September 2017 Issue
By Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN
Vol. 19, No. 9, P. 36
Instead of pouring aquafaba down the drain, clients can put it to good use in many of the foods they enjoy.
Canned beans are a staple of most pantries, but if dietitians ask clients what aquafaba is, there's a good chance they won't know. That's because for years RDs have advised people to drain and rinse their canned beans. But recently that recommendation has changed as the popularity of bean juice, otherwise known as aquafaba, has skyrocketed.
History of Aquafaba
The ability to cook and bake with the liquid from canned beans was discovered only two years ago by Goose Wohlt, a vegan American software engineer who was attempting to create eggless meringues for his mother's Passover seder. Wohlt found that the liquid from garbanzo beans, or chickpeas, could be whipped and used as an egg replacer. He called the bean liquid aquafaba, a combination of the Latin words aqua (water) and faba (beans). Out of nowhere, a trend to use the liquid from cooked beans of all kinds was born.
In short time, the humble chickpea liquid has grown in fame among vegan bakers, home cooks, and chefs alike. Cookbooks devoted to this "miracle ingredient," as some have called it, are hitting bookshelves; food bloggers are developing new aquafaba-based recipes; and well-known chefs such as Dan Barber are starting to incorporate aquafaba into their restaurant dishes. Even bartenders are using this vegan ingredient in place of egg whites to add a foamy top to cocktails.
While there aren't many commercial products made with aquafaba just yet, it's only a matter of time before more of them will take up space on grocery store shelves. Leading the charge in that domain is Fabanaise, a vegan mayonnaise made with aquafaba produced by Sir Kensington, a condiment manufacturer.
Nutrition and Culinary Uses
The balance of starch and protein in aquafaba is responsible for its ability to be used in several ways. However, it isn't a powerhouse nutritionally. Each tablespoon of aquafaba has roughly 3 to 5 kcal and trace amounts of carbs, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals.
Despite its minimal nutrition profile, RDs enjoy cooking and baking with aquafaba for many reasons. Gretchen F. Brown, RD, a culinary nutritionist in Oakton, Virginia, likes using aquafaba "because eggs are a common allergy, so it's nice to have a delicious and easy way to make traditionally egg-based desserts safe for everyone."
Emily Kyle, MS, RDN, owner of Emily Kyle Nutrition, uses aquafaba "to reduce food waste and because of the unique plant-based cooking and baking properties [it] offers." A popular topic on food blogs, decreasing food waste is a huge issue for restaurants, supermarkets, and farms. Using aquafaba helps reduce food waste because "you're utilizing a part of the food that traditionally gets discarded," Kyle says.
Making use of an ingredient that would otherwise be poured down the drain is wonderful, but keep in mind that for some people beans can cause intestinal distress and gas. These side effects are due to the presence of oligosaccharides, complex sugars that are difficult to digest because humans don't produce the enzyme required to properly break down these sugars. Studies have shown that soaking and cooking beans reduces the oligosaccharides that leach into the soaking and cooking water—which is what we now call aquafaba. As a result, aquafaba is the gaseous part of beans, which can be problematic for some clients.
This raises the question "should clients who are sensitive to bean sugars use aquafaba?" The simple answer is no. However, Serena Ball, MS, RD, a food writer and owner of Teaspoon Communications, a food-focused nutrition communications organization in St. Louis, who blogs about Healthy Kitchen Hacks at TeaspoonOfSpice.com, says that "if the total amount of aquafaba used in a whole recipe is three tablespoons, the amount in an individual serving is very small" and may not cause a gaseous response.
Since aquafaba acts much like eggs and egg whites, it's used as a binder, thickener, and emulsifier in a variety of recipes. Unlike other ingredients that have been used as egg replacements, such as applesauce, mashed bananas, and prunes, aquafaba can be whipped into soft or stiff peaks, thereby making it a vegan substitute for meringues, mousse, custards, and whipped cream. It can even be added to pancake and waffle batter for a lighter, fluffier end result.
Brown, who loves making baked meringues with aquafaba, plans to try her hand at a quick chocolate mousse, which she says "requires no baking and no worries about foodborne illness from uncooked eggs. That's a win-win."
When using aquafaba as an egg replacement, roughly three tablespoons is equivalent to one whole egg, and two tablespoons is equivalent to one egg white. If using aquafaba as a binder or to replace whole eggs, as in a quiche or most baked goods, it should be slightly whipped with a fork just until it's foamy. "Baked goods using aquafaba don't always brown as deeply as those using an egg, but the texture is often very similar," Ball says.
When using aquafaba to replace egg whites in recipes such as meringues, macaroons, and mousses, it should be whipped with a small amount of cream of tartar, lemon juice, or vinegar for five to 10 minutes until stiff peaks form. The addition of cream of tartar or other acids helps stabilize the whipped aquafaba, Ball says.
Putting Aquafaba to the Test
Aquafaba is an ingredient all clients can use, but it's especially useful for those who follow a vegan diet or have an egg allergy or intolerance. Clients can look on Pinterest or do a Google search for a multitude of recipes to try. While many aquafaba recipes are for desserts and on the sweeter side, there are savory applications, too. For example, clients can add aquafaba to homemade hummus in place of some oil, or use it to make vegan mayonnaise, various sauces, crepes (which can have savory fillings), and even pasta dough.
When discussing the use of aquafaba with clients, recommend no-salt-added or low-sodium canned beans. If reduced-sodium beans aren't available, Ball recommends using only one-half the amount of salt specified in the recipe to keep sodium levels down. As with other baked goods, it's also important to reduce the total amount of added sugars—usually the sugar can be reduced by one-fourth, sometimes by one-half. And don't forget to remind clients of all the ways they can put beans to use.
— Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN, is a New York-based culinary nutrition expert and recipe developer. You can read more of her articles and find her recipes at JessicaLevinson.com.