What Is Aquafaba?

If you ever use canned chickpeas, you’ve seen (and likely thrown away!) one of the most useful ingredients in vegan baking. Here’s everything you need to know about aquafaba.

Published Mar. 22, 2017.

Odds are, you’ve been taking one of the most important ingredients in the vegan larder and tossing it in the garbage can. It’s called aquafaba, and it’s (basically) free! When we refer to aquafaba (as we often do in our latest cookbook, Vegan for Everybody), we’re talking about the liquid in a can of chickpeas. (We’re not talking about the liquid in a can of any other beans. Stick to the liquid from canned chickpeas—it works best.)

The starchy liquid is a great binder directly from the can, but what really makes it magical is that it whips and creates a foam. Aquafaba is therefore able to trap air, giving items structure at the same time it delivers a fluffy crumb and lift.

We turned to aquafaba again and again while developing recipes for Vegan for Everybody, and so we learned an awful lot about the stuff and how to work with it. Here are some helpful tips for how to incorporate aquafaba into your cooking and baking.

Vegan for Everybody

In this cookbook, America's Test Kitchen decodes and demystifies vegan cooking, so you can reap its many benefits and avoid the pitfalls of bland food, lack of variety, and overprocessed ingredients. You'll find approachable, fresh, vibrant recipes using tofu and other plant-based proteins that you'll not only feel good about eating but also come to love, whether you're a first-timer or a committed vegan.  

How to Make Aquafaba

We think aquafaba’s most magical quality is its ability to whip to a stiff, fluffy foam. We fold this foam into blueberry muffins to lighten them, and we whip aquafaba with sugar and vanilla to make egg-free meringues (more on that later).

As it does with egg whites, adding a stabilizing ingredient improved the structure of whipped aquafaba. In sweet recipes, we usually used sugar. But there’s another ingredient we often whip into egg whites to add stability: cream of tartar. But why?

Cream of tartar is acidic—when added to egg whites, it prevents the egg proteins from bonding too tightly to each other and denatures them so they can create a foam that traps air bubbles and water more quickly and holds them in place for less weeping.

While aquafaba isn’t protein-rich like egg whites, we were curious to see whether cream of tartar could benefit our vegan baked goods as well. To find out, we conducted an experiment.

We whipped four ounces of aquafaba to a stiff foam three ways—aquafaba alone, aquafaba with ¼ cup of sugar, and aquafaba with ¼ teaspoon of cream of tartar—taking note how long it took to whip each version to a stiff foam on high speed in a stand mixer. We then transferred each foam to a funnel set over a graduated cylinder, where we let them sit for 1 hour. At the end of the hour, we examined how much liquid weeped out from each foam.

After 1 hour, it was clear that cream of tartar stabilizes aquafaba foams as it does egg foams. The aquafaba whipped alone took 10 minutes to whip to a stiff foam, and it completely deflated after just 20 minutes, filling the cylinder almost completely, with about 95 mL of liquid.

The aquafaba whipped with sugar fared better; it still took 10 minutes to reach stiff peaks (like egg whites, aquafaba whipped with sugar creates stiff, sticky peaks rather than just a foam), and even though the mixture filled the graduated cylinder in 1 hour, it had weeped only 30 mL of liquid.

But the star of the show was the aquafaba whipped with cream of tartar. It took only 4½ minutes to reach a stiff foam, and after 1 hour only about 2 mL of liquid collected in the graduated cylinder. As you can see in the photograph, only the slightest amount of foam slid through the funnel.

This experiment translated into better recipes for baked goods like vegan blueberry muffins (the muffins we made with the cream of tartar fortified aquafaba foam displayed more height and better doming). And as a bonus, cream of tartar boosts the potential of the leavener in a recipe, contributing to a fluffier crumb.

How to Measure Aquafaba

To measure the amount of aquafaba called for in a recipe, begin by vigorously shaking the unopened can of chickpeas. Next, drain the chickpeas through a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl, and reserve the beans for another use. Whisk the aquafaba and then measure. While it may not be visible to the naked eye, the starches in the chickpea liquid settle in the can—in order to take advantage of them, you’ll need to agitate them to ensure they’re evenly distributed throughout the liquid.

How to Store Aquafaba

For ease, we like to freeze aquafaba in 1-tablespoon portions in ice cube trays. Once the bean liquid cubes are frozen solid, they can be transferred to a freezer bag for future use. Frozen-then-thawed aquafaba whips just as well as fresh aquafaba. You can also defrost the aquafaba cubes in the microwave to speed the process along. Fresh chickpea liquid can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Are There Substitutes for Aquafaba?

We wanted to see if the liquid in cans of other kinds of beans worked in baked goods. To figure this out, we made meringues using chickpea liquid and meringues using inky-dark black bean liquid.

As you can see, the meringues made with chickpea liquid were the clear winner. We had to whip the black bean liquid for much longer to see any action, and it still never reached stiff peaks. Without stiff peaks, black bean liquid made pancake-flat meringues. Chickpea meringues held their peaks and had solid, consistent interiors after baking.

Stop throwing that chickpea liquid in the trash, and make some delicious meringues!

Have you ever cooked with aquafaba before? If so, what did you make? Let us know in the comments. And for more on cooking vegan, read these posts:

This is a members' feature.