Tuesday 19 July 2016

The chickpea miracle

Golly! I've been cooking seriously; with intent, for some three decade and it's very rarely I encounter something so surprising, so unexpected, that I do a little dance of discovery while squeaking like something furry from a woodland.

Vegan desserts are tricky, especially in the winter months when fruit is hard and flavourless, wearing its many carbon miles like a protective shroud. So, if I told you I was researching a vegan dessert (for supper club friend Alex) and produced a tin of chick peas, you would be forgiven for thinking I was about to combine them with, I don't know, golden syrup and perhaps tahini and blend up some kind of sweet paste... maybe a pie? A sweet tahini tart?

But no! I'm not interested in the legumes, it's the unpromising looking water in the bottom on the tin I'm after. I kid you not.

Drained off a 59p can of chickpeas. Who would have thought?
This has a name: aquafaba (bean water) and it is amazing stuff. Because it contains proteins and starches from the beans it acts much like egg white. In fact, exactly like egg white... and better. A scant 200ml from a can will balloon up to over two litres of featherlight fluff.  If you whip it, add sugar and bake it, you can make meringues. If you whisk it with oil you can make mayonnaise. It will take oil and fat and make vegan buttercream.
It can be used as a thickener, binder, emulsifier, foaming agent, and more. Unlike protein isolates and starch-based egg replacers, this broad spectrum allows aquafaba to be used in applications where its superior organoleptic properties are needed, and where traditional albumen falls short. 
From unpromising puddle of bean water to this in a few minutes.

I've only just discovered this via SeriousEats.com but it's not new. The Vegan society has  a whole section dedicated to this wondrous 'bean water'. I was so agog I had to try it myself.  The chemistry of the stuff is still not properly understood which means there may well be other tricks to play. Don't you just love it when something so ordinary, so quotidian, turns out to be remarkable?

How does it taste? Well, whisked raw, not of much to be honest. But then raw whisked egg white is none too palatable either. It has a fairly neutral, slightly savory flavour but this is easily defeated by adding sugar and/or fruit. Look for brands that are low in sodium as some might be salty.

I rewhipped some with a hot sugar syrup and a dab of vanilla paste to make a vegan Italian meringue.
It looks and acts exactly as the egg version.

For me, the fun is only just starting. This is not something that will only appear in vegan meals as it has a whole range of unique qualities, of both egg white and yolk. I'll come back with more info as I develop recipes. I have some sitting in my fridge at the moment as I want to see how well its structure is maintained with time and with temperature changes. It's cheaper than egg white and throwing away shells, with this waste product, you get to make hummus. 

Mixed with a little caster sugar, It pipes perfectly.

Further reading: I've now developed this chocolate mousse using aquafaba.


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