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Silicon Valley Embraces Innovation in Sustainable Foods

A plant-based egg ingredient (on the left)
A plant-based egg ingredient (on the left)Courtesy Hampton Creek Foods

“The food industry is broken,” says Josh Tetrick, a 32-year-old entrepreneur who’s creating plant-based egg replacement products that could one day disrupt the global egg industry. His 11-month-old company, Hampton Creek Foods, is working out of a food lab in the South of Market area of San Francisco, just a few blocks from such Internet startups as Twitter, Zynga, and Airbnb. During a tour of the lab this week, Tetrick’s lovable golden retriever and unofficial company mascot, Jake, was parked good-naturedly on a bright red couch in the lobby, underneath a photo of Bill Gates eating a muffin made with Hampton Creek’s egg-free baking product. It’s a feel-good sort of place.

Johan Boot and Joshua Tetrick of Hampton Creek Foods
Courtesy Hampton Creek Foods
In Hampton Creek’s lab, Tetrick’s staff of 19—armed with a combo of science degrees, chef experience, and food industry chops—are obsessing over eggs. What gives an egg—the result of a chicken menstrual cycle (eeww)—its unusual characteristics, and how can those characteristics be replaced with a combination of plants? The team has worked on more than 344 prototypes for their egg-yolk product and have studied 287 types of plants that range from peas to canola.

The lab is filled with industrial food measurement equipment, such as the “texture analyzer,” which basically pokes baked goods to see how much they bounce back. Before the company moved into the lab, Tetrick was doing these types of tests with his finger in his studio apartment in L.A. He discovered that switching the recipe to include a new type of pea produced the fluffy, elastic muffins that people really craved. Who knew?