You know chickpeas are good for you. You can use them in salads and sandwiches, soups and hummus.

But when you open up that can, don't drain away the liquid those little vitamin-packed legumes come packed in. Chickpea brine — recently dubbed aquafaba, which is loose Latin for "bean water" — has some amazing culinary applications. Specifically, this oft-tossed liquid works wonderfully in recipes as a replacement for egg whites.

The discovery came to light based on the experiments of French tenor Joël Roessel and U.S. software engineer Goose Wohlt, both vegans looking for egg alternatives, specifically in creating meringue. Wohlt perfected a recipe and coined the term "aquafaba." He then started a Facebook group with vegan home cook Rebecca August called Vegan Meringue - Hits and Misses! where vegans share techniques, tips and recipes. (And here's a good tip: One egg is generally replaced by three tablespoons of aquafaba)

On the site, which has more than 37,000 members, there are recipes for muffins and macarons, pancakes and pie. But meringue is what it's all about.

"If you take aquafaba and treat it the way you would egg whites — just follow Devo’s instructions — it acquires a fluffy white consistency that looks and tastes exactly like egg whites," writes Slate's Miriam Krule, who calls aquafaba "a magical ingredient."

Magical or not, the science and nutrition are still a little iffy.

"There are a few biochemists and phytochemists and kitchen experimenters from the groups tinkering with various aspects, but there is no real definitive consensus yet. The proteins and starches in the aquafaba tend to mimic the proteins in egg whites in many respects, but the science is still pending," according to Aquafaba.com. Donations made to the site will fund aquafaba chemical analysis.

Mashable's Larissa Zimberoff points out that the vegan community might be on to something:

"They may be at the forefront of something that could pay off later, and not just among vegans. California passed a law in 2008 that just went into effect this year that requires hens to be placed in larger cages, which means egg production could go down, get more expensive or both. With United States egg production estimated at over 96 billion eggs in 2013, the ingredient is still in huge demand. It's only a matter of time that the industry begins looking over its shoulder at these 'wacky' vegan concoctions for inspiration."

See what all the fuss is about by whipping up some egg white-less meringue. Just don't toss out the chickpeas!

Aquafaba Meringue Recipe
(Courtesy of Goose Wohlt)

Ingredients

  • Liquid from one 15-ounce can of chickpeas
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Whip the chickpea liquid (about 1/2 to 3/4 cups) until it forms firm peaks.
  2. Slowly pour in the sugar, a tablespoon at a time, while whipping at high speed.
  3. Once it's firm enough to turn the bowl upside down without losing any, put 2-inch dollops on parchment paper and bake at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 1/2 hours.
  4. Let them cool.
  5. You can add a touch of vanilla or other flavoring or even increase the sugar up to 4 times for stiffer meringues. Some people feel more comfortable adding a pinch of cream of tartar or vinegar to help form the initial peaks.

Mary Jo DiLonardo Mary Jo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.