For the past four years, the vegan-food startup Hampton Creek had yet to crack the eggless egg.
But on Thursday, the company announced it was rolling out its first scrambled “egg” product, Just Scramble, in several restaurants in San Francisco starting with Flore, a café in the city’s Castro district. It plans to expand to other cities and companies next year.
The company’s mission is to transform the way we eat by swapping the animal products in food for vegetable-based alternatives. It made a name for itself in 2013 with its eggless Just Mayo.
Hampton Creek has long promised a standalone eggless egg product. But the company became mired in controversy after allegations that it had bought its own product to artificially inflate sales. Four years later, the company still wasn’t selling a vegan alternative to eggs.
The company continued to churn out products, and consumers ate them up. Its line includes plant-based foods like cookie dough and dressings, which are sold in stores including Walmart and Whole Foods. Hampton Creek products are also served in thousands of schools as well as in stadiums and corporate cafeterias. In June, the company announced that it was going to work on lab-grown meat.
Hampton Creek has raised more than $220 million since starting six years ago, and it is now valued at $1.1 billion. On Friday, the company announced that two firms that invest in social and environmental sustainability, Radicle Impact and Blue Horizon, would invest in the company.
Cracking the eggless egg
Plants are the centerpiece of Hampton Creek’s operation. Pea protein is the basis for Just Mayo, while Just Cookies and Just Dough feature sorghum.
On a recent tour of the company’s headquarters, we tried the latest iteration of its eggless egg – a liquid mixture made with mung beans, an ingredient the team calls simply “Jack.”
Ben Roche, a Michelin-starred chef who is a head of product development at Hampton Creek, poured some of the yellowish liquid into a frying pan. A soft layer began to solidify along the bottom of the pan. As Roche stirred, the mixture started to take on a more defined shape.
Roche scooped the finished product into a small bowl and sprinkled it with sea salt. The product certainly looked like eggs – it had the texture and the characteristic pastel-yellow color, and it was steaming the way a hot scramble normally would.
I shoved a forkful into my mouth. It didn’t taste quite like eggs, but it wasn’t bad.
Next, Joshua Hyman, Hampton Creek’s head of culinary programs, introduced me to the company’s latest iteration of the eggless egg: patties.
These don’t have an official name yet and aren’t yet in line to be sold.
Hyman slid what looked like an egg sandwich toward me – the egg patty (which has the same ingredients as the scramble) was inside a toasted bialy lightly smeared with Just Mayo.
I tried a small bite of the sandwich – which had been cut into quarters as if to acknowledge my skepticism – and was blown away.
The texture was perfect, and the taste? Distinctly egg.
It didn’t seem as if it could be the same product, but perhaps all the Just Scramble needs is a bit of toasted bread and a smidge of mayo or butter (or the vegan alternatives).
Hyman told me that he envisioned the patties being sold as an alternative to the scrambled eggs that normally go in foods like egg sandwiches and breakfast burritos.
As we talked, I ate three pieces of my “egg” sandwich and put the fourth in a bag to take home.
‘You won’t solve the food problem without solving the meat problem’
The idea with all of Hampton Creek’s food is that by replacing animal products we can conserve resources and eat more healthily.
Producing meat is especially hard on the environment.
Every half-pound of beef uses more than 800 gallons of water and is responsible for roughly 7.5 pounds of carbon dioxide – the equivalent of driving a car nearly 10 miles. Producing the same amount of potatoes, on the other hand, requires about a tenth of that CO2 and a fraction of the water.
Eating too much meat – something Americans on average do nearly every day – can also be bad for our waistlines. Red meat is high in saturated fat and cholesterol – characteristics that make it OK to eat by itself in moderation but unhealthy when combined with refined carbohydrates like a hamburger bun and fries.
With this in mind, Hampton Creek’s CEO, Josh Tetrick, told Business Insider that the company was continuing its work with meat.
“You won’t solve the food problem without solving the meat problem,” he said.
Tetrick’s effort involves growing real animal cells in a lab and using them to make fish, chicken, and beef. It’s a radical departure from Hampton Creek’s other products, all of which involve simply replacing animal ingredients with vegetable ones. But he says it’s necessary to improve America’s relationship with food.
In Hampton Creek’s “clean meat” lab in San Francisco, images of marbled white-and-red Kobe beef, pink chicken breast, and salmon-colored fillets of sashimi – all packaged with the company’s signature Just label – graced the walls.
But the company has not yet released a product or allowed any journalists to sample what it’s working on.
“We haven’t nailed it yet,” Tetrick said. “But we’re really close.”
He says Hampton Creek plans to release its first “clean meat” product by the end of 2018 – describing it as “something in the avian family.”