July 2016 Issue
Guide to Eating Egg-Free
By Matthew Ruscigno, MPH, RD
Vol. 18 No. 7 P. 36
With new product innovations on the market, clients can enjoy baked goods and other foods they once avoided.
For infants and young children, egg allergy is second only to cow's milk in prevalence. It's estimated that 1.3% of young children have an egg allergy, while approximately 2.5% have a cow's milk allergy.1,2 Most egg allergies are to specific proteins in eggs. Five different allergen-inducing proteins have been identified, most of which are in the egg white. Tolerance to eggs usually is developed by age 5, but some studies show that longer-term egg allergy is becoming increasingly pervasive.3 Eggs have a wide variety of culinary applications and are in widespread use in many manufactured food products. Given that eggs are among the most common allergens, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires eggs—along with milk, fish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soybeans, and shellfish—to be listed on food packaging. The good news is that alternatives to common egg-containing products do exist, enabling many consumers who must avoid eggs to enjoy the foods they previously couldn't eat.
Moving to the Mainstream
The last five years have seen scientific and culinary advancements that make egg-free eating easier than ever. For example, egg-free mayonnaise has been on the market for quite some time. Hampton Creek's development of Just Mayo, which uses pea protein instead of eggs, also has made progress in the egg-free mayo market. However, the company's entrance into the mayo aisle didn't go unnoticed. Unilever, the parent company of Hellman's, sued Hampton Creek, arguing that, under the FDA definition, a mayonnaise made without egg isn't mayonnaise at all. After this issue drew considerable attention, Unilever dropped the lawsuit. Within months, Unilever introduced its own egg-free, mayonnaiselike spread to the market.
Looking for Eggs in Prepared Foods
Unfortunately, suggesting that clients simply read ingredient labels isn't enough for them to know whether a food contains eggs. Granted, ingredient labels in the United States have improved—as demonstrated with the recent announcement of the FDA's final rule on the Nutrition Facts label—and common allergens, such as eggs and dairy, must be mentioned on the packaging. Nonetheless, egg and egg by-products can disguise themselves and find their way into the following foods served in unsuspecting restaurants:
• Egg wash: Some baked goods, most commonly bagels, may have an egg wash added on the surface to give them a shine. This information may not be on an ingredient list or restaurant menu.
• Pasta and pizza dough: Though not a necessary ingredient, egg is sometimes found in pasta and pizza dough.
• Breading: Any food that's breaded and then baked or fried may contain egg, which often is used as a binder. Some servers may not be aware of this, as it's technically not an ingredient.
• Meatballs and loaves (vegetarian varieties included): Egg is commonly used as a binder in meatloaf, lentil loaf, and similar foods.
• Veggie burgers and meat alternatives: Similar to breading, meatballs, and loaves, many faux meat products contain egg whites, as the protein helps bind the ingredients. More egg-free versions are available today than ever, but dietitians should encourage clients to read labels on packaged products carefully. Clients with egg allergy should look for the word "vegan" on labels, since by definition vegan foods don't contain eggs or egg byproducts. Some servers at restaurants may confuse vegetarian with vegan and be unaware of hidden egg ingredients. Suggest clients ask a manager or chef how certain foods are prepared and even review a package ingredient list if necessary. Most often, the restaurant staff will accommodate them.
Function of Eggs in Recipes
Clients interested in replacing eggs in recipes should first ask, "What purpose do the eggs serve in the recipe?" The egg has a long culinary history because of its usefulness for a variety of functions, including leavening, binding, and providing structure or texture. The leavening process occurs when eggs are whipped in a batter; egg whites hold air bubbles that help products rise during the baking process. As a binding agent, or coagulator, egg holds ingredients together because they go from liquid to solid when heated. Eggs provide the stickiness that's required in not only baked goods but also in breaded items as well. The protein in eggs also provides structure for the end product. A common problem in egg-free baking is that cake or similar items will rise, but once they're removed from heat they won't have the structural support to maintain their height and will, sadly, collapse. The fat in eggs also provides textural moistness. The science of egg-free baking is creating an end product that will maintain structure and height while remaining soft and moist.
Replacing eggs, therefore, becomes tactical science, swapping not just the egg but the role the egg plays in each recipe. Encourage clients to follow the recommendations below. They may find them slightly daunting, but often, simple replacements will work.
Replacing Eggs When Baking at Home
Skip the Egg
Some recipes or box mixes call for only one egg; sometimes clients can simply omit it and make no other modification to the recipe. One example is prepackaged pancake mix. After reading the box to ensure it's egg-free, clients should follow the directions as they would and forgo the egg; for most premixes, the result will be almost nearly the same. Tip: To improve the rise and maintain structure of the end product, don't overmix the batter. Clients should mix it only enough to combine the ingredients. Some small lumps can remain. This protects the wheat protein gluten from becoming overextended before the heating action. The gluten itself replaces the function of the egg. If the moistness of the end product is unsuitable, clients can add one-half tablespoon of canola oil (or a similar oil with a neutral flavor) per egg to the batter with the wet ingredients. Whole-grain flours are nutritionally superior, but those new to egg-free baking should consider using white or refined flour, as it's easier to work with.
Banana is a long-used classic egg replacer in baking. For a long time it was common for many egg-free baked goods to have a bananalike taste. The best recipes to use bananas in are cookies, sweet breads (ever notice that many banana bread recipes are egg-free?), and cakes, especially pancakes. Roughly one ripe, mashed banana equals one egg. Bananas add moisture, which can increase the denseness of the cookie or cake. In addition, bananas can be beneficial as egg replacers because they're a whole food that adds nutrients and fiber; they're also readily available and inexpensive. The downside, depending on how clients feel about bananas, is that the final product will taste like bananas. Also, like the "skip the egg" alternative, one-half tablespoon of oil can improve texture. Clients should mix mashed banana into the wet ingredients when replacing eggs in recipes.
Spoon in Applesauce
Another healthful option that can replace egg and provide texture is applesauce. One-quarter cup of applesauce can replace one egg. The best recipes in which to use applesauce are those that don't require significant structural support and where the flavor isn't overly delicate, eg, cookies and brownies. The end product will have a slight apple taste while remaining moist and airy. Applesauce is added with the other wet ingredients.
Flaxseeds are nutrient dense, are high in omega-3 fatty acids, and make an excellent egg replacer. Clients can buy them whole or ground and store them in the freezer. To use in recipes, mix one tablespoon of ground flaxseeds with three tablespoons of water with a fork or whisk and let sit for 20 minutes. The mixture will turn gelatinous, with a texture not too different from egg whites. The fat and protein in flaxseeds can replace the texture and structural role of eggs in many recipes; the downside is that flaxseeds impart a grainy or nutty taste to foods. Therefore, flaxseeds are best used when their flavor will be masked or in recipes like bran muffins, oatmeal cookies, and sturdy cakes. Of all the egg replacers currently available, flaxseeds often elicit the most excitement. Stories abound of cookies rising and resembling egg-based recipes. Flaxseeds are available in health food stores and also in some Asian markets. If clients buy whole flaxseeds, it's best to store them whole and grind as needed to prevent rancidity.
Sprinkle Chia Seeds
Like flaxseeds, chia seeds are a plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids and are good egg replacers for binding. First, grind the whole seeds in a spice grinder, and add one tablespoon of chia seed meal to three tablespoons of water to replace one egg. As with flaxseed egg replacer, this mixture also must sit for about 20 minutes. It will become gelatinous, even more so than flax. Chia is best for whole-grain or more healthful baked goods, quick breads, and grainy cookies, like oatmeal. Chia seeds also can be used in sauces and gravies that require some coagulation. Chia has a less noticeable flavor than flax but does have a darker color, something clients should keep in mind when deciding on an egg replacer.
Buy Commercial Egg Replacers
A few companies make powdered egg-replacer products consisting of potato starch, tapioca, soy flour, and/or leavening agents that can be used to replace eggs in many baking recipes. Most often added to water first and then to the wet ingredients, these products help replace the binding and structural components of eggs. Two brands with longevity in this market are Ener-G Egg Replacer and Bob's Red Mill Vegetarian Egg Replacer. These aren't whole foods and don't add any beneficial nutritional components, but they're shelf stable and developed to replace eggs with ease. They have no flavor, and their use is straightforward. If clients are looking for a no-fuss way to replace eggs, these products and others like them may be their answer.
Aquafaba: The Newest Egg Replacer
The above egg replacements will do a good job for most recipes requiring eggs, but not when it comes to making meringue pies and macaroons. In these delicacies, egg doesn't just play a structural role; it is the structure. But as replacing eggs has become more popular, these egg-dependent desserts have come within reach of those eating egg-free. However, it took an engineer to figure out what would work: The discarded water from canned chickpeas makes an excellent egg replacer for the most challenging recipes, including meringue and macaroons.4 He named it aquafaba, from the Latin language for water and bean. The relatively significant protein and starch remaining in the water combine to replicate egg whites.
Roughly three tablespoons of aquafaba can replace one egg, and clients can whip it much like they do egg whites. (For more information, read "Demystifying Aquafaba" in the June 2016 issue of Today's Dietitian.)
Replacing Eggs as Meals
These solutions for egg-free baking are helpful when egg is a part of a recipe, but clients aren't likely to forgo their morning eggs for applesauce or potato starch. Most egg avoiders are forced to change their breakfast choices entirely and switch to options such as cereal, oatmeal, or toast. But the market for egglike foods is growing, and some new options exist.
Marketed as an egg yolk replacer, the Vegg is 100% plant based and can be used to make French toast, hollandaise sauce, and even scrambled eggs. There's also a recipe to make a spherical yellow egg yolk. The company makes other egg-free mixes, including an option designed for baking and a French toast mix.
Follow Your Heart, a health food store and food production company that dates back to 1970 and makes popular dairy- and egg-free products, such as Vegenaise and Vegan Gourmet cheese, recently developed VeganEgg, a whole egg replacer that can be used to bake cookies, muffins, cakes, and scrambled eggs. Created to resemble cooked eggs, this powdered egg-replacer takes the form and flavor of eggs when water is added. It's made from an algae-based flour and also is gluten-free.
Hampton Creek, the makers of Just Mayo, are developing a plant protein-based, egg-free scrambled egg. Not yet available, but promising to push the ceiling of what's possible without eggs, the company is using startup ingenuity with the help of million-dollar investors such as Bill Gates. After the success of Just Mayo and Just Cookies, consumers who avoid eggs are eagerly awaiting this next product.
Before there was any discussion on replicating the egg, there was the vegetarian classic tofu scramble. Tofu, made from coagulated soymilk, is a versatile food that makes an excellent scramble. While tofu scramble can be as simple as sautéing crumbled soft tofu in a pan with added turmeric to give it that yellow egg color, dietitians would be hard pressed to find a client who would consider it egglike. But some culinary tweaks can get clients closer to the real thing, such as the addition of Himalayan black salt. Also known as kala namak, this seasoned salt contains sulfur, which can add the flavor of eggs to tofu scramble and other dishes. It's available in many South Asian markets and some health food stores, as well as online.
Add this to a scramble with a thickening agent like cornstarch or arrowroot and clients can create a replica of a scrambled egg.
Chickpea Flour Omelet
Moreover, clients can use chickpea flour to make an omelet or crepe that can be filled with the same ingredients as a traditional egg omelet. Chickpea flour is very versatile and is available in South Asian markets and natural food stores. A variety of omelet options exist online, especially in vegan forums and recipe sites.
It's never easy for clients to have any allergy to a common food, but avoiding eggs without missing out on too many foods is becoming commonplace. Food science advancements are on the heels of consumer demand for egg-free foods; this means more options will become available each year. With a little knowledge and ingenuity, egg-free eating can lead clients down culinary avenues that were once thought to be closed.
— Matthew Ruscigno, MPH, RD, is the past chair of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietary Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owns a private practice in Los Angeles.
1. Caubet JC, Wang J. Current understanding of egg allergy. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2011;58(2):427-443, xi.
2. Milk allergy. Food Allergy Research & Education website. www.foodallergy.org/allergens/milk-allergy. Accessed May 25, 2016.
3. Savage JH, Matsui EC, Skripak JM, Wood RA. The natural history of egg allergy. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2007;120(6):1413-1417.
4. Black J. Vegans whip up a secret weapon: aquafaba. The New York Times. May 9, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/11/dining/aquafaba-vegan-egg-substitute.html. Accessed May 12, 2016.