What exactly is a vegan egg, and is it healthy?
I've been mostly vegan for years. The thing that stops me from totally committing? Eggs. They’re easy and delicious. Who doesn’t love a runny yolked breakfast? Plus, I'm not much of a baker, so when I try to figure out how to sub in flaxseed goo for actual eggs in a recipe, it always leads to the heartbreaking excuse for chocolate chip cookies. But the latest iteration of vegan eggs actually look like eggs and some people say you can bake with them and also — gasp — make quiche and omelettes with them. Before I let the excitement take over — what is a vegan egg, exactly and are they even good for you?
The vegan eggs that got me wondering if I could actually go full vegan are called Les Merveilloeufs. Created by two French women, they have a shell and a yolk and while they do look, almost suspiciously, like eggs, I wanted an expert’s take on whether they’re healthy or not. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a list of ingredients. And even though there are articles about these “miracle eggs” since the company hatched last year, judging by their website, the exact ingredients don’t appear to be available to the public yet. The vegan food industry journal Vegconomist reported that Les Merveilloefs are currently seeking financial backing so they could still be putting the finishing touches on their recipe.
“Until the exact ingredients and nutrition labels are revealed to the public, it is hard to say whether or not the new vegan egg is healthy and if it should be recommended as an addition to the diet,” says Bansari Acharya, a Detroit-based registered dietician. Acharya says that people speculate that they’re made of legumes, but no one knows for sure. Not many people seem to have actually tasted them. The most comprehensive review of this mysterious vegan egg I could find described them as “sulphurous,” which doesn’t exactly make my mouth water.
Acharya is a fan of vegan eggs in general, though. “Nowadays, there are numerous substitutes for eggs that yield similar if not identical results to using a real egg, whether or not it is baking or making an omelet,” says Acharya. There are plenty of other reasons to give up eggs besides nutrition. Personally, even though I do eat eggs, I find it ethically challenging to justify raising hens to steal their eggs, and Acharya says that not only does the egg industry have questionable environmental practices, the reality is that eggs may not be great for some people.
“Eggs contain a large amount of cholesterol, which may be detrimental to health,” Acharya says. Most research implies that eggs don’t seem to raise cholesterol as much as some other foods — like bacon and sausage — do, but some studies suggest that there could be a link between egg consumption and heart disease. Experts generally concur that moderation is ideal when it comes to egg consumption (if you don’t have any conflicting health conditions), but since there appears to be no concrete consensus, some people just want an alternative that feels healthier. So, basically, vegan eggs could be better for the environment and they might be better for your body, but the jury’s still out. Nowadays, there are numerous substitutes for eggs that yield similar if not identical results to using a real egg, Acharya says, so why not try them?
There are some good looking vegan egg options out there right now. Just Egg is a brand that is gaining popularity for their ethical and transparent business practices — like publishing their carbon emissions. I haven’t tried Just Egg, but the reviews are optimistic, and it does seem to pack a nutritional punch.
One of the main ingredients of Just Egg is mung bean, a legume. Each serving has about 7 grams of protein, which is about the same as an actual egg. Most eggs only have about 6 grams of protein. “The mung bean is also responsible for some of those coveted egg-like properties, such as the ability to gel when cooked in a pan,” says Kate Geagan, an Idaho-based registered dietitian and advisor at Eat JUST, Inc, the makers of Just Egg. Just Egg has a liquid product and also a “foldable” omelette-looking option that is kind of creepy, but not totally off-putting.
Geagan works with the company who makes Just Egg, and she seems sincerely passionate about helping people make good nutritional choices that also protect the planet, and she says she feeds Just Egg to her vegan daughter. “What we are trying to do is create a delicious, easy, and zero trade-off alternative for people who want to reduce their consumption of eggs or animal products. We are in a moment where conventional animal agriculture is an outdated model that is unsustainable,” Gaegan says.
Products like Just Egg ($4.99 for a 12 ounce bottle) are great if you want a vegan egg that’s easy to use and you don’t mind paying for it, but you also don’t have to buy fancy packaged vegan eggs, Acharya says. “For baking, chia and flax seeds are a great substitute for egg,” Acharya says. “Not only do they provide the same chemical properties that eggs are used for in baking, but they are also extremely nutritious.”
Both flax and chia seeds are an excellent source of essential vitamins and minerals such as omega-3, fiber, and also contain a great amount of protein, she tells me. I haven’t had luck with these in the past, but I have also just sort of thrown chia seeds into cookie dough, and it turns out that egg substitution requires some preparation. Detoxinista, my favorite vegan recipe site, has a great tutorial on how to make vegan eggs using flax or chia seeds.
If you want a vegan option for cooking — as opposed to baking — Acharya recommends chickpea flour, which she says is an excellent replacement for eggs because it has a texture that is similar to eggs when cooked. And chickpeas are really good for you. Acharya says they’re very nutrient-dense and an excellent source of many vitamins, minerals, fiber, and also protein. In addition, she says, chickpea flour contains no saturated fat or cholesterol, which makes it great for your heart. Maybe nothing is going to take the place of a sunny side egg in my affections, but I might make more room on my plate for these vegan egg alternatives if it makes the world a better place. That’s also good for my heart.