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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


Homemade Marshmallows

Photo Credit: Heather Katsoulis (hlkljgk/Flickr)

Photo Credit: Heather Katsoulis (hlkljgk/Flickr)

Whether you prefer them toasted over a campfire, bobbing in a cup of hot chocolate, or roasted over a bed of sweet potatoes, marshmallows are an ooey-gooey fluffy treat that just finds a way warm the cockles of your heart.

Marshmallows, like other well-known aerated confections – think mousses, ice cream, meringues –  are essentially made of four basic components: sugar, water, air, and a hydrocolloid.  Hydrocolloids, often called “food gums” are polysaccharides, or typically large-branching proteins, that form thick gels when they interact with water. [1]

Their ability to bind to water molecules makes them hydrophilic (or “water-loving”), and their ability to remain suspended and dispersed evenly in the water (without settling to the bottom) makes the substance a colloid. Thus, food gums are hydrophilic colloids, or hydrocolloids.

Photo Credit:  Daniel Campagna (Chefpedia)

Photo Credit: Daniel Campagna (Chefpedia)

Hydrocolloids are added to many foods we eat – as thickening agents in pie fillings or gravies, gelling agents in puddings and jams, foam stabilizers in beer and meringues, film formers in sausage casings, emulsifiers in salad dressing, and even fat replacers in frostings and muffins.  Common examples of hydrocolloids are starch, xanthan gum, locust bean gum, alginate, pectin, carrageenan, and agar, which all influence the texture and mechanical stability of many foods.  [1][2]

In marshmallows, the hydrocolloid responsible for the chewy, bouncy texture we know and love is gelatin. While gelatin is one of the most popular commercial hydrocolloids, it is definitely not the most glamorous.  Gelatin is made of collagen, which is the structural protein derived from animal skin, connective tissue, and bones. In fact, mainstream gelatin is usually obtained from pigskin, cattle bones, and cattle hide. [3] Gelatin is unique because not only does it function as a foam stabilizer for the marshmallows [4], but when it is mixed with water, gelatin forms a thermally-reversible gel.  These gelatin gels have a melting temperature just below body temperature (< 35°C or 95 °F), so the gel product literally melts in your mouth and releases intense flavor immediately as it dissolves, which is a difficult quality to replicate with other hydrocolloids. [3]  

Gelatin makes marshmallows chewy by forming a tangled 3-D network of polymer chains.  Once gelatin is dissolved in warm water (dubbed the “blooming stage”), it forms a dispersion, which results in a cross-linking of its helix-shaped chains.  The linkages in the gelatin protein network, called “junction zones” trap air in the marshmallow mixture and immobilize the water molecules in the network . The result? The famously spongy structure of marshmallows! [1]  This is why the omission of gelatin from a homemade marshmallow recipe will result in marshmallow crème, since there is no gelatin network to trap the water and air bubbles.

And for the gelatin-averse, worry not! There are indeed many hydrocolloid alternatives to gelatin. However, since gelatin has so many different functions (gelling agent, emulsifier, stabilizer, thickener, etc.), its alternatives are not universal. Rather, substitutes are specific to each specific food application. In our case, some have suggested pectin – a polysaccharide from the cell walls of plants – as the ideal replacement for gelatin in marshmallows [1].

Agar agar is a commonly used vegetarian alternative for jellies.  Photo Credit: I Believe I Can Fry (johnnystiletto/Flickr)

Agar agar is a commonly used vegetarian alternative for jellies.
Photo Credit: I Believe I Can Fry (johnnystiletto/Flickr)

Pectin, carrageenan (a polysaccharide from red seaweeds), or combinations of both can replicate the elastic texture and intense flavor release that gelatin provides for marshmallows. However, since the melting points of both pectin and carrageenan are not the same as the melting point of gelatin – which, as you recall, is slightly below body temperature, marshmallows made with pectin or carrageenan don’t have the quite the same “melt-in-your-mouth” sensation. [1]

* Note: Carrageenan gels are unique in that their melting temperature can be modified, depending on the solution concentration of the carrageenan and the presence of cations, so the melting temperature ranges from 40°C (104°F) and 70°C (158°F).

* Note: Carrageenan gels are unique in that their melting temperature can be modified, depending on the solution concentration of the carrageenan and the presence of cations, so its melting temperature ranges from 40°C (104°F) and 70°C (158°F).

As you can see, none of the gelatin alternatives have the appropriate melting temperatures to replicate gelatin’s melt-in-your-mouth sensation. However, this does prove advantageous in the fact that they can last longer on hot days or in hot, tropical climates and they do not require refrigeration to set.

No matter what you prefer for as a hydrocolloid, pillowy marshmallows can made with the same basic recipe:

Photo Credit: Joy (joyosity/Flickr)

Photo Credit: Joy (joyosity/Flickr)

Ingredients

For the bloom:
3 tablespoons (typically 3 packets) unflavored gelatin powder
1/2 cup cold water

*Vegan Substitution: 2 ½ tablespoons agar agar + ½ cup and 2 tablespoons water
Alternatively, this vegan marshmallow recipe is worth checking out:

For the marshmallows:
3/4 cup water
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup sugar cane syrup or corn syrup
Pinch of salt

For the marshmallow coating:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
non-stick cooking spray


Equipment
Bowls and measuring cups
Fork or small whisk
9×13 baking pan or other flat container
4-quart saucepan (slightly larger or smaller is ok)
Pastry brush (optional)
Candy thermometer
Stand mixer with a wire whisk attachment
Stiff spatula or spoon (as opposed to a rubbery, flexible one)
Sharp knife or pizza wheel

Instructions

  1. Prepare pans and equipment: Spray the baking pan with cooking spray. Use a paper towel to wipe the pan and make sure there’s a thin film on every surface, corner, and side. Set it near your stand mixer, along with the kitchen towel and spatula. Fit the stand mixer with the whisk attachment.
  2. Bloom the gelatin/agar: Measure the gelatin or agar into the bowl of the stand mixer. Combine 1/2 cup cold water in a measuring cup and pour this over the gelatin or agar while whisking gently with a fork. Continue stirring until the gelatin or agar has dissolved or reached the consistency of apple sauce and there are no more large lumps. Set the bowl back in your standing mixer. (Alternatively, you can bloom the gelatin or agar in a small cup and transfer it to the stand mixer.)
    * NOTE: You can add about 1 tablespoon of powdered flavorings to your hydrocolloid while it is blooming in the water.

    Photo Credit: Joy (joyosity/Flickr)

    Photo Credit: Joy (joyosity/Flickr)

  3. Combine the ingredients for the syrup: Pour 3/4 cup water into the 4-quart saucepan. Pour the sugar, corn syrup, and salt on top. Do not stir.
  4. Bring the sugar syrup to a boil: Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring it to a full, rapid boil — all of the liquid should be boiling. As it is coming to a bowl, occasionally dip a pastry brush in water and brush down the sides of the pot. This prevents sugar crystals from falling into the liquid, which can cause the syrup to crystallize. If you don’t have a pastry brush, cover the pan for 2 minutes once the mixture is at a boil so the steam can wash the sides.
    Do not stir the sugar once it has come to a boil or it may crystallize!
  5. Boil the syrup to 247°F to 250°F: Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the sauce pan and continue boiling until the sugar mixture reaches 247°F to 250°F. Take the pan off the heat and remove the thermometer.
  6. Whisk the hot syrup into the gelatin / agar: Turn on your mixer to medium speed. Carefully pour the hot sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin or agar. The mixture may foam up — just go slowly and carefully.
  7. Increase speed and continue beating: When all the syrup has been added, cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and increase the speed to high (the cloth protects from splatters — the cloth can be removed after the marshmallows have started to thicken).

    Photo Credit: Joy (joyosity/Flickr)

    Photo Credit: Joy (joyosity/Flickr)

  8. Beat marshmallows until thick and glossy: Whip for about 10 minutes. At first, the liquid will be very clear and frothy. Around 3 minutes, the liquid will start looking opaque, white, and creamy, and the bowl will be very warm to the touch. Around 5 minutes, the marshmallow will start to increase in volume. You’ll see thin, sticky strands between the whisk and the side of the bowl; these strands will start to thicken into ropes over the next 5 minutes. The marshmallow may not change visually in the last few minutes, but continue beating for the full 10 minutes. When you finish beating and stop the mixer, it will resemble soft-serve vanilla ice cream.
    * NOTE: Add 1- 2 tablespoons of liquid flavorings during the last couple minutes of the beating process. (See Ideas Section below.)
  9. Immediately transfer to the baking pan: With the mixer running on medium, slowly lift (or lower, depending on your model) the whisk out of the bowl so it spins off as much marshmallow as possible. Using your stiff spatula, scrape the as much of the thick and sticky marshmallow mixture into the pan as you can.
    * NOTE: If you want mini marshmallows, after mixing, immediately put the mixture in a piping bag and pipe out your mini marshmallows in the size and shape of your choice.

    Photo Credit: Joy (joyosity/Flickr)

    Photo Credit: Joy (joyosity/Flickr)

  10. Let the marshmallows set for 6 to 24 hours: Spray your hands lightly with cooking oil and smooth the top of the marshmallow to make it as even as possible. Let the mixture sit uncovered and at room temperature for 6 to 24 hours to set.
  11. Prepare the marshmallow coating: Combine the powdered sugar and cornstarch in a bowl.
  12. Remove the marshmallows from the pan: Sprinkle the top of the cured marshmallows with some of the powdered sugar mix and smooth it with your hand. Flip the block of marshmallows out onto your work surface. Use a spatula to pry them out of the pan if necessary. Sprinkle more powdered sugar mixture over the top of the marshmallow block.

    Photo Credit: Joy (joyosity/Flickr)

    Photo Credit: Joy (joyosity/Flickr)

  13. Cut the marshmallows: Using a sharp knife or pizza wheel, cut the marshmallows into squares. It helps to dip your knife in water every few cuts. (You can also cut the marshmallows with cookie cutters.)
  14. Coat each square with powdered sugar mix: Toss each square in the powdered sugar mix so all the sides are evenly coated.

    Photo Credit: Joy (joyosity/Flickr)

    Photo Credit: Joy (joyosity/Flickr)

  15. Store the marshmallows: Marshmallows will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for several weeks. Leftover marshmallow coating can be stored in a sealed container indefinitely.

Ideas:

  • Add Flavorings: You can add about a tablespoon of either powdered or liquid flavorings/food colorings to the marshmallows at Step 2 or Step 8, respectively, in the recipe.
  • Sweet Marshmallows
    – classic: vanilla extract, almond extract, cocoa powder
    – floral: rose water, orange blossom water
    – spiced: cinnamon, pumpkin spice, cardamom, nutmeg, chai tea, peppermint
    – fruity: passion fruit, strawberry, mango, lemon juices
  • Savory Marshmallows
    –  A great base for savory marshmallows: PopSci:Sechuan Peppercorn Marshmallow
    – garlic salt and pepper
    – pesto (I’m imagining a pillowy caramelized pesto-marshmallow roasted on top of a pizza!)
    – hot sauce
  • Add citric acid or cream of tartar to stabilize the inverted sugars in your recipe and prevent them from crystallizing, essentially ensuring that your marshmallows remain fluffy and chewy.
  • Add your sugar syrup into whipped egg whites to incorporate extra air volume and structure for spongier, pillowy marshmallows.
  • DIY Lucky Charms: You can make your own dehydrated marshmallows, similar to the ones found in breakfast cereals (but without all the suspicious additives) by evaporating the water from the sugar solution in your homemade marshmallows.  Various methods are described here.


Recipe adapted from

References Cited

    1. Saha, D., Bhattacharya, S. Hydrocolloids as thickening and gelling agents in food: a critical review. Journal of Food Science and Technology. December 2010; 47(6): 587-597.
    2. Gum“. Food @ OSU.
    3. Karim, A. A., Bhat, R. Gelatin alternatives for the food inudustry: recent developments, challenges and prospects. Trends in Food Science & Technology. December 2008; 19(12): 644-656.
    4. Gelatin. Gelatin Food Science. 14 Dec. 1998.

Eunice LiuAbout the author: Eunice Liu is studying Neuroscience and Linguistics at UCLA. She attributes her love of food science to an obsession with watching bread rise in the oven.

Read more by Eunice Liu


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