Celebrate chickpeas, beans and lentils!

It’s the International Year of Pulses

What do dried beans, dried peas, chickpeas, lentils, lupins, dry broad beans, pigeon peas and edible beans have in common? They are all part of the legume family but now they will be better known worldwide as “pulses,” thanks to the United Nations General Assembly.

You are probably asking yourself if this has something to do with your health or blood pressure. Health benefits, yes. The term “pulse” comes from the Latin word puls, meaning a thick soup or potage; pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family. I had to study up on this as it was news to me.

The 68th United Nations General Assembly declared 2016 the International Year of the Pulse. The United Nations, led by its Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), launched the 2016 International Year of Pulses to raise awareness about the protein power and health benefits of all kinds of dried beans and peas, to boost the production and trade of legumes and to encourage new and smarter uses of these humble seeds throughout the food chain.

“Pulses are important food crops for the food security of large proportions of populations, particularly in Latin America, Africa and Asia, where pulses are part of traditional diets and often grown by small farmers,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, in a recent news release.

Each year the United Nations makes a declaration about an issue of importance in global agriculture. Last year was the International Year of Soils; the year before was the International Year of Family Farming.  

Powerhouse food source

The term “legume” refers to the plants whose fruit is enclosed in a pod. When growing, legumes fix nitrogen into the soil which reduces the need for fertilizers. North American farmers are familiar with legumes like alfalfa, clover, peas and soybeans. Lupins, peanuts and mesquite are also legumes.

Pulses are part of the legume family, but the term “pulse” refers only to the dried seed. Dried peas, edible beans, lentils and chickpeas are the most common varieties of pulses. Pulses are very high in protein and fibre, and they are low in fat. Like their cousins in the legume family, pulses are nitrogen-fixing crops that improve the environmental sustainability of annual cropping systems.

Pulses also have high levels of minerals such as iron, zinc and phosphorous, as well as folate and other B-vitamins. In addition to their nutritional profile and links to improved health, pulses are unique foods in their ability to reduce the environmental footprint of our grocery carts. Put it all together and these sensational seeds are a powerful food ingredient that can be used to deliver the results of healthy people and a healthy planet, the UN General Assembly says.

Pulses come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours and can be consumed in many forms including whole or split, ground into flours or separated into fractions such as protein, fibre and starch.

Affordable alternative

Chickpea is an ancient pulse crop first grown in Turkey about 7,000 B.C.

The term “pulses” is limited to crops harvested solely for dry grain, thereby excluding crops harvested green for food (green peas, green beans, etc.) which are classified as vegetable crops. Also excluded are those crops used mainly for oil extraction (such as soybeans and groundnuts) and leguminous crops (like seeds of clover and alfalfa) that are used exclusively for sowing purposes.
In addition to their food value, pulses also play an important role in cropping systems because of their ability to produce nitrogen and thereby enrich the soil.

FAO also added that as an affordable alternative to more expensive animal-based protein, pulses are ideal for improving diets in poorer parts of the world, where protein sources from milk are often five times more expensive than protein sourced from pulses.

Canada is the largest exporter of pulses globally, according to the FAO. An estimated 70 percent of Canada’s production is exported. I’m not keen on eating chickpeas and lupins myself. Maybe they’re healthy but they’re not my kind of food. But I am going to look at maybe growing chickpeas or pulse peas as a cash-crop in the future now that the UN has given it a big boost. Meanwhile, pea soup with split peas is always a favourite in winter. I just made a pot with pork hocks a few days ago, for my birthday.


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