Every so often a vegan alternative will crop up that is truly mind blowing – and aquafaba certainly hits that mark. Touted as an egg replacer it is surprisingly simple yet effective. But what exactly is it?
Aquafaba is the liquid from a can of chickpeas. This liquid is similar in consistency to raw egg white, and can be treated the same way in a number of recipes. It can be used in baking, or whipped to a meringue-like consistency. It can even be used as a binder in veggie burger recipes. The flavour is very mild, and usually indiscernible.
To create a meringue-like substance, the liquid should be strained and whipped at a high speed. It will form peaks, at which point sugar can be added.
Unlike commercial egg replacers, it is a natural and healthy alternative – some purists avoid pre-made mixes because of their processed nature.
The story behind aquafaba is as interesting as the substance itself – it was discovered by an online community of vegans searching for egg white alternatives, and its popularity grew organically – by word of mouth and across forums and social media groups. Experiments were undertaken using flax, various types of fruit, and saponins (complex components found in a number of plants). People would report back with their findings, and the experiments would evolve.
During this process, in December 2014, a French man called Joel Roessel discovered that liquid from cooked chickpeas can be whipped into a foam. He tested the foam by making a vegan meringue and other desserts. But while effective, his recipes were too technical to be adopted by most people. A video showcasing his discovery was released the following February.
According to aquafaba.com, the current authority on the substance, an American software engineer called Goose Wohlt was inspired by the video. The site says: “Goose discovered that stable vegan meringue can be made without all the extra processed ingredients, provided the right composition and techniques are used.
“This crucial accessibility meant that anyone in the world could use the ubiquitous liquid from legumes as a general egg replacer by itself, overcoming all the remaining obstacles in vegan meringue making. More than that, it opened up a whole new world of possibilities, including other confectionery like marshmallows and commercial powders based on recognizable ingredients with minimal processing.”
Goose shared this information on Facebook where a new group – Vegan Meringues Hits and Misses – was set up so others could update the community on their successes and failures using this mysterious solution.
The aquafaba community continues to grow, and with it, the number of recipes, tips and tricks.
From a scientific point of view, there is some disagreement about exactly why works the way it does. The liquid has some of the properties of both egg white and yolk, which makes it unique among other replacers. It is believed the proteins and starches mimic the proteins in eggs in some way.
But until a formal chemical and nutritional analysis is released publicly, the community can only theorise about how the chemical composition of drained chickpea water can create that most elusive of recipes – the perfect vegan meringue.