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A Guide To Chickpeas

Health and Wellbeing

Here’s everything you need to know about this legume, from its health benefits to how to cook with it.

What are chickpeas?

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are a type of legume. Originating in the Middle East some 10,000 years ago, they are now a popular ingredient in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines. The beans grow on small, bushy plants and the pods take around 100 days before they can be harvested.

There are two main types of chickpeas: the kabuli type, and the desi type. Kabuli chickpeas are round and cream coloured with a smooth seed coat. These are the ones you’ll most commonly find in supermarkets. The name ‘kabuli’ means ‘from Kabul’, as they’re thought to have come from Kabul, Afghanistan. This type of chickpea is mainly grown in the Mediterranean, South America and Southeast Asia.

Desi chickpeas are slightly smaller with a thick, rough seed coat and a darker brown colour. You’ll find split desi chickpeas labelled as ‘chana dal’ in Indian markets. They’re mainly grown in India, East Africa, Mexico and Iran.

falafel

When shopping for chickpeas, you’ll most likely come across them in these three forms:

  • Dried chickpeas: these can be stored in an airtight container for up to a year. Before cooking, dried chickpeas should be rinsed and soaked in water for 8-12 hours. This will make them more digestible and cut down your cooking time.
  • Canned chickpeas: these are chickpeas which have been pre-cooked. You can eat or prepare them straight from the can but remember to rinse off the brine before consuming.
  • Chickpea flour: both Indian and Italian cuisines use chickpea flour in everything from curries to pasta. It’s a gluten-free alternative to wheat flour, and you can use it as a binder, thickener, in batters or to mix with other gluten-free flours.
chickpea curry

The health factor

Not only are they delicious, but chickpeas pack a punch when it comes to nutrition. They contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre and protein.

A 28g serving of chickpeas contains:

  • Calories: 46
  • Carbs: 8 grams
  • Fibre: 2 grams
  • Protein: 3 grams
  • Folate: 12% of the RDI
  • Iron: 4% of the RDI
  • Phosphorus: 5% of the RDI
  • Copper: 5% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 14% of the RDI

The nutrients in chickpeas may also prevent the following health conditions:

Diabetes

Fibre is important for people with diabetes and helps to reduce inflammation in people with type 1 diabetes. The fibre and protein in chickpeas also play a role in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. This is not only important in preventing diabetes, but also other serious health problems such as heart disease, kidney disease and vision loss.

Heart disease

Chickpeas contain minerals like magnesium and potassium, which help boost heart health. These minerals prevent high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease. Additionally, the fibre content in chickpeas helps reduce bad cholesterol levels.

Cancer

Consuming chickpeas on a regular basis may help to reduce your risk of cancer. Eating chickpeas helps the body produce butyrate, a fatty acid that reduces inflammation in colon cells, decreasing the risk of colon cancer. Chickpeas’s B vitamins are responsible for reducing the risk of breast and lung cancer, and selenium has antioxidant properties which protect the body from cancer. Chickpeas also contain saponins, plant compounds which prevent the development of tumor growth.

hummus

How to cook with chickpeas

Chickpeas are a great addition to your cupboard, as they’re healthy, inexpensive and great for bulking out meals. One of the most popular dishes is hummus, a Middle Eastern dip made from cooked and mashed chickpeas with tahini, lemon juice and garlic. Another popular Middle Eastern chickpea-based food is falafels, a deep fried ball ground chickpeas mixed with fresh herbs and spices.

Mediterranean flavours also work wonders with chickpeas. They go nicely in fish stews or paired with paprika and spicy soups. Cook them together with chorizo or add to an Andalusian classic ‘espinacas con garbanzo’: spinach and chickpea stew with cumin, pimenton dulce and cayenne pepper.

Chickpeas are a plant-based protein popular with vegans and vegetarians. They work well in soups and stews, adding texture and bulk to anything with a thick sauce. The chickpeas soak up the flavour of whatever you’re cooking them in.

If you fancy a healthy snack, roast chickpeas make a great alternative to crisps. Simply toss them in a bowl with some olive oil and your favourite spices, and roast for 20 minutes until they’re crispy. Speaking of healthy recipes, you can also add chickpeas to fresh salads for a nice crunch.

Here are some more tasty recipes which use chickpeas:

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