Chickpeas: An Ancient Bean with Modern Appeal

Chickpeas: An Ancient Bean with Modern Appeal | Food & Nutrition Magazine | Volume 10, Issue 1
Photography by David Raine | Food styling by Breana Moeller | Prop styling by Michelle Wilkinson

Over the past 10,000 years, Cicer arietinum has gone from being a wild bean in the Neolithic Fertile Crescent to a legume so valuable that its seeds are frozen at Svalbard Global Seed Vault to research and cultivate for future generations.

Chickpeas as we know them today (often referred to by their Spanish name garbanzos) are considered a sustainable, regenerative crop. The plant not only converts atmospheric nitrogen into a soluble form within soil as a natural fertilizer, but also sequesters carbon, is relatively drought tolerant and can help break disease and weed cycles when used as a cover crop.

Grown predominantly in India, chickpeas also are cultivated in Australia, Canada, Mexico, Myanmar, Pakistan, Turkey and the United States. Chickpeas reached a total global market share of 12.7 million tons in 2019, with forecasts projecting substantial growth through 2025 as demand continues to rise.

In the Kitchen: The plump, beige Kabuli chickpea predominates in markets throughout North America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. On the Indian subcontinent, the smaller, darker-hued Desi variety prevails — whole beans are called Bengal gram, while golden split beans (with the dark hull removed) are called chana dal or yellow gram. Kabuli are sweet and almost nutty in flavor, while Desi are more earthy; both have a hearty consistency and are versatile ingredients.

Use dried whole chickpeas for falafel or a pot of Spanish stew, and split chana dal for South Indian dishes. Canned chickpeas are great for creamy hummus, crispy snacks and meatless meals. Use a mixer to transform the liquid from the can (aquafaba) into a dairy-free whipped topping, vegan meringue or egg substitute for baking. Chickpea (or gram or besan) flour makes the French flatbread socca and is a gluten-free option for dredges and thickeners.

Rinse dried chickpeas and discard broken or discolored beans, tiny stones or bits of dirt, if present. Soak in cool water for eight to 10 hours to soften beans and improve digestibility. Cook chickpeas using the stove or oven for about one and a half hours; a slow cooker on low for three to six hours; or a pressure cooker for about 20 minutes. One cup of dried chickpeas yields 2½ to 3 cups cooked chickpeas.

Adding salt to the soaking water, like brining, gives beans a creamier consistency and promotes more even cooking. For dried chickpeas, add a pinch of baking soda to the water prior to heating for faster cooking. Salt and acidic ingredients such as citrus juice, vinegar or tomato may increase cooking time and should be added at the end.

In the Clinic: A half-cup of cooked chickpeas has 135 calories, 2 grams of fat, roughly 6 grams of dietary fiber and more than 30 percent of the daily value for folate. A popular meat alternative, a half-cup serving provides 7 grams of protein and a little more than 10 percent of the daily value for zinc and iron. Phytic acid, or phytate — a compound naturally occurring in legumes — may decrease absorption of iron and zinc (as well as magnesium and calcium), but can be mitigated through soaking, sprouting or boiling.

Chickpeas and other legumes contain bioactive compounds including resistant starch, oligosaccharides and phytosterols. Studies suggest regular consumption of beans may decrease blood pressure, levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and hemoglobin A1c; improve digestive health; and reduce risk of certain cancers.

A significant difference in the nutritional profile between canned and cooked dried chickpeas is the amount of sodium; some cans contain more than 300 milligrams per half cup. Choose cans labeled “low salt/sodium” or “no salt/sodium added” and rinse well to reduce sodium by up to 40 percent.

In Quantity: For foodservice, Kabuli chickpeas are sold dried in large-quantity bags and boxes or cooked in cans; dried desi chickpeas, split chana dal and chickpea flour or meal also are available. Prepared, refrigerated hummus can be purchased in bulk. Farmers markets and specialty shops in some regions of the U.S. may sell fresh chickpeas in bunches of podded stalks from mid to late spring, and it is possible to purchase cases of young green chickpeas, shelled and frozen.

Purchase from reputable sellers with good product turnover rate. Low-quality beans or those older than a year take much longer to cook and may have diminished or “off” flavors.

Store unopened dried chickpeas in the pantry for up to two years and opened dried chickpeas in a tightly sealed container or bag for up to one year. Cans can be stored in the pantry for two to five years from the date of purchase. Covered with cooking liquid or water in a sealed container, prepared chickpeas can be kept in the refrigerator for up to four days or in the freezer indefinitely (for best flavor and texture, use frozen beans within six months).

While dried beans cost a fraction of the price of canned, both are considerably more affordable than animal proteins and can be stored for much longer periods of time without great nutrient losses. This helps foodservice establishments provide a nutritious source of protein at a lower cost and with decreased waste.

To expand the use of these inexpensive, sustainable, versatile and nutritious beans, the food industry has created chickpea pasta, roasted and puffed snacks, sweet and savory spreads, tortillas, breads and pizza dough.

Try these recipes: Espresso Vanilla Bean Chickpea Blondies and Lemon Basil Chickpea Fritters


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Heather Goesch
Heather A. Goesch, MPH, RDN, LDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist, freelance writer and recipe developer currently living in the south of France. Read her blog for healthy, seasonal recipe inspiration, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest or Twitter.