The meringue man
Inspired by his six-year-old son, Goose Wohlt has been vegan for over a year. The 42-year-old lives in Indiana, USA, and is the president and CEO of a software firm, Echo Systems, Inc. World over, however, he is known as the aquafaba man.
In 2014, after Joël Roessel, a French tenor singer, discovered that the water in a can of beans could foam up like egg whites when whipped, he made meringues using the canning liquid as a foaming agent along with corn starch and vegetable gum. “Shortly after that, I heard about a video where people were using liquid from cans of chickpeas as foam for a mousse dessert, and I wondered if I could use it in my meringue experiments,” says Wohlt in an email interview. Wohlt then set out on a quest to make a vegan egg substitute that could be used to make meringues or fry in a pan.
Mayonnaise made using aqua faba
“When I tried to use chickpea brine, I felt it was acting as a complete egg replacer, able to act as a broad spectrum ingredient that could replace the protein, carbohydrate and vegetable gum that everyone else was relying on. I posted the recipe for a two-ingredient meringue in a Facebook group and it exploded in popularity,” says Wohlt.
Aquafaba is the name for the water in which legumes (like chickpeas) are cooked and which is being used as a replacement for egg in many recipes. “When you cook legume seeds in water, the proteins, carbohydrates, and other plant material (like gums) are pulled out into the cooking water in approximately the same ratio as found in the bean that is being cooked. This magical combination provides various properties found in eggs, such as binding, emulsifying, and foaming, making it a great egg replacement,” Wohlt explains.
While there are many egg replacements around — baking powder, mashed fruits or ground nuts, or commercial egg substitutes — Wohlt felt their taste was offensive and textures hard to mask. “My aim was to make meringues that didn’t taste like cardboard and vegan sunny side up fried eggs that didn't leave a slimy or sticky mouth feel. Aquafaba provided a way to solve some of those problems.”
In 2015, Wohlt launched a development group on Facebook with Rebecca August to encourage people to experiment, share, and support one another in order to tease out the remaining secrets of aquafaba. “I tried to encourage open development by posting discoveries as I made them such as reductions, filtering, extended whipping times, hot foams, powders, and recipes like marshmallows and angel food cakes.
By posting these discoveries (and failures), others were encouraged. I also set up www.aquafaba.com to help share information about aquafaba, raise funds for phytochemical and nutritional analysis, and let people know where to go to join the party,” says Wohlt pointing out that aquafaba isn't a perfect egg replacer.
“There are other modern ingredients too, but no one can beat aquafaba when it comes to using it for recipes that call for replacing one or two eggs. Much of its power comes from how accessible it is.”