Meringue made from chickpea water! We're not even yolking
If you've noticed a certain buzz around the vegan community this year, it's almost certainly down to aquafaba. Or it could Beyoncé. But it's probably aquafaba. You see, we're living through vegan history in the making.
It turns out aquafaba – the gloopy brine produced by boiling chickpeas, beans and other legumes, or in other words, the stuff in a tin of chickpeas that's usually poured straight down the sink – is actually an effective egg substitute. It mimics the texture, consistency and rising potential of egg whites in a way that no other egg replacement has managed before. Suddenly, vegan meringue is possible.
Suddenly, everything is possible!
Sure, the idea of using pulse juice to make pudding might not sound immediately delicious, but millions of excited vegans can't be wrong. Give peas a chance.
A very short history of aquafaba
Unlike the average food trend, which has normally been knocking about under the radar for decades or centuries before hipsters see fit to revive it, aquafaba as a vegan egg replacer really is brand-spanking new.
It was discovered in February this year by US software engineer and vegan blogger Goose Wohlt, inspired by a French video released the same month that used chickpea brine to make a vegan mousse. There's more detail about previous vegan eggs-periments here, if you're interested.
When Goose revealed his discovery to the world, it almost broke the internet. Or the vegan internet, anyway. Two Facebook groups (one strictly vegan, one for omnivores) have been the centre of the aquafaba revolution with bloggers across the world whipping up their own chickpea juice recipes quicker than you can say, "Anyone for hummus?"
How does it work?
NOBODY KNOWS. Next question.
Officially, "the science is still pending". The discovery was only made in the past year remember, and while there are many biochemists and other boffins currently experimenting to find out a definitive answer, most of the world's vegan gourmets have been too busy knocking up delicious treats to spend much time pondering the physics behind it.
For the time being, we have to be content with the answer "starch, proteins and fairies".
The name was chosen by the online vegan meringue community after they decided that "pea juice" was just too gross. The much classier "aquafaba" loosely translates as "bean water" in Latin, and as Goose points out, it has other connotations: "aqua + fabulous".
Sounds aqualutely fabulous, guys.
Does it taste of chickpeas?
We'll be honest, the raw meringue mix does have a slight chickpea tang. But once it's baked and you've piled it with fruit or vegan lemon curd or drizzled it in chocolate, you'd never even guess it was once legume juice. Promise.
A thorough whisk assessment …
Never one to believe everything the blogosphere says, the Homemade team cracked open a few cans of chickpeas and had a go at aquafaba meringue ourselves.
We followed Goose's original recipe, which you can find here, though there are many variations online.
The basic ratio is: the brine from one can of chickpeas (you can also use butter beans, cannellini beans, tinned peas, even the water from pre-packed tofu) to half a cup of caster sugar.
Some people add vanilla for flavour and cream of tartar or vinegar as a stabiliser, but we kept things basic. One bowl, two ingredients and some whisking. Loads of whisking.
Just to be clear, this isn't the kind of recipe you can rustle up in an ad break and be eating by the time the credits roll.
You need time, patience, and either a stand mixer or an electric hand whisk and the strength of an ox.
- First you need to whisk the chickpea brine until it's thick and creamy, then slowly add the sugar bit by bit while whisking on a high speed. It's essentially exactly the same process as making classic meringues.
- Keep whisking, until the mixture starts to stiffen and turns from frothy to glossy.
- Keep whisking, until you get soft peaks when you lift the mixer out.
- Keep whisking.
- Keep whisking.
- A bit more.
- Keep whisking until you start wondering whether it's all worth it and find it hard to remember if you even like meringue in the first place.
- Keep whisking until you have stiff peaks that don't collapse. Keep whisking until you can hold the bowl over your head without mixture any slopping out on to your face.
- Whisk a bit more, for luck. There! You've done it.
Now dollop it or pipe it on to a baking sheet, and bake for 1.5 hours at about 95°C. Turn the oven off and leave to cool thoroughly with the door shut for about 2 hours.
The verdict …
This stuff works! If it looks like a meringue, tastes like a meringue and crumbles down your jumper like a meringue, then it's a meringue.
Our result wasn't as chewy in the middle as we would have liked, but that's probably down to lack of practice rather than the method itself.
Meringue, or mer-wrong?
Once you've mastered the basic aquafaba technique, you can start using it to reclaim all the meringue-based puds that were previously vetoed for vegans.
We used this vegan lemon meringue recipe from Seitan Beats Your Meat for the vegan pie crust, and made mini pies topped with our basic aquafaba meringue. In the interests of investigation (and laziness), we filled them with Green's instant lemon pie filling, made up with more aquafaba instead of the stated egg yolk.
We blind-baked the pastry for 15 minutes, then added the filling and a dollop of meringue on top and popped them back in the oven on 95°C for two hours, followed by five minutes under a grill to give them the proper chewy, slightly browned top. The result: another aquafaba triumph.
Who ate all the pies? We did, obviously.
Mistakes NOT to make …
Be very clear about the difference between celsius and farenheit. Aquafaba can't really handle heat above 115°C. Goose's original meringue recipe advises baking them low and slow at 200°F, which is roughly 93°C. If you misread that and set your oven to 200°C, you will quickly end up with a lake of crispy molten sugar, which you'll be forced to put in the bin* (*pick off the paper and eat anyway). If this sounds like the voice of bitter experience, that's because it is.
Keep all your equipment clean. Not just in case your mum pops round unannounced, but because aquafaba meringue, like normal meringue, reacts badly to any trace of oil or grease in your mixing bowl. However, you can add fat once the initial mixture has reached a stiff, glossy consistency.
Don't skimp on the sugar. Goose says erythritol is the only sweetener that seems to work in place of sugar, though the aquafaba groupies are working on new experiments all the time – so watch this space. You can try swapping in syrups or coconut sugar if you like, but old-fashioned caster sugar gives the most reliable result.
Don't put them in the oven 90 minutes before you need to leave the house. The meringues need a long time to cool and firm up (preferably in the oven) after baking, so don't try bundling them into a tupperware box while they're still warm.
Don't try whisking it by hand. Unless you have the forearms of an Olympic shot-putter, this is a job for an electric whisk or a stand mixer.
Don't try to transport them too far. About half the meringues survived a tube journey unbroken, and precisely none of the lemon meringue pies. Just make people come to you.
What ELSE can I make with aquafaba?
SO MANY THINGS. Anything egg can do, aquafaba can do … um, almost as well! Except be fried, poached, soft-boiled or any of the other egg tricks that still require it to look more or less like an egg. It's science, not a miracle.
Some of the things eager vegans have made with aquafaba since its invention include: omelette, mayonnaise, sponge cake, marshmallow, butter, macarons, cookies, French toast, cheese, pizza crust, mousse, sorbet, waffles, Yorkshire puddings, lemon curd, icing, pancakes, clafoutis and eggnog. It's been a busy eight months.
Here are a few of our favourite creations to test your new whisking skills.
There is nothing like the comforting squidge of a big, pillowy marshmallow … and nothing like it at ALL in vegan cookery, until aquafaba came along. Try this phwoar-some s'mores recipe from Olives for Dinner, and try to leave enough over for a game of Chubby Bunnies.
Gluten-free chocolate cake with cheesecake frosting
Vegan cakes have a tendency to come out dense and heavy, so the airy powers of aquafaba are ideal for whipping a little height and lightness into sponges. This vegan, gluten-free cake from The Plant Strong Vegan contains almost nothing you'd expect to find in a common-or-garden choccy cake, but magically turns it into something rich, moist and delicious. Let's hear it for plants!
Blueberry sesame aquafaba macarons
We're not saying vegan tofu chocolate mousse isn't pretty … but when you see the gorgeous meringue treats that were previously off limits to egg-avoiders, you realise what a game changer aquafaba really is. These beautiful macarons by Heather McDougall are basically indistinguishable from the real thing, and they're filled with tahini and blueberry jam. Who even needs buttercream?
Wait! What do I do with millions of leftover chickpeas?
Conveniently, we have a few ideas for those, too …
Liked this? Want more? Try these:
- Trend on trial: chocolate bark
- Why chickpeas should be your new favourite dessert (no, really)
- 7 delicious recipes you'd d never guess were vegan
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