The egg alternative that could be cheaper for manufacturers

A Dutch start-up has created a sustainable yeast-based ingredient to replace eggs in meat-free products and bakery.

5 August 2019
image credit: Getty Images

With the UK now the nation with the most vegan NPD in the world, finding alternatives to animal ingredients is a battle the industry is embracing.

When it comes to eggs – useful in everything from bakery and condiments to dessert – the chickpea water aquafaba has been all the rage as a useful substitute. Now, a Dutch start-up is bringing what it claims is the world’s first vegan and non-GMO egg white substitute to market, made from yeast.

Fumi Ingredients was started by two researchers from Wageningen University in the Netherlands – the company name is an abbreviation of the terms ‘functional’ and ‘microalgae.’

Co-founders Edgar Suarez Garcia and Corjan van den Berg were investigating how to make microalgae more accessible to the food industry by refining it in a really mild way – thereby protecting its temperature and pH-sensitive compounds – when they found the results had comparable functionality to egg whites. This encouraged the researchers to broaden their efforts into yeast.

Cheaper than eggs

The start-up trialled its processing method on yeast left over from the beer brewing process.

“It was amazing,” van den Berg told Food Spark’s sister site Food Navigator. “We could make meringues out of proteins made from brewer’s spent yeast.”

Its alternative ingredient can also be used as a foaming and binding agent, as well as an emulsifier in mayo. It wants to target the bakery market with its ingredients’ foaming properties to help manufacturers make airy, light bread products.

But its big target is supplying it as a vegan binding ingredients for meat-free products, since a great number of players rely on egg whites for this purpose.

In terms of taste, unwashed spent brewer’s yeast protein will taste a little bit like beer, according to the company, but when the beer fermentation broth is removed ahead of the protein purification process, it is completely tasteless.

“When you use the product to replace egg whites, you typically use relatively small amounts,” said van den Berg. “It doesn’t take a lot of effort to mask the flavour.”

While Fumi’s ingredient only contains 65-70% protein, compared to egg white’s almost pure protein content, the company is focused on functionality and cost instead.

“We are not targeting 100% protein purity. Our aim is to cut costs,” explained van den Berg. “We want to have a cheap egg white alternative on the market. Actually, we believe that if we go down the spent yeast route, we could perhaps even undercut egg white prices on an industrial scale.”

Fumi is currently looking for other companies to further test its ingredient in products. It has also received funding that it wants to invest in building a factory that would be up and running in two and a half years, able to produce 200 tonnes of egg white ingredient annually.

Good for the planet

Sustainability has been a key driver of Fumi, said van den Berg, particularly finding low-carbon-footprint alternatives, as every kilogram of wet egg white produced is equivalent to 4kg of CO2.

“If you go for dried egg whites that are used in the industry, it’s a 10-fold increase per kilogram,” he added. “If you compare this to our process, you can achieve over 95% reduction of CO2 equivalent. It is an enormous step.”

While upcycling spent yeast from local beer makers is also cutting waste, Fumi is looking to purchase yeast that has been originally grown to make yeast extracts.

“If you purchase yeast, compared to brewery waste, it represents a more significant cost,” he commented. “On the upside, buying dried yeast makes it easier to plan our processing. If you use spent brewer’s yeast, there can be slightly more variation in the input stream. But once we scale up further and have all the logistics in place, including good collaborations with brewers, then it makes more sense to source directly from beer makers. As it stands, spent yeast is most commonly mixed with spent grain for animal feed. It is a low-value resource, and we plan to upgrade that.”

In the long term, Fumi sees an opportunity to license out its technology, particularly to breweries.

“It makes sense to also start producing these ingredients from brewer’s spent yeast on-site,” he said. “And then it could become a licensing model that can go worldwide.”

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