Aquafaba is simply the viscous liquid left over from cooking chickpeas. You can get it from the can or from cooking your own dried chickpeas. This is a common, unglamorous, age-old ingredient we’re talking about. But the story of aquafaba (Latin for “bean water”) is pretty incredible.
Barely two years ago, a French singer who was looking for a vegan egg substitute discovered that he could whip this starch- and protein-rich liquid into a foam, much like egg whites. He posted about his discovery online. Vegans (and those who can’t eat eggs) as well as basically anyone interested in cooking sat up and took notice. It’s often said that there’s nothing new under the sun, but this was actually new.
In the last two years, chefs and recipe developers have experimented with aquafaba and discovered that it has some remarkable properties—doubly remarkable, perhaps, since it’s a completely natural, vegetable-based substance that many people pour down the drain. It’s a favorite of chefs Dan Barber and John Fraser. You can whip it like cream to make a fluffy dessert topping; you can bake it into meringues; you can even use it as the emulsifier in homemade mayonnaise. You can use it instead of egg whites to make a cocktail frothy. You can make fluffy eggless pancakes with it.
And no, it doesn’t make everything taste like hummus. Most sources say that the beany flavor and aroma dissipates when the aquafaba is mixed with other ingredients and baked or whipped.
Eggs hold a special place in cooking because of the way they emulsify, the way they give lift and spring and structure to baked goods. Until now, egg replacers, like ground flax, have provided a pretty poor approximation of the miraculous egg. Aquafaba, on the other hand, comes very close. And it’s been right under our noses all this time.