Aquafaba: A Culinary Miracle for Vegan Chefs

Aquafaba, a combination of the Latin words for water (aqua) and bean (faba), is the stock that results from cooking beans in their dry form. For vegans in particular, aquafaba is a culinary miracle ingredient. Meringues, mousses, and other egg-dependent recipes once off-limits now require just a pair of beaters and a can of chickpeas.

Photo by  Jess Watters  on  Unsplash

Aquafaba’s creation is a triumph of crowdsourcing, the result of contributions made by individuals around the world and shared online. First identified in a blog post by a French tenor looking for vegan egg substitutes, bean water was quickly recognized as a thickening agent which could be used to add body to a wide variety of recipes. But it was an American software engineer named Goose Wohlt who identified chickpea liquid as a direct egg white replacement and gave it a name. After making a stable meringue using just bean water and sugar, he posted the recipe to the popular Facebook page, What Fat Vegans Eat, where it caused an immediate stir. Since then, aquafaba has risen to popularity with vegans and non-vegan chefs alike.

More than meringues, aquafaba is now being used to make commercial vegan mayonnaise, ice cream, butter, and lighter, fluffier baked goods. When it comes to taste, cooking seems to eliminate any beany flavor or odor, resulting in foods nearly identical in taste and texture to those prepared with egg whites. And while aquafaba is not a significant source of nutrients, it is low calorie, inexpensive and all-natural.

When it comes to which beans make the best aquafaba, chickpea is the preferred stock almost universally. Sugar, cream of tartar, or lemon juice are frequently added to act as all-natural stabilizers which help aquafaba retain its whipped form.  

According to food scientist Harold McGee, the exact mechanism which allows legume water to behave like egg whites is not well understood but has to do with the liquid’s combination of proteins, starches, and chemicals called saponins. Saponins have long been known for their ability to prevent foams from breaking down. They’re used in detergents and foam fire extinguishers and are naturally occurring in several varieties of legumes and other foods, including garlic, quinoa, ginseng, and licorice. Saponins are currently being studied for their health benefits, which may include lowering cholesterol, neutralizing free radicals and reducing inflammation.

So what does the future hold for aquafaba? The creative online communities which helped bring aquafaba to the mainstream continue to innovate, with forums, YouTube channels, and websites dedicated to experimentation and promotion. Even more exciting, major producers of vegan products are now purchasing chickpea water from hummus manufacturers, signaling a rise in interest and endless possibilities for innovation.