The Weird and Wonderful World of Aquafaba
Aquafaba is weird…there, we said it. But weird can indeed be wonderful, particularly when it comes to experimental plant-based projects in the kitchen.
At some point over the course of time, some brave soul figured out that the slimy and sketchy-looking liquid you get when you boil chickpeas is actually pure gold. If you’ve ever simmered dry beans or pulses of any kind for a couple of hours on the stove, you’ll know the stuff we’re talking about.
It doesn’t look particularly nice, it smells like something you want nothing to do with and it goes straight down the drain.
This is one readily available source of aquafaba - the second is the even more sinister-looking liquid that comes in cans of chickpeas. Trust and believe that the first time you actually put this stuff to good use, you’ll be kicking yourself for having ever let a drop of it go to waste!
Liquid Gold for Plant-Based Living
Aquafaba (simply chickpea brine) has a lot in common with eggs. They’re both incredibly versatile in their raw form.
Importantly, it’s possible to whisk up aquafaba in almost exactly the same way as egg whites, paving the way for an enormous range of exciting culinary creations. Ever since it was discovered that chickpea water can be used this way, the whole thing has revolutionised the vegan lifestyle for millions of people worldwide.
From meringues to macarons to all types of cakes and biscuits, aquafaba has opened the door to the most amazing plant-based cooking imaginable.
Canned Vs Dried Chickpeas
To be frank, there’s really no difference whatsoever between the aquafaba in a tin of chickpeas and the stuff you create yourself when boiling them. Hence, it’s definitely worth keeping a few cans in your pantry at all times, just so that you have a ready supply of it to reach for when you need it.
However, the fact that dried chickpeas are exponentially cheaper than the canned variety makes the DIY approach a no-brainer. You can pick up a huge stockpile of dried chickpeas for next to nothing, boil them up for a couple of hours and arm yourself with plenty of aquafaba.
Pop it in the fridge and it will stay fresh for a good week or so, giving you plenty of time to experiment with it in the kitchen.
Aquafaba from canned chickpeas is absolutely fine - it’s just not nearly as economical as the stuff you make yourself.
How to Make Your Own Aquafaba at Home
One thing that’s important to note at this stage - cooked chickpeas freeze fantastically, and have a near-indefinite shelf life when packed and frozen properly. This therefore means that absolutely nothing needs to go to waste when making your own aquafaba at home and saving a fortune in the process.
Making aquafaba is no more difficult than cooking dried chickpeas in the conventional sense. You don’t have to be particularly meticulous with temperatures or timings, as the whole process is pretty forgiving.
There are numerous formulas and methods doing the rounds online, but this is by far the easiest and most fool-proof of the lot:
- First of all, you’ll want to soak your dry chickpeas in plenty of water, allowing as much space as necessary for them to expand. They’ll swell to double or even triple their current size, so make sure there’s plenty of space and plenty of water for them to absorb.
- Cover and allow to soak for a minimum of 8 hours, but it usually works best to soak them for 24 hours and change the water twice along the way.
- Note at this point that the water you use to soak your chickpeas must be discarded, as this is not the liquid gold you’re looking for!
- Rinse your chickpeas and add them to a suitably sized pot with enough fresh water to cover them, without adding too much. Remember that you can always add more water along the way, if the level falls below the top layer of chickpeas in the pan.
- Bring to the boil and simmer gently for approximately 90 minutes, keeping an eye on the water level and scooping off any residual white stuff that accumulates on the surface along the way.
- After around an hour and a half, check that the chickpeas are cooked to perfection and drain through a sieve. Make sure you save the cooking liquid you pour off, as this is the aquafaba you’ll subsequently be experimenting with.
In terms of quantities, you can use the basic guidelines above to cook as many or as few chickpeas as you like. But it’s worth remembering that if you start out with 1.5kg of dried chickpeas, you’ll come out with approximately 4kg of cooked chickpeas.
This will also be enough to produce a good two litres or so of DIY aquafaba, which is more than enough to bake all manner of tasty treats over the course of the next week.
Freeze your chickpeas in suitable containers or freezer bags, while popping the aquafaba into a couple of jars and placing them in the fridge once they have cooled. You can even pour some of the aquafaba into a couple of ice cube trays and freeze it in egg-sized portions for later use.
Some say aquafaba that’s been frozen and thawed doesn’t create quite as much fluff as the fresh stuff, but it can still do a great job when in a pinch.
Cooking and Baking with Aquafaba
At this point, the only thing that’s left to do is transform this undeniably weird yellow liquid into a sumptuous fluffy-white substance that’s near-identical to whipped egg whites. As you’ve probably figured out by now, the process is also more or less identical to whipping eggs.
One thing to remember - aquafaba expands to at least five-times its original size as you whisk it. This therefore means you’ll probably need a much bigger bowl than you think you need to accommodate it.
In addition, whipping up aquafaba by hand isn’t really an option. You’ll even find that some generic electric whisks and beaters aren’t up to the job. Oftentimes, a hand-held whisk with two beaters is the best tool for the job, which even then demands a fair amount of elbow grease to pull off.
Don’t be discouraged if things don’t start happening right away - it takes anything from 10 to 15 minutes of serious whisking to transform aquafaba. On the plus side, it isn’t possible to take things too far and over-whisk chickpea juice, which is always a risk with egg whites.
In addition, adding a small amount of cream of tartar to the mixture before whisking can help with the process of stiffening things up. If you don’t seem to be getting anywhere after around 10 minutes or so, popping a little cream of tartar in could help.
Last up, even aquafaba that’s fairly loose and runny will eventually beat up to a fluffy-white consistency. However, a thicker initial mixture can sometimes be easy to work with, so you can always reduce it in a pan to thicken it up if preferred. This will usually reduce the amount of work needed to get it whipped up, but it’s important not to thicken it too much or it will be difficult to work with.
How to Make Aquafaba Meringues
Rounding things off, you really only need to learn how to make meringue with aquafaba to open the door to a whole world of innovative experiments in the kitchen. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better, you genuinely will not believe how easy it is to make gorgeously light and fluffy aquafaba meringues at home.
Here’s the fool-proof formula you’ll come to live by:
- Whisk around 250ml aquafaba for as long as it takes to form stiff peaks. When the mixture is as firm as it is going to get, add 1/2 tsp cream of tartar and keep whisking to make it even stiffer.
- Next, gradually fold around 300g of powdered sugar into the mix, combining it extremely gently so as not to pop all of the bubbles in the mixture. Add a tablespoon at a time, then add the vanilla essence slowly and fold in gently.
- It’s then simply a case of setting your oven to its lowest temperature (which is usually around 110°C to 120°C and popping your meringue mixture on baking trays lined with paper.
- Pop in the centre of the oven and leave undisturbed for at least 1 ½ hours, at which point you can check if they are done.
Just remember that you are not actually aiming to cook the meringues in the traditional sense, but instead dry them out to the desired texture. If they go brown while in the oven, the temperature is too high and needs to be reduced with your next batch.