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Aquafaba Meringues

Photo credit: veganbaking.net (vegan-baking/Flickr)

Photo credit: veganbaking.net (vegan-baking/Flickr)

Dr. Kent Kirshenbaum flew from NYC to LA to speak at our March 8th public lecture about the impact of what we eat, sharing the stage with Dr. Amy Rowat, Dr. Paul Thompson, and Chef Daniel Patterson. Impressively he brought along with him a case of hundreds of homemade vegan meringues for lecture attendees to nosh on after the event.

In lieu of egg whites, the meringues contained aquafaba, the liquid from canned chickpeas. To the surprise and delight of Science & Food guests, the airy confections were devoid of any chickpea flavor. Some reached for seconds (or guilty thirds) while others wondered how Dr. Kirshenbaum was able to transport the fragile cookies across the country without any of them breaking. (Note from backstage: all the cookies were in mint condition when we received the case from Dr. Kirshenbaum–until moments before the event when one of us volunteers fumbled during setup and dropped one. Oops!)

Whether you want to recreate Dr. Kirshenbaum’s aquafaba meringues because you loved them so much or you couldn’t make the event, we have the recipe below!

A Science & Food volunteer offers lecture attendees Dr. Kent Kirshenbaum's amazing vegan meringues.

A Science & Food volunteer offers guests Dr. Kent Kirshenbaum’s amazing vegan meringues.
Photo credit: Abbie F. Swanson (@dearabbie/Twitter)

Aquafaba Meringues

1/2 to 3/4 cup of liquid drained from a 15 oz can of chickpeas
1/2 cup sugar

1. Preheat oven to 215 °F.

2. Using an electric mixer, beat the canned chickpeas liquid at high speed until stiff peaks form.

3. Once peaks have formed, add sugar one tablespoon at a time. After all the sugar is incorporated, if the foam feels gritty, keep whipping until the mixture is smooth.

4. Spoon or pipe the meringue in 1.5 inch dollops onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets.

5. Bake at 215 °F for 1.5 hours.

6. After baking, turn off the oven and crack the oven door open to allow the cookies to cool to room temperature. Store cookies in an airtight container.


Alice PhungAbout the author: Alice Phung once had her sights set on an English degree, but eventually switched over to chemistry and hasn’t looked back since.

Read more by Alice Phung


Aquafaba & Other Hopes for Delicious Egg-free Meringues

Photo credit: veganbaking.net (vegan-baking/Flickr)

Photo credit: veganbaking.net (vegan-baking/Flickr)

Meringues are one of the few desserts that are simple yet elegant works of art. They are also precursors to other impressive, albeit considerably more complicated, desserts such as baked Alaska, lemon meringue pies, and macarons. At the bare minimum, all you need to make a fluffy meringue is egg whites, sugar, and an electric mixer—or an egg beater and some arm power. For vegans, this egg-containing dessert is not an option—but why should vegans (and those with egg allergies) miss out on this sweet, airy dollop of heaven?

To make a decent egg-free meringue, it helps to understand the meringue at the molecular level. How does a liquid get whipped into a cloud-like solid?

Egg whites, comprising 90% water, are undeniably runny. The other 10% consists of proteins, which play a major role in the fluid-to-fluff transformation. Mechanical stress from rigorously beating the egg whites causes the egg white proteins to denature, unfold from their natural structure. This exposes various amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, to the rapidly aerating environment. Some of the amino acids are hydrophobic (water-fearing), and some are hydrophilic (water-loving). As the egg whites are whipped, hydrogen bonds form between the hydrophilic amino acids and water in the egg whites. The hydrophobic amino acids prefer to be exposed to the air that is quickly beaten into the liquid mixture. Air ends up trapped in the meshwork of denatured proteins within the developing foam, and so the longer the mixture is beaten, the fluffier it gets. To retain the trapped air bubbles and generate peaks that stand up straight, sugar is added as a stabilizer. And eccola! Una nuvola dolce nella ciotola; a fluffy meringue is ready to bake or prepare into macarons or boccone dolce.

To create an equally amazing and delicious vegan counterpart, the egg whites would have to be substituted with an ingredient that has both water-loving and water-fearing parts. Logic may think to search for a plant-based protein alternative, but French chef Joël Roessel discovered that chickpea brine works perfectly well as a vegan egg-white substitute [1]. Coined aquafaba by Goose Wohlt (Latin for “bean water”), the leftover water from a can of chickpeas can be combined with sugar and whisked into a vegan meringue that surprisingly tastes nothing like beans. Of all the possible substitutions, why does aquafaba work in lieu of egg whites?

Photo credit: getselfsufficient/Flickr

Water leftover from cooking chickpeas, also known as aquafaba, can be used in lieu of egg whites. Photo credit: getselfsufficient/Flickr

Anne Rieder, a scientist at the Norwegian food research institute Nofima, analyzed aquafaba and revealed that the bean water contains equal amounts of proteins and carbohydrates [2]. The function of proteins in the aquafaba are similar for meringue-making; Rieber suggests that the carbohydrates may serve as an additional stabilizer by increasing the viscosity of the water portion of the foam.

To create foams like meringues, Kent Kirshenbaum, a professor at NYU, was inspired by chemistry to invent a foaming agent that is rich in saponins, currently awaiting patent approval. Saponins are a class of chemicals found in plants, including beans like chickpeas. The name derives from the soapwort plant, Saponaria, which contains the Latin root for soap, sapo; this is a fitting name, given the compound’s propensity to foam when shaken in water [3]. Like the amino acids of proteins, saponin molecules contain a hydrophobic and a hydrophilic moiety that enables them to interact with both air and water.

Whatever the reason for avoiding eggs, at least you won’t have to forfeit the heavenly delight that is a lightweight meringue cookie.

References cited

  1. Aquafaba history.” The Official Aquafaba Website.
  2. Aquafaba, what is its chemical composition?Frie kaker.
  3. Saponins.” Cornell University Department of Animal Sciences.

Alice PhungAbout the author: Alice Phung once had her sights set on an English degree, but eventually switched over to chemistry and hasn’t looked back since.

Read more by Alice Phung


Kent Kirshenbaum

Dr. Kent Kirshenbaum received his PhD in Pharmaceutical Chemistry at UCSF, is an NSF Career Award recipient, and is currently a professor of Chemistry at NYU. His research focuses on the creation of new peptide-based macromolecules that can be used as research tools or therapeutic strategies. In 2012, he filed a patent for a foaming agent which acts as a vegan substitute for egg whites, making vegan meringues a delicious possibility.

See Kent Kirshenbaum March 8, 2016 at “The Impact of What We Eat: From Science & Technology, To Eating Local”

Kent Kirshenbaum

What hooked you on cooking?
Spending time with my mom got me hooked on cooking. She exemplified the “slow food” concept, and she’d take days to make a pasta sauce. I grew up in a drafty house in San Francisco that was cold all year around, and being near her at the stove was the warmest place to be. Once my wife and I had kids, I realized how satisfying it was for me to provide my family with sustenance through cooking and culture through cuisine.
My dad got me hooked on science. He studied metallurgy and worked for a mining company. He would go on business trips and bring me back samples of different minerals to play with. It was kind of like the situation described in the book “Uncle Tungsten” by Oliver Sachs.
The coolest example of science in your food?
Mayonnaise. You take two immiscible liquids – oil and water, and find a way to get them to mix. How do they do that?? Add an emulsifier, provide some energy and voila! It’s just a shame the product itself is so repugnant.
The food you find most fascinating?
Fermented butters. Such as smen, the fermented butter of North Africa and “bog butter” from the British Isles.
What scientific concept–food related or otherwise–do you find most fascinating?
I’m fascinated by the relationship between the sequence, structure and function of proteins.
In the kitchen, transglutaminase — also known as meat glue — is a compelling example of enzymology. Nixtamilization is an amazing concept, and the word “nixtamilization” itself is like a really short poem.
Your best example of a food that is better because of science?
Either Pop Rocks or the clean water that comes out of my home faucet. Although I’m not sure either of them really qualify as a foodstuff.
We love comparing the gluten in bread to a network of springs. Are there any analogies you like to use to explain difficult or counter-intuitive food science concepts?
When explaining specificity in the sensory perception of food, I use the “lock in key” analogy to describe how ligands engage protein receptors. Although the analogy is imperfect, it begins to get the idea across.
How does your scientific knowledge or training impact the way you cook? Do you conduct science experiments in the kitchen?
Because I am trained as a chemist, I am fastidious about following a published protocol (recipe) and I tend to be absurdly precise about volumes. I love experimenting with food – we filed a patent application on new way to make vegan meringues. But when it comes to cooking at home I tend to be a traditionalist.
One kitchen tool you could not live without?
My home water carbonation system. I love sparkling water that I can generate from the New York City public water supply and doesn’t need to be shipped from a European spring.
Five things most likely to be found in your fridge?
Harissa, capers, preserved sour cherries, home-made stock and parmesan cheese. I get anxious if my supply of Reggiano is running low.
Your all-time favorite ingredient? Favorite cookbook?
I’m a spice guy. Right now I’m fixated on sumac and cardamom. My favorite cookbooks is “Where Flavor Was Born” by Andreas Viestad which explores how spices are used across the region of the Indian Ocean. It inspired me to visit a cardamom plantation in Kerala, India.
Other favorites include “In Nonna’s Kitchen” and “Cucina Ebraica”, because these books connect me to the memories of my mother and her mother.
Your standard breakfast?
A cup of black coffee and a baked good that I enjoy on my walk from home to my lab. New Yorkers have a bad habit of walking and eating. On the weekends, bagels and smoked salmon. No doughnuts. Never a doughnut. Maybe a beignet. But only in New Orleans.