If you haven’t had your friends talk to you about aquafaba yet, you will soon. Especially if you run in circles where people abstain from eating eggs. Vegans are hailing it as the most creative culinary invention since sliced bread — saving heroic chickens from the hard work of egg-laying and offering a perfect replacement in any recipe that requires the structure eggs offer.
You probably even have some aquafaba in your pantry right now.
Aquafaba (“aqua” as in water; “faba” as in beans) is the brine resting in any can of beans. Most users of aquafaba use the brine of chickpeas, a.k.a. garbanzo beans, because they tend to be the most flavorless and whip up the best.
I love baking. I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan, though, so using eggs, dairy, and/or warm baby cow blood are in my list of go-to ingredients. Still, the thought of aquafaba intrigued me (even if talk of “magic bean juice” repulsed my egg-loving husband). Was it true that the nasty brine in a can of chickpeas can whip into a delightfully airy concoction, just like egg whites do?
I performed three baking experiments in order to find out:
First, I wanted to see if aquafaba could be used as an egg replacer in any ol’ baking recipe. So, I made double chocolate chip cookies, vaguely based on the red velvet chocolate chip cookie recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction. Because if, somehow, the recipe was majorly screwed up — it’d still be chocolatey, right?
So, aquafaba’s connoisseurs tell me that three tablespoons of aquafaba is equal to one egg. You don’t have to whip it up to meringue for this recipe–just open a can of chickpeas and measure out three tablespoons of the liquid into a small bowl. It should be about the consistency of egg whites, or semen, or whatever. Whip it up with a fork until it’s frothy.
The dough, which I could safely eat without the eggs (as if raw eggs would have stopped me from eating cookie dough anyway), tasted fine. Just like regular, delicious cookie dough — with a slight beany aftertaste.
They baked up beautifully. The beany aftertaste? Completely gone. They were as delicious as regular cookies. My children and husband gobbled them up without a second thought.
If I had any criticism, it would be that the cookies hardened after only 12 to 18 hours, even though they were properly stored. The creamy, cholesterol-y fat in real egg yolks makes baked goods soft, and keeps them soft for longer. Even adding extra vegan butter or coconut oil wouldn’t really make up that unique chemical properties that real eggs offer. However, for people who choose to avoid eggs, it’s definitely a cheap option that’s available pretty much anywhere, which isn’t necessarily true for other vegan egg replacers.
Most goodies that vegans are baking up with this aquafaba business are sweets. Vegan marshmallow dip, macarons, fudge, nougat, ice cream, and Italian buttercream. But there’s definitely room for savory, too. The hardcore vegan chefs have created cheese, pizza crust, and elaborate vegan omelets out of the stuff.
For the second test, I wanted to try something simple: mayonnaise. Homemade mayonnaise is always more delicious than the kind you buy at the store, and this recipe INSISTED that it tasted like “real” mayonnaise, unlike that sham, Vegenaise. SUCH PROMISE.
So, I whipped it up. It seemed…. thin. Airy. They said it would thicken upon refrigeration — it didn’t. Would my kids and husband eat this on their daily sandwiches?
Sure they would. Because I made it, so now we have to use it up. It’s a little more sour than I prefer — I’d probably add more salt and pepper and less vinegar than what was listed in the recipe. But the taste is passable. It’s not thick and creamy like regular mayonnaise, again, because the egg yolks offer a creamy consistency of which aquafaba can only dream. But because of that, it’s also lower in calories — which is good for the mayo lovers who might be trying to cut back, but don’t want to go without. For vegans, it’s a fine option, and more “natural” than some of the other 50-ingredient vegan mayonnaises you can buy at the store. Plus, it’s free of nuts and soy, for those with allergies.
Still, I don’t think I’d make this one again.
THE FINAL TEST
Finally, I was ready to bring the use of aquafaba to its full glory. I wanted to make a pavlova. A pavlova is a light, airy cake that, according to legend, was first created in New Zealand in honor of the visiting Russian prima ballerina, Anna Pavlova. It’s a circle of softly baked meringue topped with sweetened whipped cream and fresh fruit. I’ve made it two or three times with beautiful results. So, I wanted to make it with the chickpea brine. I’d had fairly impressive technical results so far with the other two recipes, so it couldn’t be too hard, could it?
I followed this recipe. I was incredibly impressed by how a cup of briney, slimy bean water magically turned into fluffy goodness. It was just like egg whites. It looked like egg whites. And about 10 minutes after a high-speed spin in my KitchenAid, it looked like real-life meringue. The watery sh*t from a can of chickpeas just turned into meringue.
That’s as close as I’ve ever been to real magic.
I was so excited to put it into the oven. I was imagining macerated rhubarb and strawberries piled on top of fluffy clouds of whipped cream. My mouth was watering.
But I was soon to be sorely disappointed.
The recipe warned me that the pavlova “might spread out a bit” in the oven. And the temperature was set to the suggested temperature of 325, which is way hotter than the temperature you use to cook real pavlovas. Still, I wanted to follow the recipe EXACTLY — and this is the tragedy that happened. I attributed it to user error…maybe I just made a bad batch? But the same thing happened a second time, this time spilling out onto my oven and smoking up the house. My husband laughed at me and told me to give it up. A few days went by. The rhubarb went bad. But I refused to lose hope.
I tried again, this time with a different recipe from Pickles & Honey, and prayed that maybe, the third time would be the charm.
It was…kind of…
Meh. It still fell flat, and I couldn’t get the aquafaba pavlova unstuck from a SILICONE BAKING MAT which exists for the sole purpose of having nothing stick to it. But, it was actually usable this time, so I went for it.
Taste-wise, however? It was perfect. Delicious. The texture was crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, like real pavlova. And no, it didn’t taste like chickpeas, not even a little bit. But I can’t lie and say I wasn’t disappointed by how difficult it was to get even a mediocre-looking pavlova. I followed the recipes exactly. I accounted for different temperatures and fresh ingredients and all of that.
At the end of the day, it’s easier for me to just use egg whites, because I know how they’ll turn out. But if you’re a vegan or allergic to eggs or something, this “vegan meringue” pavlova will make all your dreams come true. Being an omnivore myself, I used real whipped cream on top of mine, but coconut cream (as the recipes suggest) will taste just as good on top.
Aquafaba is pretty damn impressive. There’s something incredible about being able to watch watery gloop at the bottom of a can of chickpeas turn into a voluminous pile of sweet goodness. And just like eggs, it’s so versatile. For vegans, this is a game-changer. You’ll be able to eat foods long denied to you and experiment with baking. For us omnivores, well, it’s still pretty cool — but unless you have a lot of spare time to tweak recipes, you might still prefer to use eggs.
Either way, next time you’re opening up a can of chickpeas, maybe you’ll think twice about throwing away the brine. Just save it for a kinda healthy, super-easy mousse afterward.
The only downside is, two giant batches of hummus later, I STILL don’t know what to do with the rest of these chickpeas…