A few weeks ago, one of my colleagues turned to me and asked if I had heard about the new trends involving chickpea water. You mean, besides letting it seep out the bottom of my mesh strainer when I rinse off canned chickpeas?
Clearly, I wasn't in the know.
But the thick, viscous, almost clear liquid that is left over from soaking or cooking chickpeas in water — or from a can — is officially having a moment.
Within the past two weeks, publications Bon Appétit and Wired have reported on chickpea water, or "aquafaba" as it's now known. The gist: The goopy liquid can act as a substitute for eggs, particularly when it's whipped to a frothy foam in a mixer.
The official trend seems to have started sometime last year, when the website aquafaba.com was registered by Indiana software engineer Goose Wohlt, who coined the term after he watched French cook Joel Roessel's tutorial on making vegan meringues and became infatuated with the product. (Don't miss the recipe for actual meringues on Page 6.)
Vegan home cooks may already be well-versed in this mysterious liquid, but now it's used in restaurants, including the James Beard award-winning Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York, and by bartenders looking for ways to make their cocktails animal product-free.
Bon Appétit talked to a bartender at the California restaurant Gracias Madre, who now swears by chickpea liquid for his vegan bar program.
"If you fill two glasses, one with egg whites and the other with aquafaba, you wouldn't even know the difference," he said. "The only telltale sign is the smell: Egg whites smell like wet dog and chickpeas have no smell whatsoever."
So why does it work so well as a substitute for eggs, which have always been notoriously difficult to replace?
According to the Wired article, food scientists think it is likely a combination of proteins and starches in the liquid.
"Chickpea proteins, like egg proteins, have parts that hate water and parts that love water. When you shake or beat it, the proteins unravel, so that the water-hating parts interface with air, and the water-loving parts with water. Hence, bubbles and foam."
I tried whizzing a bit of chickpea liquid in the food processor to see what would happen — and, yes, it does turn into a light foam suitable for topping cocktails or turning into meringue. The liquid is pretty odorless and flavorless, which means you don't have to worry about your meringues tasting like actual chickpeas. If you're short on eggs, or don't eat them, aquafaba is a solid alternative, and a good use for something most of us typically let slip down the drain.
Contact Michelle Stark at email@example.com or (727) 893-8829. Follow @mstark17.