Over the last few years, aquafaba has become all the rage within some alternative cooking circles.
In essence, it is the bean water from canned or cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans). Sometimes other types of legumes like faba beans are included in the definition as well. Technically speaking, aquafaba is similar to rice water, which has many health benefits. However, while the water from cooking rice is safe to consume, bean water is best avoided.
What is Aquafaba and How is it Used?
The sticky, thickened water from cooking beans has the curious ability to whip up just like egg whites, stiff peaks and all! Thus, it makes an excellent egg replacer for those allergic to eggs or those espousing a vegan diet.
Chickpea water, in particular, is useful for whipping up egg-free desserts from brownies to homemade ice cream. One reader of this blog commented that it works extremely well as nondairy milk for making homebrewed lattes.
Social media groups with thousands of fans regularly share a seemingly endless array of ideas, recipes and other suggestions for using it.
But, should you really be consuming this slimy, gel-like liquid? Is it safe? And more importantly, did traditional cultures use it? Certainly, given their frugality and “waste not, want not” mentality, if cooked bean water was healthy to use, a clear pattern of historical use would prove it, right?
The History of Aquafaba
Aquafaba as food for humanity is very new on the scene. A French tenor named Joël Roessel first considered its use as a foodstuff in 2014 while investigating the possibilities of vegetable-based foams.
Later, a pair of French thrill-seekers independently posted a viral video showing how to make a dessert out of whipped chickpea foam.
Goose Wohlt, a vegan software engineer living in Indiana, perfected aquafaba in 2015. He first used chickpea cooking water to make a meringue to take to Passover seder.
After vegan blogs picked up the idea, it migrated to social media forums, and a movement was quickly born.
The name aquafaba is a blend word combining “aqua”, meaning water, and “faba” for faba beans. Goose Wohlt originally coined the term with a community of social media fans adopting it. (1)
Not to be outdone, aquafaba quickly gained the attention of the food industry.
In 2015, the New York condiment company Sir Kensington’s debuted Fabanaise, the first aquafaba-based vegan mayo. $8.5 million in investment funding quickly followed. The product is highly profitable because the cooked chickpea water in the mayo is sourced as a waste product from an upstate hummus company. (2)
More industrial food uses are sure to follow.
Suffice it to say that the science of what constitutes aquafaba is not at all clear at the present time. This is not surprising given that aquafaba didn’t exist as a culinary ingredient prior to 2014.
Only the peer-reviewed publication, the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE) that publishes experimental methods in video format, uses the term as of this writing with research published in February 2018. (3)
Dr. Martin Reaney of the University of Saskatchewan in Canada led a team that found that the foam from canned chickpea aquafaba varies in composition depending on the commercial source. Processing methods are the determining factor such as soaking, cooking and/or dehydration. The pH, temperature, pressure, and duration of these methods affect its makeup as well.
Analysis using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy reveals that the foam consists mainly of polysaccharides, sucrose, and heat soluble protein fractions including defensin, histone, and superoxide dismutase among others. NMR also detected the storage proteins provicillin and leguminin.
Findings presented at the 2nd International Conference on Food Chemistry & Nutrition found that aquafaba quality from commercially canned chickpeas is inconsistent. (4)
Most alarmingly, Dr. Reaney’s research demonstrated the presence of saponins in aquafaba responsible for its soap-like foaming effect. This confirmed a hunch to that effect prior to testing. These chemicals are dangerous to human health, contributing to the development of leaky gut and potentially a miscarriage risk. More on this with citations below.
6 Reasons to Avoid Aquafaba
If you’ve been intrigued by the buzz about aquafaba and the chorus of some alternative voices who advocate using it, I would strongly advise you to hold back your enthusiasm and avoid jumping on the bandwagon at least for the time being.
Here are 6 reasons to stay cautious and not be an early adopter of this trend.
Canned Chickpea Water Dangers
Canned bean or chickpea water (liquid from any canned food for that matter!) is almost certainly laced with a chemical cocktail of hormone-disrupting substances. The industrialized packaging process involves pouring boiling hot food into cans lined with a thin layer of plastic containing the industrial chemical BPA. This triggers leaching of the chemicals into the water, and to a lesser extent, the food too.
The companies that profess to use BPA-free cans typically use another chemical called BPS, which is just as bad. The risks to your endocrine system from these chemicals are simply not worth it. Stay away!
If you absolutely must use chickpea water, then at least use the water from chickpeas packaged in glass jars.
Bean Water Not a Traditional Food
Evidence which suggests that traditional societies consumed legume cooking water is hard to find. Ancestral diet advocate Dr. Chris Masterjohn recommends drinking the water from soaking legumes for the folate content. (5) However, I could not find a solid ancestral reason for doing that either.
This piece of wisdom on the matter from the well-respected cookbook Nourishing Traditions:
Traditional societies whose cuisines are based on legumes prepare them with great care. Beans are soaked for long periods before they are cooked. The soaking water is poured off, the beans are rinsed and in the case of chickpeas the skins picked off. As the legumes cook, all foam that rises to the top of the cooking water is carefully skimmed off. Sometimes water is replaced midway during the cooking process. Such care in preparation ensures that legumes will be thoroughly digestible, and all the nutrients they provide well assimilated because such careful preparation neutralizes phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors and breaks down difficult to digest sugars.
It seems that if consuming the soaking or cooking water for beans and other legumes was a good idea, at least one culture would have done it. They certainly wouldn’t have replaced the cooking water halfway through cooking if they thought it was valuable to use as food! Obviously, carefully soaking and then replacing the cooking water indicates they were attempting to get rid of something. That something is anti-nutrients that harm health.
Old cookbooks published prior to the Green Revolution which kicked off around 1930-40 do not advocate using legume cooking water other than suggesting very small amounts for mashing beans. Until some solid anthropological evidence of this practice comes to light, it seems prudent to abstain from this recently popularized method.
File aquafaba under “fad” until further notice.
Aquafaba = Ultragassy
So you’ve decided that avoiding canned bean water because of the chemical risks from the packaging is a good idea. What about making aquafaba at home instead?
I’m sorry to tell you that homemade aquafaba is a bad idea too.
The reason is the large, complex sugars called oligosaccharides that are present in abundance in legumes. Humans, in fact, all mammals cannot digest them because they do not produce the enzyme alpha-galactosidase, which is necessary to break them down. No worries, as methane-producing microbes in the colon are happy to break them down for you instead. This makes for potentially embarrassing, smelly encounters with others. Gas, bloating and diarrhea are also common when these substances are eaten. (6)
Soaking and thoroughly cooking legumes have traditionally been the solution to eliminate this problem. However, if you consume the soaking and/or cooking water where the oligosaccharides go when they leave the chickpea, lentil or bean, then the gas prevention strategy is lost. Keep a bottle of Bean-o on hand in that case as it contains the necessary enzyme and will beat the methane microbes to
the bean the punch.
Better yet, skip the aquafaba meringues at the office party.
Dangers of Saponins
As confirmed by research, the presence of saponins is responsible for the egg white-like foaming effect from whipping chickpea water.
Saponins are a class of chemicals present in legumes in significant amounts. (7, 8, 9). Agave also contains a lot.
Saponins are a toxic steroid derivative that disrupts red blood cells. They should be avoided during pregnancy as consumption can induce a miscarriage by stimulating uterine blood flow. They also contribute to the development of leaky gut over time by damaging the gut wall.
Does eating aquafaba once or twice damage the gut? Probably not. But using it as your primary egg replacement for months or years is a risky move!
Saponins are thermally sensitive and dissolve in water when soaked or blanched causing a detergent-like effect. Notice the picture of the cooking beans on my stove below. Do you want to eat that saponin-loaded foam? Really?? Maybe try whipping the detergent water from washing your clothes for that next batch of egg-free macaroons too.
Note that the quotation from Nourishing Traditions above states that legume-eating traditional cultures carefully skimmed off this foam. Obviously, they knew that this stuff was dangerous since their preparation methods incorporated this step.
Beware of propaganda suggesting that consumption of saponins increases hydration and cellular uptake of water or is otherwise beneficial to health. Eating them has no benefit in the diet whatsoever. Avoiding them is one reason we cook beans and shouldn’t consume the cooking water even if it whips up nice and pretty for making desserts.
Faba Bean Dangers
Naming aquafaba after the faba bean, in particular, was clearly a Freudian slip! Faba beans are the most dangerous legume of all that can cause serious health problems in a large swath of the world’s population.
Faba beans, more popularly known as fava beans, are the most dangerous legume in the world, accounting for a serious and potentially life-threatening reaction that 400 million people worldwide are susceptible to.
Consumption can trigger a hemolytic anemia episode known as Favism after the fava (faba) bean. This is due to the most common human enzyme deficiency related response in the world called Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency. It typically occurs in people of Mediterranean, Southeast Asian, or African descent. It is particularly dangerous in children.
If you are genetically susceptible to the dangers of faba beans, I sure wouldn’t be going and consuming aquafaba made from them either!
Egg Nutrition “Whips” Aquafaba
Ultimately, the biggest reason to avoid aquafaba is that it doesn’t come close to replacing the nutrition of eggs. Comparing anti-nutrient loaded, detergent-like bean water that few if anyone in history consumed to Nature’s perfect food prized by numerous indigenous societies for its unmatched blend of healthy fats and complete protein is just plain foolish!
My advice to aquafaba fans? Eat your eggs my friends and get them from your own backyard hens, a neighbor, or farmer’s market if you are rightfully concerned about the horrid abuse of birds used to produce commercial eggs. If you are allergic to chicken eggs, try duck eggs or goose eggs which some people tolerate much better.
If you truly need an egg substitute, try this chia seed egg replacement. You won’t get gas from it or damage your intestinal health like with bean water!
I’m going to go collect the gorgeous eggs from my backyard henhouse now!
*The Healthy Home Economist receives no revenue from the meat, egg or dairy industry. Nor does she own stock or have any financial interest in companies supporting these industries.
Sarah, I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous. How do you make bean soup? You add water, correct? That water is then technically aquafaba. Aquafaba is nothing more than water combined with beans. There are no weird secret ingredients that don’t already exist in the beans themselves.
This entire article is nothing but ignorant fearmongering.
I would refer you to the section of the article above about how traditional societies prepared beans!
What about quinoa?
Quinoa is also very high in anti-nutrients like saponins. Traditional cultures also soaked and thoroughly cooked it before eating with the soaking/cooking waters disposed of.
To check I called my Turkish grandmother(Age 82), she confirms she does use the cooking water in all soups and stews since she was young, I unfortunately don’t have a pre WW2 cook book to find a written recipe to show. What makes you think anything after WW2 is not traditional? 🙂
The Green Revolution 🙂 This is a misnomer for what actually occurred during this period. This is when modern pesticide/herbicide based farming and cooking practices took over, with traditional methods gradually being forgotten. Prior to that time, everything was grown organically. I’ve had folks on this blog say that CRISCO is traditional too as “their grandmothers baked cookies with it”. Unfortunately, CRISCO was invented in the 1920’s and hence is not a traditional food by a long shot. Was your Grandmother born in the 1800’s? Mine was … she was born in 1890 and learned traditional methods (French). Depending on your Grandmother’s age, she might not be old enough to know for sure.
My mother is 87 … and I can tell you … she did not cook with traditional methods! She learned to cook post Green Revolution.
Hey Sarah, I usually dont participate in online comments but your article contains a couple of short cuts which are technically incorrect and which you use to induce fear of aquafaba where it might not be justified. While you might be right that aquafaba has not been thoroughly researched simply because it is a novel product and it generally is good to caution against possible side effects, it is simply not cool to cite literature in a misleading way that bolsters your specific argument.
1.) The publications from the University of Saskatchewan only show that the quality of bean water which is commercially available is inconsistent to make the point that, at the moment, also the composition of aquafaba from canned sources differs which makes it difficult to describe overall properties of aquafaba from cans (in particular with regards to sodium content). They also suggest that further work is needed to develop a homogeneous aquafaba product which they implicitly encourage!
2.) Your mentioning of the broad bean, Vicia faba, is misleading in this context. Broad bean belongs to another genus, Vicia, as beans that are generally used to make aquafaba (mostly from genera Cicer and Phaseolus). They are generally consumed as a fresh bean, not from dried beans, a big difference for the generation of aquafaba. Yes, favism is a great problem, however, I am not aware of large scale attempts to use the cooking water from broad bean for aquafaba.
3.) Finally, your comment about the name is also misleading. All discussed genera (Cicer, Phaseolus, Vicia) belong to the bean family, Fabaceae. Yes, the name aquafaba resembles the name for broad bean, Vicia fava, however, the latin word faba was often used to refer to beans in general (as seen from the use for the name of the family). Since it was slowly discovered, that many representatives of the Fabacaeae family can be used to generate aquafaba, it makes absolutely sense to name the product after this family and the person who first thought of the name was actually quite correct (even though they might not have realized it at the time).
I appreciate your input, BUT the main warning from Dr. Reaney’s research is that aquafaba DOES contain saponins. These potent plant anti-nutrients are dangerous to consume during pregnancy and have been scientifically shown to contribute to the development of leaky gut … a total plague on modern society today. Those that eat aquafaba regularly are at serious intestinal risk from all that anti-nutrient exposure.
Thank you for posting this! I have some vegan friends that are so into aquafaba. Had no idea it was dangerous during pregnancy! One of them keeps miscarrying too.
Are you kidding me? You went to Penn and cite no SOURCES for your outrageous claims? We arent stupid. Stop treating us as though we are. “Almost” and “Most certainly” aren’t terms used in peer reviewed or other well researched studies. Do tell us what motovates you so strongly to hate an innocent bean so much to write such a weak article attempting to damn a perfectly healthy practice. You sound uneducated and ridiculous.
There are 9 sources cited and linked in the article. I also cited a study from a peer reviewed journal (the only one currently for aquafaba). Please read the article 🙂
Total BS! Beans ARE a traditional food.
Yes indeed. Beans are very much a traditional food! The cooking water is NOT.
People have been ingesting aquafaba for as long as they’ve been eating bean soup. Any bad health results from eating aquafaba is due to the added sugars used to make most of the treats, not the bean water itself.
Bean soup does not traditionally use the cooking water!
Michael, please do tell us all about “happy chickens.” Do you mean the ones who are hatched in incubation trays who never have a mother, or those “happy” ones who will never have the opportunity to engage in normal chicken behavior with males of their species and get to raise their own chicks?
Hahahaha, you’re all so worried. Run and hide, your industries are dying.
After reading your article I would like to point out a couple of things:
1) One does not have to buy chickpeas in their canned form; the organic ones I get come in a glass jar
2) I used to think chickpeas gave me digestive « issues »; until I realized gluten was at the source of my troubles. Not a fad: I suffered from gas and bad belly aches for nearly three decades. Seven years ago, after three weeks of eliminating gluten from our diet (I was actually doing it for my husband) suddenly my guts were at peace!!! Now I can have all the chickpeas I want without being in pain. And as for the aquafaba, which I use in some of my gluten-free dough recipes, the amount is so low (50 ml for a total of 600g bread rolls) that I very much doubt I am putting my health as risk.