Meringues, mayonnaise, tiramisu, pisco sours, marshmallows: all these things are unthinkable without egg whites. For many years, they remained a distant dream for all vegans and people suffering from allergy to albumin. But a couple years ago, everything has changed: aquafaba arrived on the scene.
Aquafaba is a combination of Latin words meaning ‘water’ and ‘beans’, and that’s essentially what it is: liquid left after cooking legumes, primarily chickpeas. Yes, that stuff you normally just pour into the sink. Thanks to the effort of one very dedicated vegan – American computer engineer Goose Wohlt – this bean cooking liquid was discovered to be a perfect egg replacement!
Goose Wohlt spent lots of time searching for a plant-based ingredient that could replace egg whites. Finally, he realized that liquid from canned beans has just the right viscousity that allows it to be whipped up into foam. Plus, it doesn’t have too much of a taste or smell of its own. Thus, the discovery was made (you can read more about it on Wohlt’s website).
Aquafaba’s mysterious feature is that it can replace both egg whites and yolks. You can whip it up lightly with your normal mixer and add it into your cookie dough to keep it together (if you’ve ever made cookies without eggs, you know that they tend to crumble). Or you can whisk it to stiff peaks to make meringues and mayonnaise (here is a tried and true mayo recipe). In the process, the brownish liquid will miraculously turn into white foam undistinguishable from whipped egg whites!
You don’t have to buy canned chickpeas, though; you can make your own aquafaba by soaking and then cooking dry chickpeas without salt. If the bean liquid turns out too watery, just reduce it in an uncovered pot. But don’t evaporate too much liquid: while concentrated aquafaba is easier to whip, it also tends to have a stronger taste and smell. As for other legumes, they can work, too (say, white cannellini beans), but you have to try and see for yourself; for example, cooking liquid from red beans is just too dark.
When cooking with bean liquid, remember the following proportions: three tablespoons for one egg, two spoonfuls to replace one egg white. Just like real egg whites, it won’t turn into foam if there is any fat or oil in the bowl! One more downside is that it takes longer to whip bean brine to stiff peaks (around 10-15 minutes); don’t despair and be patient!
But is this miracle liquid good for you? So far, very little is known about aquafaba’s nutritional value and chemistry (Wohlt is in the process of collecting donations for a proper chemical study). It is clear that, unlike chickpeas, it has very little fiber and protein (just 1g of protein in 100g as opposed to 10g in real eggs). Thus, if you are not vegan or allergic, there is really no necessity to substitute eggs with bean liquid… unless you want to experiment and impress your friends! (One possible advantage of aquafaba is that you are not running the risks connected to consuming raw egg whites, which can contain bacteria and parasites.)
Since its discovery, websites and real published books have appeared, containing recipes of just about anything with aquafaba, from sauces to cocktails (you can find some here). It does take some practice, but now is the right time to join in on this hot culinary trend!