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Is aquafaba truly a cocktail game changer?

A vegan substitute for egg white has made waves on pinterest but is yet to take over London's cocktail menus.

Aquafaba, or chickpea brine, has been the darling of the vegan world ever since it was discovered as an egg white replacement in baking. Opening up a whole new sector of delicious treats – from pavlovas to macaroons – with its whipped frothy texture, what was once thrown down the drain quickly became a plant-based pantry staple.

Of course emulsifiers and foaming agents don’t just help to make lemon meringue pies, they’re also key to sours and fizzes in the cocktail world, so finding a vegan substitute is increasingly relevant in bars.

Aquafaba’s thick liquid (aquafaba meaning bean water in Latin) comes from soaking or cooking beans in water for an extended period of time. When whipped or shaken it forms the same frothy peaks as an egg white and you don’t have to use as much, but there are a few downsides. While eggs that are reaching the end of their freshness can impart a certain wet-dog smell to a cocktail, aquafaba has its own aroma, one that is distinctly vegetal. Don’t believe those that claim it’s odourless.

Tienda Roosteria at the newly launched Curtain Hotel has found an ingenious way around this however. Running a cocktail menu designed by Trash Tiki founders Iain Griffiths and Kelsey Ramage, the venue is one of few in London trialling out the discarded chickpea brine. Their Tip Off Fizz uses Bombay Sapphire gin infused with the stems from mint and coriander which would be otherwise discarded from the restaurant. As Bar Manager Zoë van der Grinten notes, this infusion creates a naturally vegetal drink that sits well with aquafaba’s vegetal aroma.

Swapped out in a classic Whiskey Sour though, those notes don’t exactly pair so neatly.

Ahead of the curve, American bartenders have been pre-flavouring their aquafaba foam and using syphons to top drinks with it rather than shaking it within the cocktail – neatly ridding the beverage of any unwanted smell.

But it’s not just an odour issue that the direct swap causes. Egg whites sit within sours and fizzes to create creamy drinks, and while aquafaba can emulate the texture, it doesn’t smooth out the booze element like its non-vegan counterpart. Whether you mind this or not is, I guess, up to the individual drinker.

Ultimately it needs a few creative solutions, such as flavouring and infusions to get aquafaba working as a cut and copy replacement for egg in drinks. More profitable is to design the drinks around this newly-discovered emulsifier – a task not many London bars are currently tackling.

Perhaps it’s all of those left over chickpeas… better get cracking on the hummus.