Published September 11, 2013
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Neither.
An artificial egg product approved by Bill Gates and Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel is made entirely from plants, thanks to food scientists at San Francisco-startup Hampton Creek Foods. The company has created faux mayonnaise and a variety of baked goods using their plant egg substitute, which is coming soon to a Whole Foods near you.
The products are made from a "simple, but awesome species of peas," sorghum and "11 plants (in total) that are particularly awesome," CEO Josh Tetrick told FoxNews.com.
Tetrick came up with the idea for Just Mayo and Beyond Eggs products, after returning to the United States after 7 years of living in Sub-Saharan Africa working with impoverished communities.
"When I got back, I wanted to see how I could use business to make a difference," Tetrick who holds a Juris Doctor from Michigan Law School, told FoxNews.com. "After reading a lot about our food system, I began to see how crazy it was."
Tetrick says that there are 1.8 trillion eggs laid every year, nearly all of which come from “places that normal people do not what their food to come from."
"Ninety-nine percent of our eggs come from dimly-lit, feces- and urine-smelling industrial warehouses," Tetrick said. "Putting aside animal-cruelty, it's just gross." It's also a food safety issue, Tetrick explained, such as the spread of avian flu.
Tetrick is the first to admit that he's no scientist, or chef for that matter. He's just really good at finding very smart people. Tetrick enlisted the help of Chris Jones, a contestant on the TV show "Top Chef," and biochemist Joshua Klein to help him create what they call the most realistic egg-free egg product yet.
One excited future-customer is vegan and gluten-free cookbook author Allyson Kramer, who has been searching for the perfect egg substitute for years now.
"I've been cooking egg-free for over 16 years now and honestly I haven't been fully satisfied with any products yet," Kramer who is studying to become a dietician at Drexel University told FoxNews.com.
Kramer uses a variety of foods to help replace eggs in her dishes, such as flax and chia seeds, chickpea flour and even vinegar. While most of these products work well to create the "lift" eggs give in baked goods, Kramer explains the hard part is recreating the binding agent of eggs.
"There is this product out there that's used in molecular gastronomy, but it's very expensive," she said. "But there are so many things you can make just using plants."
Tetrick insists the product is not just for herbivores. His meat-loving dad is a big fan of his plant-based cookies. So is investor Bill Gates and former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair.
"My dad is a steak-and-potatoes kind of guy and loves it," he said. "Bill Gates and Tony Blair couldn't tell the difference."
While the company has some big name backers, some believe the egg and poultry industry is around to stay despite Tetrick's attempts.
"Realistically they are never going to replace any significant amount of the poultry industry," U.S. Department of Agriculture research physiologist Raymond Glahn told FoxNews.com. "Products like these come along all the time."
While Glahn agrees there is great nutritional value to plant-based foods, we need a diverse diet for optimal health.
Hampton Creek Foods' website claims its product is healthier for you and cost 19 percent less than eggs which as of July cost an average of $1.833 per dozen according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Glahn believes these statements to be part of a marketing ploy and doubts the products taste just like the real thing. But Tetrick explains his product is different than what is already available.
"Next March we will release a product called 'Just Scrambled,'" he teased. "We believe we will be the first company in the world that has created something that scrambles and tastes like the real thing."