As a child, for reasons probably scrutable only to Dr. Freud, I was viscerally repulsed by raw eggs. I spent hours overturning rocks to watch ants go about their panicked evacuations, and I was perfectly comfortable handling frogs, earthworms and crayfish, but the mucosal drip of a cracked egg gave me an existential shudder.
That instinctual ew has faded; these days, I barely flinch when a tangle of pasta arrives shellacked in yolk, a pile of frisée appears with a poached egg quivering atop it, or a bartender tips a container of gloppy whites into a shaker for my drink. But the sense-memory lingers. And because a few of my nearest and dearest are committed vegans, when I started reading about the egg-substitute qualities of aquafaba — the liquid left after cooking legumes or emptying a can of chickpeas — I was intrigued.
An egg white replacer results in delicious baked goods (a sometimes weak spot in vegan cooking)? A liquid that usually gets poured down the drain turns out to be a miracle for those who don’t want to risk salmonella, trigger allergies or worry that their eggs may have come from a Bad Place? When I heard that this stuff was being used in drinks, it called for investigation.
In cocktails, egg whites are added primarily for texture. Shaken into a drink, they add a silkiness and a snowy foam on top, a luminous surface that can be left alone or marked up with bitters (think of the Morse code of Angostura topping a pisco sour). Could garbanzo bath water — purportedly awash in proteins that create similar effects — really serve as an understudy?
I found the idea somewhat off-putting, and the juice I tasted out of the can initially seemed awfully brothy to be sliding into a sour. But was it really weirder than sipping something that popped out of a chicken?
My curiosity was not universally shared. Usually, when I’m on a cocktail-testing drive, getting friends to come sample is easy. But when I mentioned I’d be making drinks with chickpea runoff, my usual suspects became oddly busy, suddenly remembering important chores, speaking engagements and child-care conflicts for imaginary offspring.
It probably didn’t help that I kept calling the substance “beeeeean water,” in a fiendish Peter Lorre voice. (Mad props to Goose Wohlt, the vegan engineer who had the sense to name this stuff aquafaba, making it sound like an ingredient for smoothies at an exclusive spa rather than something slurped by Dust Bowl-era hoboes over a trash fire down by the tracks.)
J.P. Fetherston, head bartender at the Columbia Room, admits he was skeptical. “I kind of have that typical meat-eater’s prejudice,” he says. “If it’s vegan, it can’t be half as good as the original version. But we tried it out, and the texture was awesome. It held its shape very well. . . . If you’re drinking something very light and delicate, like a vodka drink or sake, maybe there’ll be a little residual pea- or bean-like flavor, but if you have anything in the drink that’s in any way robust, whether it’s the sweetener or the spirit, there’s no noticeable flavor once you’ve shaken it up.”
That basic technique is another advantage to this egg alternative; while some bars use substances like agar-agar and xanthan gum to create eggless foams and froths, some of those require nitrous-oxide siphons or other equipment. Aquafaba lets you create froth and texture with just a shaker, the old-school way.
Dane Nakamura, beverage director for Bryan Voltaggio’s line of restaurants, started experimenting with aquafaba several years back. His sister, he says, has been forced to become a better cook in order to cope with her daughters’ food allergies, and it was she who first brought aquafaba-based meringues to a family party. He was “mind blown” by how good they were and started looking into the liquid.
He prefers to make his own aquafaba. Even the low-sodium canned chickpeas have some salt, and that’s okay — “I always like to add salt to drinks” — but because salt levels and other ingredients can vary brand to brand, he values more control. “If I can get dried chickpeas and rehydrate them without salt and then reduce that” until it’s even thicker than the leftover canned juice “and then add the salt level I want, I can condense the proteins a lot,” he says. The result is a thicker aquafaba that will add more of the silky mouth feel characteristic of egg white drinks.
Making it isn’t hard, but it takes time, because you have to soak the dried beans overnight. I played with both canned and homemade versions and got good results in a variety of drinks. The taste of even the canned juice was virtually imperceptible in pisco sours. It was slightly noticeable in a classic Ramos gin fizz, but in the more intensely flavored Scotch-based riff I created, the salinity played better. Generally, about ¾ ounce of canned aquafaba equals a medium egg white. The more neutral the drink, the more you’ll need to know your aquafaba, so as not to end up with something that tastes just a leeeettle bit casserole-y; if you’re shaking up something more delicate, make your own so you can control the salt level.
Some folks have veered beyond fowl and bean alike. Danny Ronen, spirits educator and founder of beverage consultancy DC Spirits, started working with aquafaba “as soon as it was even experimental,” and found it “very cool, easy to clean, far fewer worries about contaminates” — all qualities bars love, along with being able to offer an eggless option to vegan and allergic guests. But sometimes, he says, it felt as if the viscous aquafaba left a coating on his teeth.
He has instead gravitated to a product from a Vancouver-based bitters company, Ms. Better’s. The ingredients of their shelf-stable foamer include unnamed “botanical extracts” that aren’t chickpea-based. (I’d speculate it’s made from unicorn shavings, only the foamer is vegan.) Dispensed in dashes, it doesn’t add the volume that egg white or aquafaba contributes, but the foam it produces is impressively bright and stable in a shaken drink.
Still, I’m impressed by the results I got from aquafaba. And what might be a problem for some bars — as Fetherston put it, “What the hell do I do with all these leftover garbanzo beans?” — turned out to be a boon while I was cocktailing at home. After I’d been shaking cocktails for hours, a nice, creamy hummus was just the thing to pair with my drink.
Allan is a Hyattsville, Md., writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter: @Carrie_the_Red.
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This Scotch-based riff on the famously fluffy Ramos gin fizz was designed to stand up to the slightly saline flavor of aquafaba, the liquid from canned chickpeas.
You can use a pasteurized egg white if you prefer; or make this drink fully vegan by using coconut milk instead of heavy cream (in which case you may wish to reduce the simple syrup to 1/4 ounce).
From Spirits columnist M. Carrie Allan.
2 ounces blended Scotch, such as Johnny Walker or Monkey Shoulder
1 ounce fresh pineapple juice
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup (see NOTE)
1 ounce heavy cream (may substitute coconut milk; see headnote)
3/4 ounce liquid from canned chickpeas (aquafaba; may substitute 1 medium egg white, see headnote)
2 drops vanilla extract
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Chilled seltzer (optional)
Chill a Pilsener or Collins glass.
Combine the blended Scotch, fruit juices, simple syrup, heavy cream, aquafaba, vanilla extract and bitters in a cocktail shaker. Seal, then shake vigorously for at least 2 minutes to whip air into the drink. Do not under-shake: The aeration is key to getting a good, fluffy head.
Add ice to the shaker; seal and shake for 15 seconds, until chilled. Strain into the glass and top with seltzer, if using.
NOTE: To make simple syrup, combine 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Cook for 2 minutes, then let the syrup cool completely before using. You can save leftover syrup for several weeks in the refrigerator.
Nutrition | Per serving: 290 calories, 0 g protein, 15 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 15 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 13 g sugar
Recipe tested by Kara Elder; email questions to email@example.com
Cocktail recipes that use egg whites (and could use aquafaba instead):