Think of all the leftover food-related liquid you pour down the drain — everything from that briny water in canned artichokes and jarred pickles to the cooking water from boiled potatoes. Even thrifty types may have trouble seeing a way to reuse them, but tossing these fluids is like throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater, a real kitchen crime.
That’s because many juicy throwaways — fluids you either already paid for or created from scratch — are often worth their weight in gastronomic gold. They add not just vitamins and minerals to dishes you whip up, but also deliver flavor, depth, creaminess and thickness (similar to store-bought spices, marinades and other expensive recipe-enhancers).
Here’s how to turn eight common kitchen "waste" liquids into liquid gold. These ideas are sure to please your inner penny-pincher, as well as your family’s taste buds (including pets and plants).
Liquid from canned or cooked dried beans
You probably never knew it had a name, but that thick liquid in cans of beans and legumes like chickpeas is called aquafaba, a term coined by vegan baker Goose Wohlt. It can also be produced by home-cooking dried beans in water until it thickens. Either way, aquafaba (aqua is Latin for water and faba means bean) can be used as a substitute for egg whites in pretty much any recipe. That’s because the proteins and starches in bean liquid — made mostly of water, salt and naturally produced carbohydrates — act similarly to the proteins in egg whites. Use aquafaba in meringues, creams, icing, cookies, cakes, mayonnaise and as a butter substitute (by blending it with oil).
The starchy leftover liquid from canned beans or simmered dried beans can also be used as a substitute for any stock or broth or added to thicken soups, stews and sauces. Freeze extra liquid for later use.
Caveats: If you’re using aquafaba from canned beans, consider these health suggestions. Look for organic beans grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides and brands that don’t contain preservatives like calcium chloride. Opt for low-salt or no-salt varieties. Also stick with beans in BPA-free cans. Bisphenol A is a chemical found in polycarbonate plastics, often used to coat the inside of food cans. Evidence suggests BPA — an endocrine disruptor — can leach from can linings into food causing many health problems, including brain development abnormalities, early puberty, cancer and heart disease.
After those dills and bread-and-butters are gone, there’s a jar of pickle juice left that usually gets dumped down the drain. But leftover brine — typically some combination of vinegar, salt, sugar and spices — can actually be a zesty and versatile flavor-booster for a whole host of dishes. Think of it as a substitute for tangy, acidic liquids like vinegar and lemon juice. To that end, spoon some pickle brine into potato salad or coleslaw. Add some to vinaigrette-style salad dressings or marinade for grilled chicken, fish and tofu. You can even add pickle juice to your Bloody Mary for added zing or reuse it to pickle fresh cucumbers and other veggies.
Juice from marinated artichoke hearts, olives, sun-dried tomatoes
Like pickles, these tasty sundries usually come packed in a flavorful liquid combination of vinegar, oil, salt and spices that can be used to punch up countless dishes. Use the liquid leftovers as you would infused oils or vinegars in any recipe. They can be added to flavor risotto, veggies, salads, marinara sauce, hummus and even home-baked breads.
Once you’ve boiled the corn on the cob, let the water cool and toss some spices into the mineral- and vitamin-rich brew to make stock. Or add veggies and meat to make soup. Pour anything extra on your garden or indoor plants as fertilizer. Get more ideas here.
Liquid from canned corn (both creamed and whole kernel) can also be used in soups and other recipes. Likewise for the liquid in hominy (corn kernels that have been soaked in lye or lime to soften them and loosen the hulls). Whenever possible, opt for organically grown canned brands or whole ears to cut down on your intake of harmful pesticides and fertilizers.
Water from boiling vegetables
While boiling isn’t the healthiest way to cook most veggies because important nutrients leach out, you can retain some of the minerals and vitamins by recycling the water. Next time you boil carrots, squash, peppers or other garden produce, save the nourishing water for use in soups, sauces and gravies or to fortify plants. Again, use organically grown vegetables, and store “waste” water in a plastic container in the refrigerator. Use it as soon as possible to retain the most nutrients or freeze.
The liquid from canned vegetables (preferably organic brands) is also a good addition to other dishes. Whether green beans, collard greens or bamboo shoots, keep a container in your fridge to capture the tasty canned juices for use as a flavorful broth in soups and sauces.
After you’ve boiled potatoes, there are literally dozens of uses for the starchy water. Add a little with butter and milk for fluffier mashed potatoes. Similarly, use it to enhance bread, pizza and biscuit dough. Add it as a stock to thicken soups and sauces. Note: if you boil potatoes with their skins on, be sure to wash them thoroughly first.
Anything left over afterwards can be used to fertilize house and garden plants. And if you’re really adventurous, consider using potato water as a beauty aid to give yourself a revitalizing facial or soak tired feet.
That starch-rich water left after you drain pasta also has multiple uses. Pour a little in at the end when your pasta and sauce are cooking together to help bind them to one another and give the sauce a silky texture. Pasta water also can be saved for use as a thickening stock in sauces, soups and gravies. Plus, like so many liquid leftovers, it makes a great fertilizer for plants.
‘Juice’ from canned fish
In moderation, the liquid from cans of tuna, salmon and other fish can become a special treat for your cat or dog. Just keep a few health tips in mind: Moderation is key because fish may contain harmful compounds like mercury. It also tends to be packed in high-sodium liquid, so opt for low- or no-salt varieties. Also, buy fish in BPA-free cans, and avoid excessively oily liquid that’s higher in fat. Your fur-babies will thank you.