The days of 99 cents egg cartons are probably gone for good, but grocery shoppers never expected the average price of eggs to rise to over $7 per dozen as it has in recent weeks. Yet, even as inflation cools, the price of eggs continues to skyrocket, leaving many searching for egg substitutes. Eggs are hard to find and, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, those lucky enough to stumble across a carton may find it costs almost 200% more than it did this time last year.
But what's making egg prices so high? And what can home cooks use in place of eggs if they can't find a carton at their local grocery store, or simply prefer not to spend such high amounts on the kitchen staple?
Why are egg prices so high?
Cole Trager, a supply and quality specialist at Walden Local Meat Company, explains the reasons for outrageous egg prices are complex and varied. According to Trager, stricter federal and state testing requirements, restrictions on bird movement across state lines and an increased cost of production from inflation have all contributed to the egg shortage. However, Trager, who also holds a master's degree in agriculture and is a farmer, says the biggest reason egg prices have risen so rapidly is that a potent and deadly strain of avian flu is making chickens sick throughout the country.
Krissy Allori, a food blogger who has a flock of 27 chickens in her back yard, explains, "if one chicken gets sick ... the entire flock must sadly be euthanized."
"For large-scale egg producers, this can have a severe impact on the industry," adds Allori. Since last January, avian flu has been reported in 47 states, and over 57 million birds have been affected.
What can you use in place of eggs?
The high price of eggs has many looking for alternatives. Products like Just Egg and WunderEggs are plant-based alternatives for scrambled or hard boiled eggs, but don't expect them to taste exactly like the real thing.
Finding egg alternatives to use in baking requires a little more thought, but if you know which substitution fits best for your recipe, it's possible to approximate the original pretty closely.
According to Allori, a recipe developer who specializes in ingredient substitution, "eggs are a near perfect food, so it's really hard to use a substitute that can produce the exact same results." That's because "eggs add a smooth creamy texture to whatever they are added to," she explains. "Egg yolks, especially, add a richness to baked goods that is difficult to replicate. Their flavor enhances the taste of many baked goods and brings out other flavors also."
However, Allori adds that when it comes to baking, "some swaps will hardly be noticeable if eggs aren't available," though there will inevitably be a slight change in taste and texture with any egg substitute.
Gemma Stafford, a chef who shares cooking tips and advice on her blog, Bigger Bolder Baking, and in her cookbook, Bigger Bolder Baking Everyday: Easy Recipes to Bake Through a Busy Week, is one of the many disappointed bakers who has had a hard time finding eggs lately. She says she's been getting thousands of questions a day from followers, asking what they can use in place of eggs. The question is so common that Stafford developed a chart to help other bakers weather the egg shortage with confidence.
Allori says eggs serve many different roles in baking: They may be used to enhance taste, introduce a rich creamy texture, bind ingredients together or help a baked good rise, adding volume. The substitute you choose will depend on the role of eggs in your recipe, Stafford adds. However, she warns it's just not possible to find an adequate egg substitute for some recipes, including custards.
The best egg substitutions for baking
When making substitutions, Stafford says it's important to keep in mind that one egg equals roughly ¼ cup of liquid, so any egg alternative should replace that volume in your recipe, regardless of which substitute you choose. The most common egg substitutes Stafford uses in her recipes are:
Ground flaxseed mixed with water
Yogurt (dairy-free or regular)
Sweetened condensed milk
Which one of these substitutes will work best depends on what you are baking. Stafford provides some guidance.
Cake, cupcakes, pancakes, waffles: In cakes, cupcakes, pancakes and waffles, eggs bind ingredients, moisten the texture and enrich the flavor. For these baked goods Stafford recommends choosing an egg substitute that contains water, which will add moisture. Bananas and applesauce work well and will also add sweetness, she explains.
Cookies and brownies: In cookies and brownies, which don't rise, eggs primarily act as a binder. Stafford says ground flax or chia seeds work well as an egg substitute for these treats because the ground seeds "form a glue in contact with water ... yielding a signature gooey chewy texture."
Quick breads or scones: Because eggs are the primary or only leavening agent in quick breads and scones, Stafford says "vinegar and baking soda or oil, water and baking powder" are great egg substitutes because these combinations produce carbon dioxide that make baked goods rise. As a bonus, these are all shelf-stable pantry staples most already have at home.
Yeast breads: When baking breads with yeast, eggs act as a binder. Ground flax or chia seeds can serve the same function, according to Stafford.
Pies, tarts, cheesecakes: In pies, tarts and cheesecakes, where eggs work as a thickener, Stafford recommends cornstarch or arrowroot powder.
For those who prefer a one-size-fits all approach, Allori recommends a product like Bob's Red Mill Egg Substitute, made from potato starch, tapioca flour, baking soda and psyllium husk fiber. She finds this substitute works well in many recipes, although the difference in taste and texture may be a bit more noticeable than with other egg substitutes.
What if you aren't ready to give up eggs? Trager says to look locally. "Consumers can find some relief in egg prices if they look toward more local or regional food systems ... which are more resilient to fluctuations in the national market," he says, adding that, "eggs from open-pasture chickens ... are statistically less likely to spread the flu than their confined factory-raised counterparts."
Lauren Cooper Allen, who shares cake recipes at Lauren Baked Cake, says while most recipes for baked goods call for large eggs, she now uses medium eggs, which are easier to find and less expensive. To make sure she's getting the correct volume, she measures her eggs (making sure they weigh .47 grams no matter the size) just as she does other ingredients like flour. For those without a food scale, Allen recommends using three medium eggs for every two large eggs to achieve the same result.
Egg aficionados can also rest assured that the egg shortage is probably temporary. Emily Metz, president and chief executive officer of the American Egg Board, tells Yahoo Life that egg farmers are "doing everything they can to keep costs down and maintain a steady supply."
She adds, "the good news is that egg farms are recovering quickly," and, while no one can predict the future, "shortages are being corrected quickly." If you find that egg substitutes just don't work for you, it’s (hopefully) only a matter of time before egg cartons are full — and reasonably priced — once more.
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