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Pulses are the dry, edible seeds of plants in the legume family.
They are individually known as chickpeas, lentils, dry peas and beans. They are versatile, affordable, sustainable, and nutrient-rich. High in protein and fiber, they are an excellent fit for gluten-free and flexitarian diets! Here is a breakdown of pulses by type:
- Chickpeas are available in two main varieties: Desi and Kabuli. Desi chickpeas are smaller, more angular seeds with thick coats. They range in color from tan to speckled to black. Because of their thick shell, they must be decorticated (shells removed) for human consumption.
Kabuli chickpeas are also commonly known as garbanzo beans. They are larger in size and have a thin outer coat that does not have to be removed for human consumption. Kabuli chickpeas range in color from white to tan. Chickpeas are commonly used for hummus, falafel, and as plant-based protein substitutes, such as a base for veggie burgers. If purchased in their dry form, as opposed to canned, they must be soaked prior to cooking.Whether soaking and cooking chickpeas, or using them from a can, don’t throw out the remaining liquid! It can be easily whipped up into aquafaba, a stiff foam similar to whipped egg white! Aquafaba can be flavored with sugar or vanilla to make a vegan “whipped cream,” can be used to make a vegan mousse, or can be used as an egg white substitute in baking and cocktails – just make sure it’s unsalted.
- Lentils come in many varieties and range in size and color, including light brown, yellow, green, red, and black. The name lentil (Lens culinaris) comes from their characteristic lens shape. Lentils can be corticated or decorticated (shells on or off), and do not require soaking before cooking. Corticated lentils hold their shape better during the cooking process, and are well suited for salads, pot pies, or as a side dish, while decorticated lentils (white, red, and yellow) are great for sauces and purees. No matter the application, lentils are easily flavored with garlic and other herbs, spices, and pack a powerful nutritional punch. Lentil flour has a very neutral flavor and is a great nutrient-rich additive or gluten-free substitute for wheat flour in baking.
- Dry peas are genetically different than garden (fresh) peas. The most common types of dry peas are green and yellow. Both varieties can come whole or split (such as is used in split-pea soup.) Whole dry peas require soaking before cooking, but split peas do not. Green peas have a stronger flavor and are great whole, in salads and stir- fries, and for pesto sauces, while yellow peas are milder and sweeter; excellent for purees and dips. Both green and yellow dry peas are great in soups! In many Asian countries, peas are roasted and salted and consumed as snacks. Dry peas can be fractionated into pea fiber and pea protein, and are excellent sources of both. Pea protein can be used as an egg substitute in baking, and is a great plant-based protein additive to smoothies. Pea protein is available at many health food stores.
- Dry beans have a large range of varieties and applications. They originate from South and Central America, Africa and the Middle East. Dry beans do require soaking before cooking, but many bean varieties are available in cans at your local grocery store. It is important to note that, when cooking, acidic ingredients such as salt should be added after cooking as a seasoning, because these ingredients can make beans tougher during the cooking process. Baking soda, however, can be added in small quantities to cooking water, as it helps to tenderize the starch. Less is more in this application, as too much baking soda can impact the flavor of the beans and destroy important B vitamins. Bean flours are available for healthier baking swaps. White or navy bean flour works best for neutral flavored products such as vanilla cake, while black bean flour is favorable in brownies or chocolate cakes.
Benefits of Pulses
• Pulses work wonders for meat and egg alternates. They are non-GMO, high in fiber, and naturally gluten- free. When used in baking, their natural water and fat retention can increase cooking yields. If added to meat products as fractionates, they reduce fat content of meats such as luncheon meat, meatballs, burgers, and sausages. Pea protein has very similar functional properties as soy with a lower allergen risk.
• Pulses can come in dry form, in cans, or as protein, starch, fiber, and flour fractionates. They can be cooked and stored in the refrigerator or freezer for later use.
• Pulses are packed with protein and contain up to 9 grams of protein per 1⁄2 cup cooked serving – twice the protein of quinoa. Despite their high protein content, they are naturally low in fat.
• Pulses have high levels of potassium, magnesium, zinc, B vitamins, iron, and antioxidants. One serving of black beans has 1.5 times the amount of iron as flank steak, three times the folate of kale, and as much potassium as a banana. Red kidney beans have more antioxidants than blueberries or pomegranate juice.
• Pulses are beneficial for disease prevention. They have been shown to improve blood sugar control, reduce blood cholesterol and blood pressure, and are high in soluble and insoluble fiber, which helps to maintain weight by keeping you fuller longer.
• Pulses naturally enrich soil health by pulling nitrogen from the air into the soil, providing their own nitrogen fertilizer and leaving behind beneficial microbes for the next crop cycle.
• Pulses are natural water conservers! They use only one-tenth of the water that it takes to produce other proteins. When planted, pulses extract water from a shallower depth, leaving more water deep in the soil for other crops.
• North America is the leading producer of pulse crops in the world.
• Pulses have a broad genetic diversity that includes climate-resistant varieties.