Last updated: Jun 06, 2016

The next time you open a can of chickpeas, don’t pour the liquid down the drain—stash it in your fridge. That fluid, known as aquafaba, has become quite a sensation online. That's because it can be used as a vegan alternative to dairy and eggs in everything from meringue to mayonnaise. If you're curious about this new trend but want some more info before trying it, here are five things you should know about aquafaba.

There are two ways to get it

Aquafaba can be the water you used to boil bagged pulses (lentils, beans, and peas, like chickpeas), or it can be the liquid from canned versions of these foods. It seems to work best when it's derived from beans or chickpeas. With a little whipping, the liquid develops a fluffy texture that resembles whipped egg whites, whipped cream, or milk foam.

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It's a brand new trend

Unlike quinoa or kale, aquafaba isn’t a food that’s been around for decades and suddenly became hot. According to Aquafaba.com, the story starts with a French cook named Joël Roessel, who began experimenting with the liquid from canned goods in search of an egg alternative in 2014, and wrote about his results on his blog. In February of 2015, two French scientists posted a video on YouTube in which they whip the liquid from canned chickpeas into a foam, and made chocolate mouse

An American engineer named Goose Wohlt was inspired by their video and discovered the liquid could be used in place of eggs to create a vegan meringue, reports The New York Times. Wohlt posted his findings in a Facebook group and with the help of an excited vegan community, coined the liquid aquafaba, a combination of the Latin words for “water" and "beans." The trend took off from there—big time.

Nutrition info is limited

Because aquafaba is so new, its nutrition analysis isn’t readily available. I can only find one source to date: Aquafaba.com, which raised funds to have the liquid tested by a lab. The analysis found that a chickpea-derived aquafaba contains about 3 to 5 calories per tablespoon, but is not a significant source of carbs, protein, fat, vitamins, or minerals. Further research may reveal antioxidants, B vitamins, or other beneficial compounds that weren't included in the initial analysis. But for now, the biggest benefits of aquafaba are that it’s plant-based, naturally gluten-free, low in calories, and can mimic the consistency of ingredients like eggs and dairy for those who choose or need to avoid them.

You’ll probably need a sturdy mixer

Most of the videos and recipes online use a KitchenAid mixer with a balloon whisk. A hand mixer is another option, although it will generally take longer, and you likely won’t achieve the same consistency as a stand mixer. While blenders typically won't work because the speed of the blades destroys the foam, some online posts claim to have made aquafaba by vigorously shaking the liquid in a sealed jar.

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Simple ways to use it

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of watching a chef from the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone create a simple yet delicious chocolate mousse, starring aquafaba and melted dark chocolate. Another easy option is “ice cream” typically made with aquafaba, frozen fruit, and honey. But you’ll find dozens upon dozens of recipes online. I recommend using these three rules of thumb: 1) Look for pulses that don't contain added salt, especially if you're using a larger amount of liquid. 2) Keep added sugar to a minimum, and use natural or less processed options. 3) Choose recipes packed with superfood ingredients, including fruit, fresh herbs and spices, dark chocolate, nuts, and seeds.

The process of making aquafaba is pretty cool, so if you haven't tried it yet, give it a go, have fun, and keep it healthy. (And if you're looking for nutritious recipes to use up the chickpeas and beans, check out my recipes featuring pulses.)

Do you have a question about nutrition? Chat with us on Twitter by mentioning @goodhealth and @CynthiaSass.

Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Yankees, previously consulted for three other professional sports teams, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Sass is a three-time New York Times best-selling author, and her newest book is Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food, Real Fast. Connect with her on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.