Wellbeing

A Vegan Substitute For Egg Whites Exists – It’s Very Good and Already In Your Cupboard

Open a can of chickpeas and what do you do? Pour the liquid down the drain. Turns out, that’s throwing away a game changer for vegans; the missing link that enables them to recreate all the delicious foods usually made with whisked egg whites. And most importantly, these recreations are good, not just sad imitations. The holy chickpea water has a name, and that name is Aquafaba.

Inventiveness just comes part of the package with vegans – they’re the geniuses who make soft serve ice cream out of frozen bananas, after all. But one animal byproduct has alluded vegans for far too long: the humble chicken egg and its whites. Though many claim to have found the perfect substitute, nothing has come close to the real thing. Until now, that is.

Whipped aquafaba, left, and whipped egg whites, in Beacon, N.Y., May 3, 2016. Goose Wohlt, an Indiana software engineer who coined the name aquafaba, discovered in 2015 that chickpea liquid could be substituted for egg whites in a wide variety of recipes, winning over vegans and chefs alike. (Meredith Heuer/The New York Times)

Whipped aquafaba, left, and whipped egg whites. Image: Meredith Huer, NYT

The road to Aquafaba

This story begins with an American man named Goose Wohlt, as all good stories do. He was set the almost-impossible task of creating a vegan substitute for meringues (that didn’t suck) for a family meal. As you’re probably aware, the main ingredient for a meringue is egg whites. With a background in software engineering, he happily searched for an adequate substitute to recreate the consistency of perfectly fluffy, whisked egg whites.

The New York Times says Wohlt is “An inveterate tinkerer — before food, his obsession was antigravity — [so] he set to work, scouring the literature on proteins, starches and vegetable gums.” But to no avail.

It was a hot tip from his wife that changed everything: she’d seen a YouTube clip of two French chefs whipping chickpea water like it was no big deal. He tried it out for himself, and much to his surprise, it worked: the stiff, white peaks usually reserved for the pleasure of omnivores were real. And it didn’t taste like chickpeas!

The vegan game changer, Aquafaba, was born (that’s a combination of the Latin terms for water and bean, by the way).

Wohlt began sharing his discovery with vegan communities online and the world responded, embracing this new substitute with terrifying joy. Thousands of exciting vegan recipes for meringues, mayonnaise, butter, cheese, baked goods and more were popping up online, all thanks to a simple chickpea byproduct.

Why fake egg whites kinda suck

If you do a quick google, common egg substitutes for vegans include silken tofu, flax seeds, chia seeds, bananas and even manufactured egg replacements made from potato and tapioca starch.

You can use all of these replacements in baking, easy. But the holy grail that’s always eluded vegans has been those products made with beaten egg whites: soufflé; meringue (hello, Pavlova!); angel food cakes; nougat; macarons and basically anything else French, sugary and delicious.

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To try and counter this issue, egg-white substitutes often include bubble-making agents like baking powder, baking soda and vinegar to create the same foam peaks you get after whipping egg whites. There’s recipes that suggest using “bubble-retaining” foods like applesauce, mashed bananas or ground chia seeds as well. But, as you would expect, it just isn’t the same as the real thing.

How does Aquafaba even work?

Well, to be honest, they’re not 100% sure. A regular egg white is made up of about 90% water and 10% protein, and when whipped, traps air bubbles created by the quick folds. Aquafaba also includes a delicate mix of proteins, starch, sugar and a small amount of a chemical called saponins, which is the agent that causes it to foam up. Accordingly, this mixture of elements creates a pretty viable egg substitute.

The best aquafaba comes from chickpeas. Peas, lentils, kidney, black and soy beans all (to some degree) have their own version of aquafaba, but the chickpea version seems to be the only one whose consistency continually delivers. Think about it: when you drop a can of chickpeas into a strainer, you’ll see the foam forming almost instantly.

And just in case you were wondering – that beany aroma evaporates once you cook it.

Preventing waste and turning it into a goldmine

The secret to perfectly fluffy meringues has been thrown down the drain for decades.

Capitalising on this new find, a condiment company from New York called St. Kensington’s are now using aquafaba in their vegan mayonnaise (Fabanaise). According to The New York Times, St. Kensington’s will acquire 20,000 gallons of aquafaba from a local company that makes hummus – effectively turning what had been their company’s waste product into a second income stream. Very smart and eco-conscious. Such a vegan thing to do.

Whether you’re a life-long vegan, a recent convert, someone who’s been flirting with the idea of going vegan for a while or you just want to cut down on your waste, this is huge news.

h/t: The New York Times


Rebecca Russo is a freelance writer, editor, community radio dabbler, occasional hiker and celebrity autobiography enthusiast. She has written for online publications including Junkee, AWOL, Fashion Journal and Tone Deaf. Find her online here.