Welcome to the Future
Apps and i-whatevers are old news in the venture capital meccas of San Francisco and Silicon Valley. The big investment frontier is now food, and what’s going on out there is revolutionizing what we eat, how we eat and how it gets to us. Hampton Creek Foods is generating huge excitement and pulling in millions of dollars in investment from the Founders Fund (they helped start Facebook and Napster) and folks like Bill Gates. Hampton Creek is creating the next super food, Beyond Eggs. The goal? To perfectly re-create the traditional chicken egg, making it entirely out of plant material. Chicken eggs are delicious and nutritious, but aren’t very food safe or portable, have limited shelf life, and their modern production methods have a harmful environmental impact. Caged chicken egg production is the poster child for everything farming and food systems shouldn’t be.
Enter the entrepreneur. The CEO of Hampton Creek Foods is a young 29-year-old named Josh Tetrick, one of the smartest and most charismatic men I have ever met. Tetrick returned to the United States after seven years in Africa working on a variety of social wellness campaigns. He took a job at TOMS Shoes and soon after launched 33needs, a crowd funded company connecting social entrepreneurs to investors. He founded Hampton Creek in 2011, hiring a fleet of international biochemists and food scientists who got to work in a small laboratory and test kitchen in San Francisco. The task was to replicate the chicken egg and all its functionality, flavor appeal included.
First they had to isolate the egg’s 22 different functions. Eggs gel, they emulsify, they perform miracles in baking cakes, muffin and cookies. And they’re a superfood. Tetrick’s team spent the past two years testing thousands of plants, isolating a protein here, a vitamin there, some color over yonder. They tested uncountable batches of chocolate chip cookies and salad dressings, cakes and omelets to find the exact mixture of compounds that are fully functional and taste right. It was impressive to spend a day at Hampton Creek and watch the entire process unfold before my eyes. I watched the beans and lentils, carrots and other plants have their individual characteristics and compounds isolated, turned into a powder and then used for baking or mixed with water to be scrambled or made into mayonnaise.
I tasted chocolate chip cookies and mayonnaise made with Beyond Eggs and the results were better than I imagined. In fact, I preferred the taste of their Just Mayo to Hellmann’s, my ‘must have’ brand. In a blind test, I found the chocolate chip cookie made with plant-based eggs to be superior to the exact same recipe made with commercial chicken eggs. Tetrick’s team of scientists explained that most everyone has the same reaction. The action of a chicken egg in recipes has many benefits, but one of the drawbacks is that it tends to mask some of the other flavors in a dish. The plant-based egg mayo was sublime. I could taste all the acids and the oils in balance; I got all the egg flavor and texture but the other ingredients shined through. I also became the fourth human being on Earth to eat a scrambled plant. It still needed work, texturally and flavor wise it lacked the perfection of a real egg. I gave it a B minus. By 2014 they will have it perfected, but you don’t have to wait to see that I’m right about this stuff. Beyond Eggs Just Mayo is in Whole Foods right now.
The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture folks said that in the year 2000 global demand for eggs was 14 million tons. By 2030, they say it will be 38 million tons. Hampton Creek’s Beyond Eggs are 18 percent cheaper than battery cage eggs. They’re cholesterol free, non-GMO, soy-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, and have no artificial colors. They use less water to make than standard egg production, produce less carbon emissions, and their shelf life, ease of use and portability don’t have boundaries. Mark my words, HCF founder Josh Tetrick will win a Nobel Prize one day. You heard it here first.