Cracking the egg: Food innovators at Calif. start-up seek egg alternatives

(CBS News) Food innovators at one San Francisco start-up company are taking a crack at egg alternatives that are cholesterol-free and less expensive than eggs from a chicken.

The crowded office of Hampton Creek Foods in San Francisco is part science lab, part test kitchen. Founder Josh Tetrick is out to change the world -- starting with mayonnaise.

It took two years of research and development to figure out how to make mayonnaise without using eggs. Tetrick believes eggs are inefficient. He said, "Seventy percent of the cost of every single egg comes from all the feed, all of the soy, and all of the corn that a bird in a cage is eating."

So his scientists and chefs are searching the world for plants that can do everything an egg can do -- and that's a lot.

Tetrick said, "It can aerate a muffin, it can hold a cookie together, it can emulsify water in mayonnaise and of course it can even scramble up. But the amazing thing about plants, if you really look deep enough, if you look hard enough, they can do the same thing."

And plants can do it cheaper, he says, you just have to find the right ones. Tetrick said, "We've had a lot of failures with the mayonnaise. When you scan through over 1,500 plant species, you are going to have some failures."

Chef Chris Jones, busy at his mixer, knows all about the failures. To make egg-less mayonnaise, he tried 300 different kinds of plants.

Jones said he never once thought they couldn't replace the egg. "I had faith," he said. "I had faith that we could do it. We could crack the egg."

Finally, the biochemists found a variety of peas that worked. Jones said, "It brings a taste and a color and it's actually better than an egg in mayonnaise."

Hampton Creek Foods has raised $5 million from some big Silicon Valley investors, including Bill Gates, who see potential in challenging the industrial egg industry. There could be a big payoff if food manufacturers can be convinced to use plants instead of eggs in everything, from salad dressings to cookie dough.

And Tetrick notes that these foods, such as some of the cookies the company makes, are not genetically modified. "It's not a Frankencookie," he said. "This is a non-GMO plant-based cookie and hopefully you're not thinking about anything, you're just enjoying your cookie."

Replacing the scrambled egg may be tougher. They've found a bean with the right color and texture -- but the taste? CBS News' John Blackstone, after trying the scrambled egg said, "Obviously you're not quite there yet."

Tetrick replied, "We're getting there. It's a process. This is why we're taking you deep in the heart of (research and development), so you can see sort of where it is, and where we're hoping it will be tomorrow."

Tetrick is hoping his egg-free mayonnaise -- going on sale this month at Whole Foods -- will prove the potential. Next to market: egg-free cookie dough. And by early next year, Tetrick figures he'll have the scrambled egg beaten.

Watch John Blackstone's full report above.