Cool beans: Aquafaba, or chickpea water, is gracing cocktails in Dallas -- and making vegans happy

At Dallas restaurant The Theodore, bar manager Hugo Osorio enjoys making a good egg white cocktail -- from the time and attention it takes to its silky, foam-layered result. But while a number of his regulars like to try new things, he says, for a few of them, "when I give them a whiskey sour, they're like, 'I can't. I'm vegan.'"

That's where aquafaba comes in.

A portmanteau combining the Latin words for bean (faba) and water (aqua) it is, as Bon Appetit put it, "the translucent viscous goop you probably rinse down the drain when you open a can of chickpeas."

In other words: chickpea water.

In Dallas and around the country, aquafaba is becoming part of the bartender's toolkit. And while patrons might struggle to tell the difference, bartenders say it offers distinct advantages over egg whites. For one, it's vegan. Aquafaba is also accessible and versatile.

For most, the typical course of action here is to drain the chickpeas and throw out the liquid. For anyone who makes cocktails at home, that would be a mistake.

As detailed on his site Aquafaba.com, it was Indiana software engineer Goose Wohlt who sparked aquafaba's popularity in 2015 after finding a French chef's video showing how the liquid from beans, or hearts of palm, could be used, in tandem with starch and gum, to make a vegan meringue for a chocolate mousse. After some experimentation, he found that chickpea liquid could be used all by itself to achieve the same effect. He posted his discovery to a popular vegan Facebook page, What F.A.T. Vegans Eat.

It's since spawned a fervent vegan following and a persnickety, fast-growing Facebook group with 84,000 members who share and celebrate aquafaba's culinary possibilities. "Please don't thank us for adding you to the group!" reads a post pinned to the top of the group's discussion page. "Posts like that will be deleted, and a comment on this post only clutters up the questions people may have. Thank us by diving into your kitchens and creating something AQUAFABULOUS!"

At Uptown's Standard Pour, assistant manager Reid Lewis came across aquafaba after feeling compelled to seek egg-white alternatives "with the surge of veganism and healthy eating and people being conscious of all that." She started using it for whiskey sours and even the painstaking Ramos gin fizz, but it didn't actually appear on a menu until it did under the moniker By Any Other Name, a New Year's Eve menu option including gin, sweet vermouth, lemon and pink peppercorn.

At Shoals Sound & Service in Deep Ellum, bar manager Omar Yeefoon, who is vegan, has made aquafaba a firmly embedded feature at his classic-cocktails-minded bar. There, it helps make the Pisco Sour, anchored by gorgeously floral Caravedo Torontel pisco, a silky swig of beauty.

See? Here are drained chickpeas to the right and a highly usable cocktail ingredient on the left.

In cooking, egg whites are added for texture, generating a mix of airiness and lift that enhances a dish. In cocktails, they produce a layer of velvety foam that's visually striking and soft on the palate, one that can be garnished with a splash or swirl of bitters, or a sprig of thyme. "The fat from eggs soaks up flavor," Yeefoon says. "That makes a sour (cocktail) soft and nice."

But egg white has its disadvantages, and not just for vegans: One shortcoming is a faint, off-putting aroma that some compare to wet metal or even wet dog. That's easily counteracted with a splash of aromatic bitters, or an herb or floral garnish, since the foam layer doubles as a convenient canvas. It's a happy union.

Aquafaba, like egg white, acts as an emulsifier and a foaming agent. Bartenders say it freezes well and offers better consistency and efficiency without altering the taste of the drink.

"It's almost hard to tell the difference," says the bar manager at Shoals, comparing egg whites to aquafaba.

"The texture is nice, without that fat blocking a lot of the sharp edges. It doesn't interfere with the other ingredients as much as egg white does, either."

A tale of two Sours: On the left, a Whiskey Sour I made using egg white; on the right, the same drink with aquafaba. The difference, if any, was negligible; both were delicious but the aquafaba seemed more practical: The chickpeas went straight into a dinner recipe.

With an egg-white cocktail, bartenders start with a "dry shake," shaking the egg white and ingredients without ice to start the emulsification. Some begin by shaking the egg white solo, then adding the other ingredients, except for the ice, and shaking again. Then the ice is added for a final shake before straining into a glass.

With aquafaba, the process is much the same. Osorio actually skips the dry shake altogether, shaking the aquafaba and the other ingredients, with ice, simultaneously. Overall, most bartenders say the process doesn't take as long as egg white, using anywhere from one-third to half an ounce of aquafaba per drink.

A mezcal-based cocktail featuring aquafaba that Osorio plans to add to the menu this spring at The Theodore in Dallas.

Christine Farkas of Canada-based I Heart Food consulting uses aquafaba mostly for cooking, but she's dabbled in cocktails as well, preparing her aquafaba foam with sugar before combining it with the rest of the ingredients for shaking. (Her recipe for a Pineapple Pisco Sour, which includes a lime aquafaba preparation, can be found here.)

"When it comes to aquafaba, you can't over-whip it," Farkas says. "You can whip it up; it has structure. And if it deflates, you just whip it up again. It's one of those cost-effective ingredients, a byproduct we would normally be tossing out."

It's no coincidence, then, that a chickpea salad sandwich appeared on Shoals' minimalist menu soon after Yeefoon started using aquafaba. While he prefers canned chickpea water (for the preservatives), Osorio of the Theodore, which also offers hummus, procured raw chickpeas from the kitchen and let them sit in water for a couple of days, oozing proteins, to make his own.

Reaction has been positive. "People find it really cool that you can work around their lifestyle," Lewis says. "It's nice to have that flexibility behind the bar and make sure there's something for everybody."

Both The Standard Pour and The Theodore plan to add aquafaba cocktails to their spring menus.

Osorio's, shown above, features mezcal, lime, agave syrup, Yellow Chartreuse, orange blossom water, tarragon and a few dashes of a beet-ginger cordial.

"People are really surprised," Osorio says. "Especially the vegans. Because when you make things their way, they get excited."

Here's how to make a Whiskey Sour using aquafaba

INGREDIENTS

2 oounces bourbon
1 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1/3 to 1/2 ounce aquafaba (depending how much foam you like)

Add ingredients to a shaker with ice and shake vigorously for about 30 seconds. Strain into a glass (iced, if you prefer) and garnish with a half-orange wheel and a cherry.

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