If 2015 was the year aquafaba got its legs, 2016 is the year it goes mainstream: The New York City-born condiment company Sir Kensington's launches the first commercially available aquafaba product—an eggless mayonnaise dubbed Fabanaise—this month.
When we first read about aquafaba (Latin-ish for "bean water," and specifically chickpea cooking liquid) last June, after reading about it on Slate and hearing about its use in Dan Barber's pop-up restaurant wastED's salad, we were dubious and curious and we ran out and bought a couple of cans of chickpeas. We had success with aquafaba meringues, and then with aquafaba mousse and aquafaba mayonnaise, the latter of which was so good that we didn't hesitate in feeding it to our coworkers. And it was our aquafaba mayonnaise experiment that inspired Sir Kensington's own aquafaba mayo, Scott Norton, one of Sir Kensington's founders, told me.
Above: Our chickpea water gets whipped into eggless-mayo shape last June.
"There's been a lot of interest in vegan and eggless mayos, but not a lot of innovation," said Scott. But aquafaba, slowly making waves through the vegan community, hadn't been tapped into by makers of mayonnaise, and Sir Kensington's was inspired by the simple, bizarre magic of watching chickpea water whip up into a steady, fairly stable, egg-white-looking foam—and by the opportunity to create a new product from a material that would otherwise be wasted. They began their experimenting.
Bringing aquafaba mayonnaise to market has taken a lot of effort; as an already-respected brand that's built its name in non-vegan products, Sir Kensington's is in the rare position to really introduce an ingredient that's not yet been touched commercially to a wide consumer market.
Because of this, in addition to doing "a lot of work to get the texture and taste right" by way of the usual R&D—playing with varieties of oils (Sir Kensington's uses sunflower oil), adjusting the balance of flavors (they found that kombu kelp brings a savoriness that the Fabanaise lacked without it), determining how to package and sell (it's not shelf-stable at room temperature, only in the refrigerator case)—the company is tasked with "bringing a visibility and acceptability" that aquafaba hasn't had outside its close following (mostly vegan and otherwise egg-abstaining cooks who have, over the past year, been preaching the aquafaba gospel on their blogs in the form of meringues, mousses, pavlovas, and macarons).
But the thing that has required the most time and digging was finding a supplier of aquafaba: "More hours of work went into Fabanaise than any other of our products because there was no existing supply chain," Scott told me. It's easy enough for a home cook to head to the store, grab a can of chickpeas, and whisk it into mayonnaise with a bit of whatever oil is on hand; it's harder to do that on a commercial level.
A Whole Foods forager (someone who sources locally for Whole Foods) connected the company to another New York manufacturer, Ithaca Hummus. "They were pouring tens of thousands of gallons of aquafaba down the drain," Scott said. "We had to figure out how to turn it into a product that would sell." And they have: As the New York Times reported today, Sir Kensington's will buy 20,000 gallons of aquafaba from Ithaca Hummus this year for its Fabanaise.
Scott wouldn't share how much Sir Kensington's pays Ithaca Hummus for the byproduct of their chickpea-boiling, but he did say that the company is very happy to pay it: "The price takes a backseat to the importance that we think it's worth paying for, rather than demanding it for free: It's very important... If we weren't paying a premium for it, we couldn't guarantee the quality and the safety," nor the stable supply that keeps them in Fabanaise.
Their Fabanaise is a bit different from traditionally eggy mayonnaise, either homemade or store-bought, but Scott likes the "eccentricities": It's "not as lemony" as a standard mayonnaise, and has "a light, silky quality in texture. It's great, but different from a classic mayonnaise." A team of highly qualified taste testers (ahem, Food52 employees) corroborated in a French fry-Fabanaise taste test. It's not the same as mayonnaise; the phrase most repeated was that the Fabanaise was missing the rich yolkiness of mayonnaise.
But it definitely looked like mayonnaise, and save for a not being quite as eggy-feeling or tasting as the "real" stuff, it was, basically, mayonnaise. It didn't taste like a "facsimile product," and it definitely didn't taste like it came from a chickpea. (One of the testers, a former vegan, said that the Fabanaise tasted much better than other vegan mayonnaise substitutes.)
Sir Kensington's is releasing a chipotle-flavored Fabanaise at the same time as the original Fabanaise, and they're brainstorming a few other possible flavors as well. And they're currently exploring Fabanaise's properties—how similar and different it is, chemically, from egg-based mayonnaise. The ingredient list—and nutritional label, in almost every respect, from calories per tablespoon to grams of fat to salt content—is almost identical to egg-based mayonnaise, which does distinguish it from other vegan mayonnaises. (More on this below.)
With Fabanaise entering stores over the next two weeks, Sir Kensington's is beginning to wonder what's next—that is, how Fabanaise can be used, where Fabanaise might break where mayo wouldn't, or vice versa. They want people to experiment, and to share their findings—especially in high-heat cooking (they've had happy results in spinach-artichoke dips). The company's position as a non-vegan food brand leaves the door open for experimentation, for folks with egg allergies but otherwise unlimited diets (like chicken or fish coated in mayonnaise; pimento cheese; tomato-mayonnaise sandwiches) or not (cakes with mayo in the batter; egg salad made with Fabanaise? A little twisted, maybe, but it would work!).
Have you made—and cooked with—an aquafaba mayonnaise? Would you buy one? What else have you made with aquafaba? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.
Fabanaise: "Sunflower oil, aquafaba (water, chickpea, kombu seaweed), white distilled vinegar, sea salt, organic sugar, lemon juice, white pepper"; 90 calories, 10 grams fat, 80 milligrams sodium per 1-tablespoon serving
Hellman's: "Canola oil, water, liquid whole egg, vinegar, liquid yolk, salt, sugar, spices, concentrated lemon juice and calcium disodium EDTA (maintains flavor)"; 100 calories, 10 grams fat, 95 milligrams sodium per 1-tablespoon serving
Vegenaise: "Expeller-pressed canola oil, filtered water, brown rice syrup, apple cider vinegar, soy protein, sea salt, mustard flour, lemon juice concentrate"; 90 calories, 9 grams fat, 85 milligrams sodium per 1-tablespoon serving