Do you usually strain out the liquid from cans of beans after opening them for use in recipes? If so, you’ve been leaving behind a valuable ingredient that’s starting to catch on in the culinary world.
That liquid even has a name: aquafaba.
My first introduction to aquafaba — from the Latin, “aqua” for water and “faba” for bean —came at a vegan cooking class taught by cookbook author JL Fields. She told us the liquid from garbanzo beans could be whipped into stiff peaks for meringue.
I thought that was interesting, but didn’t give it much thought — until the topic of using aquafaba popped up in chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s recent memoir, “JGV: A Life in 12 Recipes.” In his epilogue, he wrote about planning the menu for his soon-to-open New York City restaurant ABCV, a vegetarian-vegan eatery. They were testing dishes using chickpeas, and one day there was a lot of chickpea cooking liquid in the kitchen. One of the chefs asked what they could do with it, and another chef, who had been cooking vegan foods, knew the answer: It could be used as an egg substitute, especially for making meringue.
When Vongerichten saw the chef’s bowl of whipped liquid, he writes, “I thought this was amazing, and we quickly put the aquafaba to use in place of egg-white meringue in our chocolate mousse, so that now we have a vegan version of this popular dish every bit as good as the traditional mousse.”
With that endorsement coming from the famed Michelin-star chef, I decided to do a little more research and experimentation with cooked bean liquid.
Although aquafaba can come from any cooked bean, the most popular is the liquid from garbanzo beans (chickpeas). That’s because it’s clearer than other varieties such as kidney beans and black beans. When used in cooking, it does not drastically alter coloration. And aquafaba’s thick, viscous form and clear color makes it a perfect duplicate of egg whites.
But why does it work? Harold McGee, the food scientist who wrote the best-selling kitchen reference book “On Food and Cooking,” guesses it has something to do with the combination of proteins, carbohydrates and saponins.
“Saponins are soaplike materials that can collect in bubble walls at the interface between liquid and air and stabilize the bubbles,” McGee wrote in an e-mail. “Some proteins can do the same, and both proteins and carbohydrates help thicken the liquid, which makes it slower to drain out of the foam structure.”
Still skeptical? Think of it as you would when using black beans in cakes and other desserts: as a way to cut down on fat. You won’t be able to tell the difference when using aquafaba for egg whites. About 3 tablespoons of aquafaba equal one egg. A tablespoon of aquafaba contains 3 to 5 calories. And go for low-sodium beans since regular bean liquid is much higher in salt.
Check out vegansociety.com for an array of aquafaba recipes — from mayonnaise, nougat and mousse to even ice cream.
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