I eat eggs almost every morning, scrambled with a pinch of salt and topped with a few cracks of black pepper and a dash of hot sauce. So when I saw a TV advertisement featuring Serena Williams digging into a plant-based scramble that looked like the real thing, I was intrigued—and a little skeptical.
The ad subtly touts the benefits of plant-based protein over animal-derived ones. And by featuring a prominent athlete, it makes the quiet argument that “veggs” are a healthier alternative to eggs. But in truth, I couldn’t care less about which option is healthier. I just want to know if the stuff on my plate tastes good.
I’m not vegan, but I do rotate vegan meals into my diet frequently, both to cut down on my animal product intake and shake up my routine. So, I took to my local Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods and rounded up a handful of egg substitutes to see if the faux eggs look, taste, and feel like the real thing.
To give each vegg brand a fair shot, I minimized the variables by cooking everything the same way. Each time, I poured 50 milliliters of egg substitute into a frying pan on medium-high heat that was pre-coated in a tablespoon of vegetable oil. I used a rubber spatula to scramble everything in the pan until it was cooked through but still a little wet. Then, I plopped the scramble on a plate and let it sit for two minutes to finish cooking in its own heat.
I evaluated three metrics: appearance, taste, and texture. Next, I looked at each ingredient list to see how each product achieved its “egginess.” Then, I cooked up a real egg and tasted that for comparison’s sake. Here are my findings.
JUST Egg created the aforementioned TV commercials that kickstarted my fascination. Having been on the market for several years, this brand appears to be the most readily available right now, as I saw it at a few different grocery stores in my home city of Philadelphia. The bottle is sleek, conveying everything I needed to know on the front: the phrase “Made from plants” is bolded on top and a non-GMO stamp sits on the bottom right.
I shook the bottle as instructed, unscrewed the cap, and removed the plastic seal—a tiny bit of the yellow liquid jumped out the top as if it were slightly carbonated, though it isn’t. It poured like pancake batter into the pan and it’s thicker than any egg I’ve cooked before, even after adding milk or cream to create a fluffier result. But after JUST’s custardy start in the pan, it curdles into a pretty convincing pile of scrambled eggs.
I coaxed the scramble onto my plate, let it sit, then took a bite. The JUST Egg has the texture and mouthfeel of eggs, which is a pleasant surprise. But the flavor is off. It’s vegetal, which makes sense considering the ingredients: mung bean protein, dehydrated onion, carrot extractives for color, turmeric, and a mish-mosh of oils, syrups, and natural flavors. That’s not to say it tastes bad; it tastes fine. Just not like eggs.
Unfortunately, below the ingredients section, a blurb reads: “Made in a facility that processes eggs.” If I were a hardcore vegan, I might not be comfortable with that. The company hasn’t officially labeled the product as vegan, with some sources like Vegan Foundry saying it’s because JUST Egg tested the mung bean protein on animals. Still, if you’re just looking for a plant-based egg alternative, this will do the trick.
Simply Eggless was the only plant-based egg option available at Trader Joe’s, and I didn’t see it on the shelf anywhere else in my area. It’s packaged in a bottle like JUST Egg and touts being egg-free, cholesterol-free, and cruelty-free, front and center. Unlike JUST Egg, Simply Eggless is certified vegan. I shook the bottle and unscrewed the cap, and it was ready to go, with no plastic seal.
The liquid appeared syrupy in texture, but that made it feel closer to a real raw egg than JUST Egg had. Even though it looked particularly unnatural in the pan, it formed distinct curds and flopped onto the plate as real eggs would. They looked astonishingly like eggs on the plate, but my excitement dissipated once I forked a bite into my mouth.
The texture was unpleasantly mushy and felt grainy on my tongue. Simply Eggless did taste like eggs (albeit blander), but the mouthfeel was glaringly incorrect.
How could this be? I peered over the ingredients list to see how Simply Eggless could look so much like eggs, taste so much like eggs, but feel so wrong texturally. The mixture of oils, natural flavors, turmeric, and carrot extractives mimicked that of JUST Egg. Instead of mung bean protein, Simply Eggless uses lupin bean protein. So far, nothing seemed to explain the grainy texture—until I discovered gluten-free beta-glucan on the label.
Beta-glucan is a type of fiber found in barley, oats, wheat, and other grains, with oats as the only gluten-free option in the bunch. Therefore, the ingredient is likely the textural culprit.
Like with JUST Egg, if you’re plant-based and crave eggs, Simply Eggless will do the trick—but it might leave you wanting more.
Hodo All-Day Egg Scramble was the only other plant-based egg option I could find, nestled inside the plant-based fridge at Whole Foods. It comes pre-cooked and ready to heat and eat, sealed in plastic within a cardboard container that advertises the scramble as vegan and organic. Once taken out of the package, it resembles already scrambled eggs in color but otherwise has the appearance of tofu, which makes sense because tofu is ingredient number one.
I added the scramble to the pan and mixed it around to heat it. Once plated, it looked like overcooked scrambled eggs: crumbly, stiff, and easily broken apart. However, that didn’t mean it was dry. The vegg was moist and incredibly flavorful. It was the best tasting of the three by a long shot. Salty, savory, and well-seasoned with a combination of turmeric, paprika, garlic, and onion powders, I could see myself tossing this into a stir fry, breakfast burrito, or anything in between.
Unfortunately, despite its deliciousness, it didn’t taste like eggs. It tasted like well-seasoned tofu, which is exactly what it is. Therefore, I’m a little disappointed Hodo advertised this product as an “egg scramble.” However, I understand the reasoning: the All-Day Egg Scramble acts as a functional egg replacement for vegan meals, even if it’s not nailing its impersonation of eggs.
I will absolutely buy Hodo’s offering again. I just won’t do it to replace eggs, because it’s something else entirely.
After I tried all three veggs, I cooked up a regular ol’ scrambled egg. As expected, it was great. Eating the real thing made the three previous plates dim in comparison. Regardless, I’m still greatly impressed with how close JUST Egg and Simply Eggless have come to recreating the scrambled egg experience without using a single animal product, even if they’re ever so slightly off.
I can only imagine that companies will keep tinkering with their formulas to continually improve their imitations. And as new competitors enter the space, innovation will undoubtedly follow. But the whole experience with veggs echoed my thoughts on plant-based substitutes for animal products. They’re a great option for those who don’t eat meat or eggs and who want to experience those foods while sticking to their diet of choice. However, I think the heavy focus on creating these foods can obscure the already delicious vegan options out there that stand on their own, without needing to be called a “substitute” for anything else.
Take the Hodo All-Day Egg Scramble, for instance. It was more like pre-seasoned tofu rather than an egg, and it was delicious. I even cooked up a grain bowl with my breakfast leftovers for dinner that night, and it tasted awesome. I’d love to see these companies truly innovate and create completely novel food products for vegans and plant-based eaters rather than pump out more vegan beef or plant-based chicken nuggets. Don’t get me wrong, those products are probably great starter points for the curious omnivore. But catering to the already existing vegan community might breed more interesting and unique results.