Bakers know that angel food cakes and meringues rely on egg whites to achieve a light, aerated texture, while croissants require a dough laminated with layers of butter. And brioche requires the perfect ratio of eggs, butter and milk or cream to produce a light and puffy bread.

The challenge for today’s bakers is to follow the rules without breaking the bank. With supply chain and prices still strained for many raw materials, bakers are seeking ingredients to stretch the color, flavor and functionality of dairy and eggs. They know elimination is not usually the answer. But by understanding the role and the science behind dairy and egg ingredients, formulation modifications can be made while improving the bottom line. 

“Consumers are drawn to baked goods made with familiar ingredients, and certainly eggs and dairy products align with those clean label tendencies,” said Aaron Reed, senior food technologist, Cargill. “They also bring so much functionality to a formula.”

Dairy replacements can also help reduce costs and alleviate supply chain issues.

“Milk products, butter, buttermilk and eggs all continue to go up in pricing, and this trend doesn’t appear to be going away in the near future,” said Jeff Nelson, vice president Western sales, Brolite. “Alternatives such as our milk and buttermilk replacers, as well as our egg replacers are attracting a lot of attention, not only to help reduce costs but also to avoid potential supply issues with these items.”

Healthy chickens lay an egg about once a day, each with a white and a yolk. Separately, these components perform distinct functions in baked foods, and when combined, are a powerhouse performance ingredient.

“Because eggs have unique functionality, they’re invaluable in all types of baking formulations,” said Nelson Serrano-Bahri, director of innovation, American Egg Board. “Eggs have 20-plus functions, from adhesion to aeration and from binding to browning. Eggs influence overall appearance and flavor, as well as texture, batter quality, moisture/water activity and enhance overall richness in baked goods.”

Cakes, meringues, cookies, pastry creams and custards use eggs as main components to thicken, emulsify, build volume, stabilize, and provide color and flavor. The protein in eggs supports browning, while the carotenoids in the yolk contribute a rich, golden color. Yolk color is influenced by the hen’s diet and can vary from pale yellow to deep orange.

Because of such variability, along with the hassle of cracking shells, bakers typically rely on egg products. Egg products come in dry, frozen and liquid bulk formats. They can be whole eggs or separated into whites and yolks. There are also performance-enhanced versions. This allows for maximum functional benefits to manage costs.

Pasteurized egg whites, for example, are available as standard, high whip and high gel. The high-whip version is sometimes called angel whites. It produces a superior foam that aerates angel food cake and meringue. High gel is often used in protein bars to keep the product intact.

“Egg products are pasteurized to ensure food safety,” Mr. Serrano-Bahri said. “They’re easy to use and provide batch-to-batch consistency with an extended shelf life.”

Egg replacement can pose challenges, however.

“It’s hard to replace eggs,” Mr. Reed said. “As you reduce the eggs in a formula, you lose certain properties, especially around texture and structure. Gumminess is a common problem, and it can be hard to combat. Soy flour can help, but in egg-dependent applications, like cakes, there are limits to how deep a reduction you can make.”

Eggs set at a particular temperature during baking, creating a gel that holds the structure of the finished product. 

“As you take away the eggs in a cake or muffin formula, you start to lose volume,” Mr. Reed explained. “There are functional systems that can fill some of that void, but again, the deeper the cuts, the harder it is to maintain volume and structure.”

It is impossible to replace the 20-plus functions of whole eggs with any single ingredient. Multiple ingredients create a more complex ingredient statement, one that may include ingredients consumers are not familiar with.

“When you think of the key constituents of an egg — protein, fat and lecithin — Cargill’s portfolio includes plant-based versions of all three,” Mr. Reed said. “We’ve also developed multiple solutions to help brands with partial egg replacement, including modified starches that mimic the processing and emulsifying properties of eggs. These solutions provide essential structure and texture in applications, like cookies, pancakes and muffins, and can be used to replace 25% to 50% of liquid whole eggs, depending on the application.”

Soy flour is another ingredient used to stretch egg supplies. It helps maintain moisture and imitates the characteristics of fat.

“Our portfolio also includes functional systems designed to help brands cut back on the eggs used in high-ratio and angel food cakes,” Mr. Reed said. “In these applications, mimicking eggs’ aeration and structure properties is key.”

Soy, however, introduces another allergen into the formulation. And with any additional ingredients added to stretch the use of real eggs, there may be undesirable interactions.

“Finding an alternative ingredient to completely replace eggs from baked goods is very challenging,” Mr. Serrano-Bahri said. “Most can provide similar emulsification and viscosity attributes, depending on the application; however, structure, flavor and color are difficult to fully emulate. Additionally, when replacing eggs, changes to moisture and water activity may occur and affect shelf life, requiring reformulation.”

Onego Bio, a Helsinki-based food-biotech company, is taking a different approach to replacing eggs. The company developed animal-free egg proteins with precision fermentation. Onego Bio’s ingredient is bio-identical to ovalbumin, the primary protein in egg whites, so it provides the same functionality and nutrition without the environmental, ethical and safety concerns of eggs from chickens.

“It is not a substitute. It is the real thing,” explained Maija Itkonen, the company’s co-founder and chief executive officer. “It is part of an emerging category of animal-free ingredients produced through fermentation. Precision fermentation is the newest chapter in the history of making food without animals. It allows us to provide people with food that is sustainable, tasty and healthy, without cutting any corners or making any compromises.”

The biotech process is based on harnessing the microorganism Trichoderma reesei for egg protein production, with the help of water, sugar and certain minerals. The method can be compared to beer production, in which the microorganism is fed sugar to produce alcohol. The production technology is unique in that it can be scaled up into large industrial bioreactors and produces levels of the desired protein efficiently with little to no waste. 

The proteins perform like conventional egg whites, including foaming, gelling, binding and leavening properties, which are challenging to replace with other ingredients, Ms. Itkonen said.

This article is an excerpt from the June 2023 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Dairy & Eggs, click here.