Say you’re at a friend’s house, a friend who happens to be a vegan. You’re in the kitchen, chatting, and she takes out a couple cans of chickpeas, and you think, “Oh, she must be making hummus.” But then she dumps the chickpeas, sets them aside, and lovingly pours the viscous, kind-of yucky fluid that remains in the can into a mixer. She whips it into a cloud, adding sugar and turns out virtually flawless meringues. You’ve just met aquafaba—a.k.a. chickpea water—the vegan’s answer to the formerly elusive egg white, and one of the hottest ingredients of the moment.
The discovery that chickpea water might actually be something to treasure and not just pour down the drain occurred by accident in 2015. According to the now-fabled story, Goose Wohlt, an Indiana software engineer who had recently become a vegan, was given a small task by his wife for the family’s Passover Seder: Find a way to make vegan meringues. As most cooks know, egg whites are the key to creating the stiff peaks critical to any meringue. Wohlt was stumped, until he learned of a French chef, Joël Roessel, who had used the liquid from a can of chickpeas to make chocolate mousse. Not wanting to disappoint his wife, Wohlt gave it a whirl. Turns out, chickpea water was the trick. A white foam turned stiff and shiny, just like egg whites.
Aquafaba, a mashup of the Latin terms for water and bean, has become something of a phenomenon. Wohlt’s Facebook group “Vegan Meringues, Hits and Misses” has nearly 50,000 members, and according to Pinterest, aquafaba searches are up 160 percent. Folks are using it to create all sorts of eggless wonders—from aquafaba mayo (up 450 percent), to meringue (up 225 percent), and macarons to mousse (both up 190 percent), according to Pinterest. It’s even showing up in cocktails, in particular classic cocktail recipes that rely heavily on egg whites, an ingredient which takes them out of circulation for vegan drinkers.
A Standout Cocktail Ingredient
About seven or eight months ago, Megan Deschaine, bar manager at 492 King Street in Charleston, read about aquafaba in a Tales of the Cocktail newsletter mentioning its usefulness in sours, a type of cocktail that traditionally calls for egg whites. “I thought it was very strange but I was intrigued,” she said. After doing some more research, Deschaine started experimenting with it and was wildly impressed. “It’s richness and texture were incredible, even more so than egg whites,” she said.
While she doesn’t use aquafaba because it is vegan—she says there are very few vegan drinkers in Charleston—Deschaine is fond of its functionality and accessibility. Since the kitchen uses chickpeas for hummus, she makes use of an ingredient that would otherwise be thrown out, which helps keep costs down. To use at the bar, she freezes the aquafaba in 1-inch ice cube trays and pops out a cube whenever she needs one; it defrosts when shaken and is a lot simpler and cleaner than cracking and separating eggs behind the bar.
In addition to using it in sours, Deschaine is about to add a new cocktail to her menu called “The Burning Man Sour”—a gin cocktail with orange zest and rosemary, fresh lemon and orange juices, honey, aquafaba, and bitters. She plans on listing aquafaba as “chickpea” on the menu to invite a conversation and teach the public about aquafaba.
A Key Ingredient in Vegan Mayo
Aquafaba is also the star of a new vegan mayo, Fabanaise, the first commercial product using aquafaba, released in May from New York condiment company Sir Kensington’s. Laura Villevieille, Director of Products at Sir Kensington, said the company had been trying to create the right recipe for a vegan mayo for years, but were not happy with the texture of taste of the recipes using traditional egg substitutes such as soy and pea protein.
One day, she came upon a story about Aquafaba on the web and her world was changed forever. “I read that it was used to create meringues. Since it was a replacement for egg white, I figured we should try to use it to replace egg yolks,” she recalled. “We were shocked with the results, the texture was great, and the flavor was super. It emulated the egg yolk so well in every way. People have been handed an amazing ingredient that has the properties of an egg. Never before have we found anything close to this. It’s really magical.”
The other rather magical thing about aquafaba is that it becomes flavor-neutral once you whip it. That slightly beany aroma you get when you first turn on the standing mixer disappears completely when cooked. “You won’t be tasting any remnants of chickpea in your dessert or in your mayo,” said Villevieille.
How to Use Aquafaba at Home
To try this at home, some basic rules apply. One egg is generally replaced by three tablespoons of aquafaba. Aquafaba can be stored in the refrigerator for two to five days; you can also freeze it. Using a stand mixer fitted with a balloon whisk, whip the chickpea liquid for about 15 minutes, and you’ll get glossy, egg-worthy stiff peaks.
“For cooking,” Villevieille says, “experiments are the name of the game! It’s very easy to emulsify and the mayonnaise recipe [included below] really showcases that. As for desserts, like with all baking, it takes a bit more precision, but I’ve found that it’s pretty accessible as well. The trick is truly to treat it like eggs.”
Get the Recipe: Aquafaba Mayonnaise
1 15-ounce can of chickpeas/garbanzo beans with kombu (Eden Organic. for example); drain the chickpeas and reserve the aquafaba
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 heaping tablespoon of sugar
1 heaping tablespoon of lemon juice (adjust to taste)
3 1/2 cups neutral oil of choice
A pinch of black pepper (optional)
1. With an electric immersion blender, combine the aquafaba, white vinegar, salt, sugar, and lemon juice. Blend for 1 minute until the liquid becomes frothy. Slowly begin adding oil while blending; the mixture should begin to thicken. Continue to drizzle in the remainder of the oil until the mixture is completely emulsified. Adjust for desired salt and lemon juice levels.
Recipe courtesy of Sir Kensington’s
Andrea Strong’s writing chronicles the world of food—from farm to fork, and all the stops along the way. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, New York Magazine, and a host of other publications, including The Strong Buzz, her blog devoted to New York City’s food scene. She lives in Queens with her husband, her two kids, and her big appetite.