JUST in time for the Nativity Fast: A Review of JUST Egg 

Is JUST Egg the solution to the Dairy-Free Blues? (Surprise Ending: No.)

Orthodox Christian fasting seasons in the developed West are often a time for people to release their inner foodie and start searching for meat-free, dairy-free options for foods to make up for the loss of the usual proteins used for sustenance. Throughout my Orthodox life here in the future, I’ve seen important substitutes run the gamut from becoming part of our daily life (such as JUST Mayo, which is now a standard in our house) to striking us as completely useless (vegan fake fish sticks? Who eats a substitute for a substitute for something better?)

But anyone watching alternative foods knows that over the past few years, the great game changer in our food history, the heavily-hyped Holy Grail of fasting culinary achievements, was the advertisement by then-Hampton Creek of future achievable, vegan liquid eggs. That would be the ultimate in fasting shortcuts: french toast for the fast. Breakfast burritos for the fast. Breakfast sandwiches. Fried rice. You get the idea.

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This pic is accurate.

And then we waited. We read through every irate vegan comment on Facebook about how slow it was going, we watched Hampton Creek-cum-JUST Incorporated CEO Josh Tetrick getting hugs from celebrities trying out his magical fake eggs, we read ingredient lists, we studied the chemical structure of mung beans in the hope of making JUST Egg before it hit the shelves. And yet, all we saw was advertising. And it was upsetting.

It was this year, sick of waiting, that I decided to increase my risk of gynecomastia and just start lightly frying thin-sliced firm tofu with some nutritional yeast on it with a side of Field Roast brand sausage (it’s available at Walmart. Get it, as well as the the Chao fake cheese. They’re there because they’re good.) But the dream of fake scrambled eggs with my vegan chorizo lived on, in advertisements of magical vegan eggs that came “from plants, not chickens” (JUST Inc.’s ad people are hardcore.)

So it took long enough (over three years in development hell is longer than any food product I’ve ever experienced) but JUST Egg made its way to Wegmans stores as of two weeks ago. During a late night jaunt in search of diet tonic water flavored sparkling water I decided to see if JUST Egg was finally available here. The ad copy said I should be able to find it right by the liquid egg section. I knew better.

JUST Egg was– to no surprise whatsoever– in the vegetarian refrigerated section. Of course, I didn’t have my hands on the promotional “free bottle” coupon I had downloaded, so my first confrontation with it involved a price tag.

$7.99.

I’m not much of an eater for social justice. If I can, I buy vegetables at the farmer’s market. If I can, I will buy locally farmed and well-treated chickens. I don’t buy the cage-free eggs at the Walmart. I buy my eggs at Dollar Tree. So I understood that the price was less than double that of a dozen organic, cage-free, happily laid eggs. But in terms of the eggs I actually pay for, this was a bottle of eight synthetic eggs for the price of what I normall pay for eight dozen eggs. That’s $1 a fake egg.

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Also accurate.

But the fast! I thought to myself. I mean, it’s an egg you can eat on Wednesdays and Fridays and on the fast days! That makes it worth it, right? Clearly I had not learned from my Quorn obsession (read the labels: egg washed) and my desire to eat a Field Roast “roast” that was literally the size of my fist (only $8.99!) The bottle looked like a colloidal suspension of “egg white” (light yellow) and “yolk” (darker yellow). I told myself this was for purposes of authenticity. I bought my sparkling water, the JUST Egg, and just before closing at midnight, walked out with the wife and small boy to return home.

 

 

I waited, just until the morning. I just couldn’t bring myself to see my money just vanish like that, just after midnight. I just needed at least a little time to stare at this just expensive bottle. And I can just eat a lot of eggs, so just opening it would be the beginning of the just end.

This early day I realized that I didn’t have a Field Roast vegetarian sausage. I had no Chao fake cheese. I didn’t have a tortilla. It was me and the fake eggs. This was an undesired moment of truth. There was no way it was going to be a part of anything except a roll of bread to stuff it into. There would be no me pontificating to Orthodox hipsters that “it worked so well in a vegan quiche.” In short, if this thing didn’t taste like egg… I was going to know it. Right now. I was going to taste if my money and years of waiting was sadly wasted.

The label warnings scared me. “Consume within four days of opening.” “Use before January 2019.” “Made in Canada.” I knew opening this thing meant there was no going back. “Shake well.” I shook it with force, but noticed solids sliding down. Perhaps I didn’t shake it enough. There was no peel tab on the rubberized aluminum seal. I opened it with a paring knife. I sniffed. It didn’t smell bad, but it didn’t smell great, either. I wasn’t sure what I was smelling, so I had no red flags not to eat it.

Having sprayed the pan with oil, I began to pour the strange liquid (and it’s a liquid, not like a plasma like substance; it looks kind of like generic brand orange juice with pulp pouring out) and began to stir.

Now at this point I should mention I am not great at making eggs and I do not have a non-stick pan. I usually have leftover egg that sticks to the pan while I scoop out my egg to put in my dish. A much darker feeling took over this time, as little bits of the “egg” that stuck to the pan looked in my mind like little pennies that were about to be swallowed by the sink.  A dime’s worth of egg is stuck in that pan, I thought to myself. Maybe a quarter.

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Also… accurate.

The liquid coagulated, and something scramble-ish was now happening. I was starting to feel like I was cooking an egg, but I felt like the thing was designed to “feel” like I was cooking an egg more than like the actual thing cooking was a scrambled egg– it appeared to be a more faint yellow than an egg. (Later– after eating– I realized that earlier versions mentioned nutritional yeast, which is bright yellow and which I use regularly to make scrambled tofu look and taste more egg-like. This one didn’t. YUGE mistake, JUST, Inc.)

 

Still, by the end, we had bright fluffy egg-ish something that could well have come from an anemic chicken. Good enough, stuff it into bread. There’s even a little left over! (Note later: I used half the bottle.) Just to give JUST Egg a fighting chance, I added a bunch of black pepper as I would a regular egg in such a lonely circumstance.

A sign of the cross on the bowl and we were off. I took the egg sandwich and its little bitsy-non-bread-captured friends in the bowl to the wife and small boy in the next room. Not realizing I had not bitten the egg sandwich, I had inadvertently sacrificed them first. The wife’s “it’s alright” spoke volumes, but she followed up with comments to the effect that the texture was right while it wasn’t really exactly an egg flavor (and that the price point was too high, reminding me of the pan in the kitchen) while the boy, being a pre-teen and into precision, responded “soup broth, maybe some spinach, and a little bit of egg.”

At this point I bit in and realized he was right in how chicken soup broth and a scrambled egg have similar flavor profiles. Between the two, the JUST Egg was a bit closer to the broth flavor-wise than the scrambled egg, and did indeed have a bit of an earthy feel which I couldn’t place (I wonder if some NUTRITIONAL YEAST could have fixed that, JUST Inc.) It was not bad, it had enough of a scrambled egg profile that it was an edible, plain (not the company’s fault but mine) egg sandwich that was strangely not actually egg. The uncanny valley feeling brought on by the weak egg color was disconcerting but forgotten by the third bite or so. I had in fact made a plain, weak-sauce egg sandwich, and I ate a plain, weak-sauce egg sandwich. On a Wednesday without breaking the fast. I can’t even complain. Except for my lost ten cents staring at me in the pan even now.

Ultimately, at this price point I am not sure who this is marketed to outside well-to-do, desperate egg fans with vegan spouses and well-to-do, carnivorous Orthodox Christians desperate to have eggs during a fast.  Maybe the JUST, Inc. folks just took too long and inadvertently caused protein-starved folks like me (I don’t really eat French toast, but maybe the boy will) to look for alternatives which are ultimately cheaper.  One of the fun things about eggs is that if you are still hungry, you can always make another egg; they are a fairly cheap source of protein. The price tag makes this feel different: the egg turns into an event. And I’m not sure I want to feel that way about a scrambled egg yet.

If this product got down to even $5.99 ($.75 an “egg”, though $4.99 would be ideal) at current market rates I could see buying this during a fast. Or if the ready-made pseudo-egg patties they sell to restaurants were made for the consumer market (less wastage) then maybe. And I get this thing just came out so it is being sold at its highest price point and demand will magically do its thing (I’ll pay current prices for JUST Mayo because it’s marginally better than Hellman’s, way better than the store brands and not at a crazy price.) Till then, I can buy four blocks of gynecomastia-inducing tofu and sprinkle some yellow stuff on it for the mouthfeel and it will last me two weeks worth of protein breakfasts for the same price.

 

On the plus side, I still have a coupon for a free bottle of JUST Egg. Maybe it will taste better when it’s free.