Vegans everywhere must have whooped for joy after reading American software engineer Goose Wohlt’s remark to a Facebook group called What Fat Vegans Eat on March 6, 2015.
He wrote: “Dead simple delicious two ingredient whole food meringues … one can chickpea brine mixed w half cup sugar. Perfect-O”. The post included pictures of cloud-like meringues.
Wohlt, working off experiments by French tenor Joel Roessel who had been testing out vegan substitutes, named the discovery “aquafaba”, based on the Latin words for “water” and “bean”.
Since then, the aquafaba community has grown worldwide along with the catalogue of recipes using this egg white replacement.
Someone has even written a whole book on how to use “bean juice”, with recipes for meringue and its variations, omelettes, pancakes, frosting and – even almost inconceivable – ice cream and mozzarella. Mixologists have also been known to use it as a replacement for egg white in cocktails.
Just so everyone is clear about what we’re talking about, aquafaba is the liquid from a can of chickpeas – that viscous (some would say “slimy”) stuff that you would normally pour away. Apparently, it has certain proteins that mimic the qualities of egg white.
To those who do not or cannot consume eggs, aquafaba has been hailed as a lifesaver. Proponents also like to use the word “magic” to describe the meringue-like properties of aquafaba. Of course, it’s really science – unfortunately, no one has yet been able to explain why it works, although Wohlt says he is raising money for proper research. (Find out more at the “Vegan Meringues Hits and Misses” discussion group on Facebook.)
Putting aquafaba to the test
As a general rule, three tablespoons of aquafaba replace one whole egg, and two tablespoons replace just the white.
I had watched aquafaba being whipped into a puffy mound in videos but was still mesmerised to see it happen the first time I did it myself.
All kinds of bean water will whip up like egg whites, but the general consensus is that chickpea brine works best.
For comparison, I tried three brands of tinned chickpeas, all priced differently (around RM3, RM5 and RM10).
The cheapest was the slimiest but I did notice that after refrigeration over a few days, the other two thickened slightly. The brine from the cheapest tin was also the saltiest, but oddly enough, it smelled the least funky of the three.
In terms of whipping, though, there didn’t seem to be any discernible difference in the results.
The Internet tells me I can make my own aquafaba. The instructions are to soak chickpeas and use the soaking liquid to cook them; after straining the peas, boil down the cooking liquid until reduced significantly and thickened. I did all that but even with the mixer running at high speed, the aquafaba only lightly frothed.
Our test was a basic meringue recipe and using it in three ways: for meringue cookies, the shell for baked Alaska, and as a marshmallow topping.
They all start out the same way: aquafaba is whipped with sugar until stiff. One of the recipes is fully baked, another is just browned and the third is raw.
Observations about aquafaba
> It whips up a lot – more than egg white, in fact.
> It takes longer to whip into meringue than egg white. It also takes more effort so use a stand mixer or hand-held electric whisk. Once it gets firmer, you’ll feel the resistance. Whipping it manually is not a good idea.
> It isn’t as stable as egg white and collapses when combined with other liquids or batters. (That’s why I think aquafaba may be oversold by people who claim wonderful cakes can be made with it. Anyway, there are good vegan cake recipes that don’t contain any egg substitutes. And there are also recipes where egg, or aquafaba in this case, can just as easily be substituted with water.)
> More sugar makes the meringue stiffer and more stable. After making meringue several times with varying quantities of sugar, I settled on a range that would make the meringue stable enough without collapsing.
> Depending on the brand of chickpeas, there is some, although not unpleasant, aftertaste.
I was pleasantly surprised to see the baked meringue cookies forming feet like French macaron, although they were not made in the same way. The cookies had a crisp shell, and were hollow and chewy on the inside. I think ice cream sandwiches or Eton Mess are a good way to use them.
In an airtight container, the meringue cookies stayed crisp for five days. I’ve never had the same luck with egg white cookies – they turn brittle and start to weep (sugar starts leaching) after only a day.
But you can’t get away from the fact that it is sweet, although I like that this meringue is safe to eat raw.
On a personal note, however, I won’t be giving up eggs or cooking chickpeas from scratch for aquafaba.
BASIC AQUAFABA MERINGUE
60ml chilled aquafaba
¼ tsp cream of tartar
seeds from ½ vanilla bean or ½ tsp vanilla extract
120- 160g caster sugar
For marshmallow fluff
2 tbsp potato starch
Put the aquafaba and the cream of tartar into a large metal or glass mixing bowl. If using vanilla bean seeds (recommended), add them to the bowl.
Whip until soft peaks form, then start adding the sugar a tablespoon at a time. Continue whipping until stiff peaks form.
Add vanilla extract, if using, and whisk briefly to incorporate.
Preheat the oven to 120ºC. Line a large baking tray with parchment. Place small scoops (about a rounded tablespoon) of meringue 2.5cm apart on the tray. Leave them plain or decorate them as we’ve done here with swirls of food colouring gel applied with a toothpick.
Bake for 1 hour, then turn off the oven and leave the cookies to cool in the oven for another hour.
Place a 2cm-thick slice of pound cake on a heat-proof plate, put a large scoop of ice cream on top and freeze. Just before serving, spread a thick layer of meringue all over the ice cream and cake, swirling it or using a fork to make spikes.
You can also pipe on the meringue. Using a blowtorch, brown the meringue. Serve immediately.
Use 160g sugar for this recipe. After making the basic meringue, fold in 2 tablespoons of potato starch. Use immediately as a topping. Do not refrigerate as it will separate.
If you have worked with aquafaba, let us know in the comments below.