Every now and then a cooking trick comes into your orbit that flips the way you think. Suddenly something you didn't imagine could be true isn’t just possible – it’s easy, healthy and saves money!
I’d heard about using the liquid from canned chickpeas as a substitute for egg whites, but I’d never given it any credence. It just seemed too… well… weird. Then I tried making mayonnaise with a few spoonfuls of liquid from a can of chickpeas instead of an egg and, hey presto, it worked like a dream!
This magical egg replacement goes by the name aquafaba (a mash-up of the Latin words for water and beans), and it’s an ideal ingredient for vegans, those with egg allergies and, in fact, anyone wanting to save money and reduce waste. Big tick.
It turns out that the viscous liquid found in cans of chickpeas and other legumes has amazing properties that allow it to mimic egg white. During the legumes’ cooking process, starches, proteins and other soluble plant solids migrate from the seeds to the water. This gives aquafaba a wide spectrum of emulsifying, foaming, binding, gelatinising and thickening properties. You can even use it to make meringues and my amazing Vegan Chocolate Mousse – just check the ingredients list on the can to make sure the chickpeas aren't in salted brine. Also avoid brands that say they are canned in water, as this won’t work – you’ll know as soon as you open the can, as the liquid will be watery rather than viscous.
Aquafaba is slightly beany tasting, but when cooked this seems to dissipate completely. In a mayonnaise flavoured with mustard and lemon the flavour is almost indiscernible and the aquafaba version is slightly lighter than egg mayonnaise, and actually to my mind better.
Once you’ve made my Aquafabulous Mayonnaise, like any mayo it can be flavoured any which way – try a pinch each of smoked paprika and cumin and some coriander leaves for a chermoula-style mayo, or a spoon of red curry paste for a spicy Thai-style mayo. Or flavour it up with crushed garlic, tarragon leaves and lemon juice to make my sublime Aquafabulous Aioli.
You can use the viscous liquid from any kind of canned legume but it seems that chickpeas and white beans are the most popular – possibly because the liquid from kidney beans and black beans is darker. I’ve tried using aquafaba from canned beans, and it works just as well as chickpeas, but the flavour has a more pronounced earthy, beany taste.
So how has this surprising new ingredient taken the world by storm? In 2015 a couple of young French guys posted a video online showing how to turn a can of chickpeas into two dishes: a savoury hummusy dip with the drained chickpeas and then – miracle of miracles – a light-as-air chocolate mousse made simply by whipping up the chickpea liquid into a meringue. You can see the video here.
An American by the name of Goose Wohlt, who discovered the video in his quest for a vegan meringue recipe, found the chickpea liquid worked with great success as a direct replacement for egg whites and went on to name this new magic ingredient aquafaba.
These days people all over the globe are experimenting with aquafaba and coming up with all manner of fabulous creations.
If you keep in mind that three tablespoons of liquid from a can of chickpeas (you can also use the liquid from home-cooked chickpeas) is the equivalent of one medium egg, then you can substitute it for egg white, and in some cases even whole eggs. If you want to lighten a pancake, fritter or pikelet batter just beat in a couple of spoonfuls of aquafaba instead of an egg white. I’ve used it instead of beaten egg when crumbing meat and vegetables and had great success using it instead of egg whites in friands and using it to bulk out the eggs in a Bacon and Egg Pie. Next on my list are aquafaba quiche and egg white omelette – I'd love to hear what you try!