Everything you need to know about the latest vegan trend.
whipping meringue
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From marshmallows and meringues to a simple whipped cream, egg whites are critical to a number of popular desserts. In order to enjoy these light and airy sweets, vegans have turned to both commercially available replacers (such as Ener-G) and DIY substitutes (such as flaxseed gel) as alternatives to eggs. But, until recently, there was no simple, nationally available, minimally-processed egg white replacement.

Aquafaba, the viscous liquid found in a can of chickpeas, has quickly gained traction as the newest egg substitute in vegan baking and cooking—no protein isolates or refined starches in sight. The name translates to “bean water:” aqua is Latin for water and faba is Latin for bean.

Since its discovery in 2015 by software engineer Goose Wohlt (who was inspired by Joel Roëssel, the first to realize aquafaba's egg-like properties), the liquid has been used by chefs, bartenders, and home cooks to create everything from chocolate mousse and cinnamon rolls to mayo, cheese, and butter. Search for the ingredient has seen a 160 percent increase on Pinterest since January 2016, and its Facebook page, where aquafaba enthusiasts share their latest experiments in the kitchen, has amassed more than 45,000 members, carnivores included. Wohlt’s favorite discovery? Marshmallow fluff, which was born out of a failed attempt at vegan marshmallows.

While there is no real consensus on how exactly it works, it’s known that the proteins and starches in aquafaba mimic the proteins in raw egg whites. The general rule of thumb is to use 1 tablespoon per egg yolk, 2 tablespoons per egg white, and 3 tablespoons per whole egg, according to Wohlt.

Perhaps the best part about the ingredient is that it would otherwise be going down the drain. Sir Kensington’s, a New York-based condiment company, picked up on this benefit when they began experimenting with a new line of vegan mayonnaise. After being disappointed with results that used soy protein and pea protein as the emulsifying agent, they turned to aquafaba, which they received from nearby Ithaca Hummus, who had previously been discarding the chickpea liquid.

“They had this waste product that was going from a kettle to a drain, and we were able to recuperate that and put it back into our supply chain,” Laura Villevieille, director of product for Sir Kensington’s, told RealSimple.com. “It became the star ingredient of our new product.”

The vegan mayo, called Fabanaise, is the first commercial product that contains aquafaba, and is also a testament to aquafaba’s versatility.

“If this ingredient has the properties to replace egg whites, we thought maybe it can also replace egg yolks,” Villevieille said. “It naturally emulates the taste and feel of an egg yolk. It had the savory quality that we hadn’t seen when we’d done [research and development] with other ingredients.”

Ready to start experimenting? You likely have everything you need in your kitchen. And while you can use the liquid from any can of beans, Wohlt recommends beginning with chickpeas.

“You have to get the consistency right,” he says. “If you go and grab a can of white beans or lima beans and try to use it, it might be super watery. The thing about chickpeas is that it’s really forgiving. You want a consistency like egg whites.”