Vegans have been using banana, apple sauce, pumpkin, flax seed and other plant-based foods to replace eggs in recipes for years, but a good replacement for egg whites in meringues has remained elusive. Commercially available egg replacers have been available for some time, but they just don’t really cut it in meringues.
Vegan food experimenter extraordinaire Miyoko Schinner had some success by extracting the mucilage (lignan) from flax seeds. However, flax seed meringues were a bit complicated and unpredictable; the foam doesn’t always hold up and the flavour of flax can be off-putting.
In 2014, Joël Roessel, a ténor from France, discovered that liquid from cooked chick peas can be whipped into a foam and used to make a vegan meringue. He shared the results on his blog at www.revolutionvegetale.com. Joël says his theory is based on molecular cuisine, science and common sense! However, his recipes were a bit too technical for a wide audience relying on the addition of vegetable gums, starches and stabilizers.
Then in 2015, Goose Wohlt, a software engineer and self-confessed foodie in the US, discovered that stable vegan meringue can be made without any extra ingredients, provided the right techniques are used. He posted a simple recipe on Facebook and the rest is history!
Goose called the chick pea water ‘aquafaba’. The Facebook group Vegan Meringues – Hits and Misses! was set up to encourage discussion and experimentation with aquafaba. It has since been used to make marshmallows, macarons, nougat, cakes, choux pastry, soufflés, royal icing and mayonnaise. The official aquafaba website can be found here.
I have made the meringues, macarons, mayonnaise and chocolate mousse (which is incredibly light and fluffy!) and have to say, they were all astonishingly good. Some are calling it plant-based molecular gastronomy, I prefer to think of it as the new wave of vegan cooking, leaving the nut cutlets and lentil bakes for the sandal-wearing brigade.
We frequently hear how plant foods have a substantially lower impact on the environment than meat and dairy. Plant foods use fewer resources (land, water and fossil fuels), and produce considerably less greenhouse gases. Some people think vegans miss out, this is simply not true (unless you are talking about saturated fat, cholesterol and growth hormones!). In the last couple of years there has been a huge increase in the amount of exciting, innovative vegan food being produced. The new wave of vegan fine dining may be an opportunity that we can’t afford to ignore.
Vegans really can have it all!