Egg whites have been used in cocktails for over 150 years, spawning generations of fizzes, sours and repetitive motion injuries. In fact, their retrieval from the dustbin of history was a central cause of the early cocktail renaissance. But in the age of food allergies and specialized diets, many bars have ditched eggs altogether, seeking alternative means of achieving that signature fluffy texture.
For the last five years, aquafaba, the residual liquid at the bottom of canned chickpeas, has been the go-to substance for bars seeking a vegan alternative to eggs. But in recent years, the market for egg white substitutes has evolved, encompassing flavorless products that promise less waste, no preparation and the absence of aquafaba’s tell-tale funky odor.
The active ingredient in Fee Brothers Fee Foam, a bottled product first introduced in 1966, is a foaming agent known as Polysorbate 80. Used alone, it’s too viscous to incorporate into drinks, but combined with water and other ingredients like propylene glycol and potassium sorbate (an additive and preservative, respectively), plus citric acid and pure lemon extract, it reaches a consistency that can easily be dashed into cocktails. Because they’re effective even in small quantities, Fee Foam and its competitors (including the Canadian brand Ms. Better’s Miraculous Foamer, still awaiting FDA approval in the States) are able to create a consistent froth without adding significant volume, and therefore dilution, to a drink the way egg whites or aquafaba would.
Maxime Belfand, bar director at Manhattan’s Saxon + Parole, discovered Miraculous Foamer while working in London in 2018, and has used it for the past year, finding egg whites problematic in the modern bar. “They’re perishable and don’t make health inspectors happy,” he says. “They’re also just not very sexy used from a squeeze bottle. And, you know, some customers are just freaked out by the idea of egg in their cocktail.” Citing its many advantages, Belfand notes that it’s better at integrating into drinks, too; unlike egg whites, “the foam doesn’t separate if you have a slow drinker.” But the advantages don’t stop there. Foamers are shelf-stable and economical. Belfand says he can make between 80 and 90 drinks per one-ounce bottle of Miraculous Foamer, which retails for $32 USD; a five-ounce bottle of Fee Foam, meanwhile, typically goes for less than $5 at various online retailers.
Indeed, not every bartender is sorry to see the era of egg white cocktails come to an end. “I love to talk about how much I hate using them in drinks,” says Mike Capoferri, bartender and owner of Thunderbolt in Los Angeles. “The wonderful texture just isn’t worth that wet-dog smell,” he says.
Odor aside, Capoferri finds whites wasteful, among a laundry list of other complaints: “Almost everyone throws the rest of the egg away, they’re a pain to clean from glassware, they’re 90 percent water so they cause dilution, and the growing population of vegan consumers don’t want them in their drinks.”
Two years ago, Capoferri began playing around with hydrocolloids like gum arabic and Versawhip (a soy protein used to stabilize culinary foams), looking for DIY alternatives that would give him even greater control of the final texture. He eventually settled on a form of methylcellulose called Methocel F50. “Hydrocolloids tend to be tasteless and aren’t snotty in consistency,” he says. “We came up with an easy-to-clean, plant-based product [that’s] a little thicker than simple syrup, with an unctuous, crushable texture.” Capoferri’s “sour syrup” (referring to the category of cocktails, rather than the flavor profile) isn’t proprietary, but, he says, “making it involves a lot of dissolution and stirring.”
Despite the effort involved on the back end, Capoferri finds the in-house approach worthwhile. “I never have to dry-shake again. That’s great news for my old, broken, pre-arthritic hands.”