Egg Substitutes Attracting Attention in Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Rice omelet cooked with egg-substitute ingredients served at a 2foods store in Chuo Ward, Tokyo

As the price of chicken eggs continues to rise, plant-derived alternatives are increasingly attracting attention.

Major food manufacturers are developing such products with an eye on consumers who are keen to protect the environment and having a sustainable lifestyle. Restaurants, too, are increasingly offering menus that feature egg substitutes.

Two Inc.’s 2foods cafe chain specializes in plant-derived foods at its five locations in Tokyo. Among the company’s signature menus is rice omelet, made using egg-substitute ingredients. The ¥1,210 dish is especially popular among young women and vegetarians due to its omelet-like appearance and fluffy, creamy texture.

The egg-like ingredients used at the cafes were jointly developed by the company and food giant Kagome Co. in March last year.

Using mainly white kidney beans, carrots and vegetable oil, the firms employed unique production methods and a process of trial and error to develop a food with a flavor and texture similar to that of a semi-cooked egg.

In addition to restaurants and other commercial uses, egg substitutes are making inroads into the home market, too. Kagome sells a related frozen product for ¥390 and a room-temperature item for ¥398. The firm is reportedly receiving more and more orders from supermarkets and other retailers.

In March last year, food giant Kewpie Corp. launched Hobotama, an egg substitute made from processed soy milk, almond powder, vegetable oil and other ingredients. Beaten- and scrambled egg-type Hobotama products sell for ¥182 and ¥214, respectively. The beaten egg-type products can be used just like normal beaten eggs and are said to be good for cooking fried rice and stir-fried dishes.

“We developed the beaten egg-style product to ensure easy home-cooking,” said Chika Watanuki, who is in charge of research and development at the company. “We also believe that people who can’t eat eggs for various reasons will be able to enjoy tastes and textures similar to those of real eggs.”

In October 2021, Komeda Co. — which operates major coffee shop chain Komeda’s Coffee — began offering a mixed sandwich containing plant-based, egg-like ingredients at one of its outlets in Chuo Ward, Tokyo. I tasted the sandwich, which sells for ¥1,380, and found the flavor of the “eggs” — seasoned with mayonnaise and mustard — to be comparable to that of regular eggs.

According to JA.Z-Tamago Co., a major egg wholesaler, the average wholesale price for medium-size eggs in the Tokyo area in May was ¥350 per kilogram, marking the highest figure since records began in 1993.

The average price for the January-May period was ¥330, up nearly ¥140 year-on-year. High prices are expected to continue for the foreseeable future due to the lingering effects of avian flu and soaring feed costs.

A survey conducted in May by Teikoku Databank Ltd. found that 29 of the 100 major restaurant operators had withdrawn egg-based menu items. “The trend of rising egg prices may continue for a prolonged period, so it’s crucial for restaurant operators to develop alternative menus,” a Teikoku Databank official said. “This represents a great opportunity for manufacturers of egg substitutes. The consumption of such items may expand greatly within a few years.”