There are rules that cooking in general always follows: cakes should be fluffy. Steaks should be heavily seasoned, and nowhere near a bottle of steak sauce. Every stock should start with aromatics (onions, carrots, & celery). And, until very recently, meringues should always be made with egg whites.
But it turns out that meringues don't need to be made with egg whites. They can instead be made with a very unexpected ingredient: aquafaba, also known as garbanzo bean or chickpea liquid.
The most obvious reason for eschewing egg whites in your meringue is if you or a friend is vegan. The best thing about aquafaba (the coined term for this liquid), is that it tastes identical to egg whites. Now, I used to be vegan, so I'm well-versed on substitutes, and let's be honest: vegan cheese doesn't taste like cheese; vegan butter doesn't taste like butter; and vegan hot dogs don't taste like hot dogs. They all taste good (in my opinion), but not like the item they're replacing. Aquafaba meringue, however, is indistinguishable from a traditional meringue.
It's also a handy trick, vegan merit aside. Even though eggs are the most fundamental ingredient in the kitchen, they're one of the most common ingredients to run out of. And with egg prices recently on the rise thanks to an outbreak of the avian flu, it's not a bad idea to find such a cheap and waste-free substitute. So next time you need a meringue but you're out of eggs, skip the store and head to your pantry.
Whether you're making meringue candies or a meringue pie, you want to treat the bean liquid just as you would egg whites. Start by pouring it in a stand mixer (or in a mixing bowl if you're using a hand mixer). The liquid from two cans should be plenty for a large batch of meringues or a pie.
Then mix, mix, mix! It will take longer than egg whites: usually about 15 minutes. You'll want to achieve extremely stiff peaks, or your aquafaba will fall apart (this is, unfortunately, the voice of experience speaking).
Once the stiff peaks are reached, proceed as normal: add sugar and vanilla, and spoon onto a baking sheet, or atop a pie or tart.
Add your aquafaba treat to the oven, keep a close eye on it, and get ready to devour some deliciousness.
And there you have it. It's really that simple, and it can save your butt if you have vegan company coming over. And if you think it's a little weird to use garbanzo bean liquid in a dessert, just take a few seconds to think about where an egg comes from, and suddenly this alternative won't seem so strange.
As of this writing, no one's really sure why aquafaba functions so well as an egg white replacer. There's actually a group taking donations so a chemical analysis of aquafaba can be performed.
If you're worried about the flavor of garbanzo beans perfuming your meringue, you needn't be. The flavor goes away when you bake the meringues.
If you live in a hot area, like I do, try putting your liquid in the fridge for about an hour before whipping it; this will help the meringue hold its form.
If you're not a big meringue fan, you can also use the aquafaba for marshmallow fluff, mousse, or to add airiness to pancakes and waffles.