Miller, sales director, Midwest, J&K Ingredients, Inc., Paterson, NJ, reported similar bakery experience. “Before this current period, use of Vita-Ex was usually for cost savings or allergen avoidance, but times are quite different today,” he said. “Now, it’s just the ability to make the product, to procure the eggs needed. So this leads customers to take the higher percentage replacement route and take it to the extremes.”

Denis Wellington, president, BreadPartners, Inc., Cinnaminson, NJ, explained egg functionality. “Eggs increase the shelf life of baked foods by trapping moisture in the starch,” he said. “They keep a stable pH in breads and provide flavor, structure and body. In cakes, they affect volume, height and aeration. It’s important that egg replacers such as our Sunset RV mimic all these functionalities.”

And then there’s the matter of protein. Liquid whole eggs are 12% protein by weight and 47% in dried form; liquid whites contain 10% protein and dried 81%. Egg replacement products generally contain relatively high levels of protein. But still, formulators will need to evaluate substitutes carefully for their protein content.

Is 100% replacement really possible? Yes, according to Terese O’Neill, director of sales, ingredients, Agropur Ingredients, La Crosse, WI, but only for whole eggs. “We found in muffins and creme cakes — the rich cakes so popular at in-store bakeries — you can use whey-protein-based systems as a 100% replacement for whole eggs,” she  said.

Generally, egg replacement blends target the solids of eggs, according to Ms. O’Neill. Thus, for dried eggs, the blend will be a direct 1:1 replacement. “Liquid eggs require calculation of solids and addition of water,” she said.

Kirtley Watts Jr., R&D manager, bakery, Puratos Corp., Cherry Hill, NJ, provided a simple formulating balance. “For every pound of liquid egg, replace with

0.2 lb Intens Egg Replacement and 0.8 lb water,” she said. “In the case of dried whole egg, for 1 lb of dried egg, replace with 0.8 lb Intens and 0.2 lb water. No other changes are necessary.”

Replacement offers some additional benefits on and beyond cost savings. “Initial drivers are the reduction in input cost, resulting in increased profitability,” said Kathy Sargent, manager, bakery applications, Corbion Caravan, Lenexa, KS. “The advantage of our Cara-Eg and Bro-Eg egg replacers is the functionality. Bakeries experience processing tolerance, stable product volume and resilience while consumers enjoy the high-­quality eating experience that they are accustomed to with moist textures and pleasant product flavors.”

Removing eggs from the formula also removes the flavor they provide. “Eggy flavor is very important in a number of bakery uses,” said Nicole Rees, business development manager, ingredient technologies, Glanbia Nutritionals, Fitchburg, WI. She worked with the company’s Flavor Artistry group to develop a natural egg flavor to bolster its OptiSol egg replacer line.

With the egg white shortage in 2014, bakers quickly gained experience with partial replacement of processed egg ingredients, and many shared their successes with their suppliers. That continues.

“The main change is simply substituting one of our egg replacement solutions like Precisa Bake 100 for a specific percentage of the egg,” said Ricardo Rodriguez, bakery and confectionery manager, Ingredion, West-chester, IL. To take the place of half the formula’s liquid eggs, the baker would use 1 to 2% of this replacer and adjust the water percentage. “Other than that, the rest of the formulation can remain the same and the processing parameters wouldn’t change either,” he added.

What are their sources?

Ingredient manufacturers make their egg replacers with ingredients common to bakery formulators. “It’s worthwhile to note that the ingredients we — Cargill and other suppliers — use in these systems are ingredients friendly to baked product already,” Mr. Gilbert said.

Many are based on whey proteins. “These proteins are 100% natural and derived from cow’s milk,” Mr. Gelley explained. “They can do everything eggs can do in bakery applications … and companies can maintain clean-label ingredient status for their baked goods.” The company’s Nutrilac line produces bakery goods’ quality, taste and texture similar to those made with eggs. In some cases, they can yield a product with characteristics that are preferable to those made with eggs. In particular, cakes made with egg replacers stay moist and resilient, giving a more elastic crumb structure to the final product.

MCT Dairies, Chicago, bases its ProCoreFX line of egg replacers on powdered whey protein. The company recently expanded its offerings to provide systems for replacing egg whites in cookie applications and a whole egg replacer. “All offerings continue to provide the intrinsic functional characteristics of the egg component they are replacing,” said Denis Neville, MCT general manager. “And our ingredient solutions continue to be nutritionally equivalent to the egg components when used as a direct replacement.”

Whey protein concentrate, the principal component of Agropur’s BakiGen egg replacers, can support cuts in sugar and sweeteners. “We have seen that eggs in bakery products can block the sweetness,” Ms. O’Neill noted. “When eggs are removed from a product, the perception of sweetness can increase if the sugar level

is unchanged.”

A first-of-its-kind combination of whey protein concentrate with milled flaxseed cued development of OptiSol 3000 egg replacer by Glanbia Nutritionals. It was designed for 100% replacement of eggs in low-egg content items. “Many applications like cookies, which do not depend on the foaming power of eggs, allow 100% replacement,” Ms. Rees said. “Whey offers some flavor synergies that are especially beneficial in bakery products, which makes it easier for formulators to use.”

Since then, the company tapped different proteins to give different performance, developing a system for muffins and another for foam cakes, including chiffon, yellow and white styles. “Customers are also requesting an egg white replacer, and partial replacement is possible with some of these systems and also with straight whey protein isolate,” Ms. Rees reported. “We’ve also been asked about a vegan system, but for most bakery customers, ‘dairy’ is not a dirty word.”

Soy flour and soy proteins are also mainstays among egg replacer components. “Soy flour is the oldest solution to egg replacement in the baking industry,” Mr. Gilbert claimed. “It has other benefits in bakery formulas, namely moisture retention and as a fat mimetic.” The drawback with soy flour, however, is that it is limited to 25% replacement of egg levels. “That’s about all you can do,” he said.

In addition to the company’s Prolia soy flour, bakers can turn to its EmTex starches and Gelogen functional systems to replace up to 50% of whole, white or yolks in bakery products.

Soy protein concentrates are more functional and allow higher rates of substitution. That’s the basis for the Scotsman’s Mill line of BLUE100 and BLUE155-A egg replacers from Natural Products, Inc., Grinnell, IA. According to Jon Stratford, sales manager, Natural Products, they work best in applications where powdered eggs comprise 0.5 to 2.5% of the total formula and where liquid eggs are

2 to 10% of the formula and when the functionality required is primarily emulsification and structure building.

“Reasonable expectations allow 25 to 50% replacement in many types of cakes; 50 to 75% replacement in muffin, cake donuts and brownies; and 50 to 100% replacement in pancakes, waffles, cookies and sweet doughs,” Mr. Stratford said.

Wheat provides a cereal source for the base of several egg replacers, including the GemPro line from Manildra Group USA, Shawnee Mission, KS. “Wheat protein isolate has good compatibility with baked foods that have wheat flour as their main component,” said Ody Maningat, PhD, the company’s vice-president of R&D and technical services. “The ingredient declaration is very simple: wheat protein isolate. There are some processing aids such as lactic acid, but whether or not bakers list those is up to them and their regulatory departments.”

The good match between wheat-based replacers and bakery formulas was confirmed by Michael Buttshaw, vice-president of ingredients sales and marketing, MGP Ingredients, Atchison, KS. “A key consideration for formulators of wheat-flour-based products, in particular, is the natural compatibility that exists between such products as MGP’s Arise and our other wheat-based proteins,” he said.

David Whitmer, corporate director of quality, R&D and innovation, MGP Ingredients, added, “This synergistic advantage can provide formulation and blending ease for food manufacturers, reduce the need for processing adjustments during the food production phase and help deliver the desired taste and textural qualities of the finished product.”

MGP’s Arise 6000 and Arise 8000 wheat protein isolates provide advantages in flour-based products. “These high-performance plant-based ingredients offer great solutions for creating products that possess enhanced protein quantity and quality,” Mr. Buttshaw said.

A number of suppliers offer different protein bases to satisfy different bakery product needs. J&K Ingredients is one of those. “Our new Vita-Ex 100 contains soy protein and Vita-Ex 300 wheat protein concentrate,” Mr. Miller explained. “They were developed to be stronger than the original product and replace higher proportions of eggs.”

Even brioche — a bread traditionally made with high levels of butter, eggs and milk — can be adjusted for egg content. Mr. Wellington recommended replacing 30 to 50% of the egg content with the company’s Sunset RV, a usage rate also suggested for cakes, muffins, brownies and cookies. It can replace all the eggs in most breads, rolls and bagels.

What’s different?

Innovation plays a big role in egg replacers now being introduced. For example, as food scientists probed the functional aspects of dietary fiber, they learned it has much more potential than first conceived.

Consider FiberGel LC from Florida Food Products, Eustis, FL — the the first gelling fiber to offer a solution to egg replacement. “The first and only,” said Edgar Anders, the company’s executive vice-president. “This unique whole food fiber creates heat-stable gels and provides emulsifying properties that stabilize the structure of doughs and baked goods just like egg.

“The presence of calcium enhances structure, functioning like gelling hydrocolloids,” Mr. Anders continued. The gelled structure allows FiberGel LC to replace more than half of the egg in bakery applications. “It works as a ‘single ingredient,’ allowing the baker to replace eggs without completely reformulating the product,” he added.

The company claims its technology can transform nearly any plant matter to function this way. Citrus provides the base for this egg replacer, but celery is another possibility, according to Mr. Anders.

Fiberstar, Inc., River Falls, WI, turns citrus-source fiber into its Citri-Fi portfolio of egg replacers suitable for use in muffins, cakes, loaf breads and cookies, “without compromising the organoleptic attributes produced by full-egg baked goods applications,” said Amanda Wagner, Fiberstar food technologist.

Typical replacement levels are around 30% and depend on the application, she noted. Their use provides moisture retention, structure, natural emulsification stabilization and quality throughout the finished product’s shelf life. “They also work synergistically with other egg replacers such as starches, gums and proteins to optimize product quality,” Ms. Wagner added.

Gluten-free products present an especially interesting opportunity. Ms. Wagner explained, “Because developers of gluten-free products tend to shy away from other allergens, Citri-Fi is also used as a partial egg replacer since it is gluten?free, non?GMO and is naturally clean-label.”

Algal flour, a functional lipid powder derived from microalgae by Solazyme, South San Francisco, CA, has strong egg replacement properties. AlgaVia whole algal flour is produced sustainably and in a few days using standard industrial fermentation processes, explained Sally Aaron, marketing director. “In contrast to farm-raised eggs, this ingredient can be grown anywhere at any time and is not susceptible to environmental impact or disease,” she said. “As this outbreak has shown, having a diverse toolbox would benefit the industry.”

The new flour provides moisture control and emulsification and helps retain product quality through the freeze/thaw cycle. “In low-fat systems, it replaces hydrocolloids and binds water while enabling the cellular structure to develop without creating a gummy, sticky end product,” said Beata Klamczynska, manager, food application and technical services, Solazyme.

Although it does not replace egg whites for structuring, it can substitute for egg yolks on a 1:1 basis, which the company demonstrated in chocolate chip cookies. To replace whole eggs in challah, “up to 4% AlgaVia whole algal flour can be added, depending on the amount of eggs replaced,” Ms. Klamczynska explained.

What’s the future hold?

Although different factors prevailed, a price run-up for non-fat dry milk in the 1970s drove bakers to replace this once-essential bread component with less-expensive soy-based ingredients. That change proved permanent. Is the baking industry on a similar cusp of change with eggs and egg replacers?

“Effective egg replacers have the potential to be a permanent change in bakery formulations,” Ms. Wagner observed.

Her opinion is held by others. “There’s been a lot of informal talk about this,” Dr. Maningat said, “and the consensus is that the egg replacement trend may have legs.”

This trend is playing out in real life. “Several of our customers have told us that they will continue to use egg replacers even when egg prices return to normal,” Mr. Wellington said. “This is because of valid fears about the return of AI in the fall. Even when eggs get back to normal pricing, the use of egg replacers will still save bakers considerable money.”

In late June, the egg crisis began to attract consumer attention, which will have repercussions. “Once consumers begin to build awareness, there will be a percentage of them who will not want to go back to traditional egg products,” Mr. Rodriguez said. He based his prediction on the facts that egg replacement solutions can deliver similar quality at much lower price points and that they can be formulated to be allergen-free, thus avoiding that risk. “This could be the next ‘gluten free’ trend,” he observed.

There’s no doubt that egg price and supply drive today’s extreme measures. “The future? When demand can be met again, the use of egg extenders likely may not diminish,” Mr. Miller said, “because the cost savings will still be there to use the replacers.” On June 12, egg prices in some regions stood at $2.45 a doz. In the following weeks, breaker egg prices showed some softening, but supply remained tight.