Q&A with an egg-cellent food scientist — Miranda Grizio

Food scientist Miranda Grizio describes egg-replacement opportunities for the food industry … and much more! It all starts with understanding the functional roles that eggs play in different products.
Deviled eggs

GFI’s SciTech Team has produced a new white paper on the functional properties of eggs so as to better understand how to replace them. The paper’s lead author is our Science and Technology Research Fellow, Miranda Grizio.

Miranda is a food scientist working in R&D for the natural foods industry. She has won several awards for new products, including a Vegetarian Times Foodie Award. Miranda also volunteers at Compatible Technology International, where she provides technical assistance for food processing projects in developing countries to improve the incomes and nutrition of smallholder farmers and their families. 

At GFI, Miranda supports food entrepreneurs and scientists interested in plant-based foods by researching the functionality of plant-based ingredients.

We caught up with Miranda to learn more about how she’s applying her talents to advance plant-based products.

Q: First, let’s talk about eggs. What makes them so unique from a functional perspective?

From a food science standpoint, the variety of functional properties that eggs provide is astounding — like color, flavor, foam stabilization, emulsification, and gelation, to name a few. Eggs can turn oil and water into mayonnaise, make breading stick to fried foods, and create the characteristic textures of meringue and crème brûlée. Unique factors of eggs include the presence of naturally-occurring emulsifiers and antimicrobial enzymes, in addition to proteins that can coagulate. The molecular composition of eggs is complicated, containing everything a baby bird needs to grow.

This variety is part of what makes the development of egg alternatives such an exciting food science challenge!

Q: We know conventional egg production takes a tremendous toll on the planet and animals. But if cheap eggs are available and can achieve all the things you mentioned above, what would motivate companies to seek alternatives?

Motivations for using egg alternatives include things like improved food safety, allergen reduction, healthier nutritional profiles, easier handling and storage, and less price volatility. And speaking of price, eggs aren’t always cheap, as we’ve seen when avian influenza strikes.

Q: What are some recent developments in egg replacement tech that particularly excite you?

The fact that major ingredient companies (especially manufacturers of starches and gums) have started putting R&D efforts toward egg replacers is huge. It means that now someone can decide to start a plant-based food company based on traditional egg-containing products, like mayonnaise or cake, and have a prototype ready in days instead of months.

Q: What do you see as the immediate next frontier?

There are some plant proteins that have the ability to coagulate the way egg proteins do. We’ve known this about soy for a long time, which is why tofu scramble is the go-to scrambled egg alternative. But more recently, this functionality has been discovered in mung bean protein and algal protein. I think these discoveries have inspired an increase in R&D around screening plant proteins for functional properties.

Just think of the thousands of plants that haven’t yet been evaluated!

Q: What are some additional untapped opportunities in this space?

We are at the very beginning of using cellular agriculture to produce egg proteins. A clean egg could be produced that is nature-identical. Or it could be modified, for example, to have no cholesterol. Clean milk and clean meat made through cellular agriculture are further along in development and have already shown great promise.

Q: If you had the perfect plant-based egg in your fridge right now, what would you make with it?

Definitely deviled eggs! I’m from the Midwest, where no summer picnic is complete without deviled eggs. Plus, that dish would really put plant-based eggs to the test.

Q: On a personal level, what motivated you to write this in-depth white paper?

As a product developer in the food industry, I’ve worked on eggless mayo, eggless scramble, eggless egg noodles, you name it. I’ve evaluated some terrible eggless egg flavors and screened a variety of plant-based yellow colorings, having to decide if yellow-green might be close enough (hint: it’s not). So this project seemed like a good fit. If I had to struggle through these rather unique product development experiences with only some best guesses and well wishes from ingredient suppliers, I knew that my fellow food scientists would benefit from having this information compiled into an accessible reference. I’m also a big fan of plant-based foods!

Thanks Miranda! And thanks to Emily Byrd for conducting the original interview.