Pulses: What’s the Fuss?

The United Nations has declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses, aiming to increase awareness of their nutritional value, economic accessibility, role in food security, favorable environmental impact and agricultural sustainability—but what exactly are pulses?

Pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family, which grow in pods and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognizes four major types of pulses: Dry peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas (garbanzo beans). The term “pulses” is limited to crops harvested solely as dry grains, which differentiates them from other vegetable crops that are harvested while still green. Dry edible beans are produced in 18 states in the US, and all dry beans grown in the US are non-GMO. What’s not to love? 

Nutritionally, pulses are unique in that they comprise two food groups: the vegetable group and the protein group. Pulses are naturally low in fat, high in fiber and provide a good source of protein. Pulses also offer iron, folate, potassium, magnesium and many other essential nutrients.           

Leading the pulse publicity craze are chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans. Chickpeas are a staple in many Mediterranean dishes, such as hummus and falafel. However, chickpeas, like all pulses, are super versatile and are great in both savory and sweet dishes. Chickpeas are also one of the best pulses to use as flour for baking or for sneaking into dishes like enchiladas, meatloaf or casseroles. Throwing whole pulses, like chickpeas, into soups and salads makes the meals more filling, thanks to their natural fiber, while also adding plant-based protein.  

Visit school kitchens across the country and you’ll learn that students don’t tend to respond very favorably to opening a can of chickpeas and putting them out on the salad bar line. Progressive districts have been getting creative with how they are meeting the legume requirements with chickpeas. Here are some chickpeas serving suggestions to consider:   

  • Chickpeas used as a meat extender in your favorite hamburger, meatloaf, meatball and/or casserole recipes.
  • Chickpea flour used as an ingredient in your favorite dessert recipes. Substitute (1:1) up to one-half of the wheat-based flour (including all-purpose flour) in any baked goods recipe with chickpea flour to add iron, folate, fiber and protein.  
  • Chickpeas roasted and seasoned
    • Used as an ingredient in trail mixes with dried fruits and/or nuts.
    • Used as a crunchy topper on soups, potatoes or salads.
    • Sweetened and served over yogurt, oatmeal or cottage cheese. 

To rehydrate or cook dry chickpeas, simply combine 1 cup pre-soaked chickpeas with 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on low for 1 1/2 to 2 hours to desired tenderness. Once cooked, chickpeas can be refrigerated in their liquid for up to a week. If this is too time consuming for your district, consider some of the pre-processed, pre-packed solutions many manufactures have started to offer.

To best promote chickpeas in schools, increase awareness by hosting culinary demonstrations to showcase the diversity of chickpeas. Consider highlighting chickpeas in your Harvest or Vegetable of the Month programs.  These U.S.-grown vegetables are protein-packed, naturally gluten-free, non-GMO, nutrient-dense and, most importantly, can taste delicious.  

Gabriela Pacheco, RDN, is the owner ofGabriela Pacheco Nutrition Consulting. She lives in Sand Diego, Calif. 

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