There are few foods out there as versatile, well-known and loved as the chickpea. Depending on where you live, you may know it as a garbanzo bean, a chana, an Egyptian Pea, a gram, or if you’re extra scientific, Cicer arietinum. But you may not know the huge punch that these little beans can pack. Being a fan of them myself, I thought a little investigation into all their goodness (nutritionally and otherwise) was in order.
Chickpeas have basically been around since the dawn of mankind. No, seriously, that long. Although they were first cultivated in the Middle East around three thousand years ago, evidence of them in the human diet have been found at archaeological sites as old as 7,500 years. There are several varieties, including red, white, black and green; while they can be grown in most sub-tropical climates, the greatest producer of chickpeas is India. And I do mean the greatest: as of 2013 they were producing 8.8 million tonnes annually. That’s more than the following nine countries’ production combined. Show offs. (Just kidding. That’s actually very cool.)
Pretty interesting stuff, but just exactly how “good for you” are they? Well, pretty darn good. The rather unique thing about chickpeas is that, unlike so many other foods out there, cooking them doesn’t destroy (or even diminish) their nutritional benefits, in fact it actually improves them. Just one cup of cooked chickpeas provides 12.5g of fiber, will help in lowering LDL cholesterol (that’s the bad kind) and regulating blood sugar. It’s also a great source of manganese and folate, good news for all those expectant moms out there. But it’s greatest contribution – random as it may seem – is molybdenum. A naturally occurring element in the body, we only have a little of it, but maintaining that level is critical. It is found most often in tooth enamel, and is thought to help in preventing tooth decay. And some studies have indicated a link between molybdenum deficiency and esophageal cancer. So be sure to eat your chickpeas, people!
As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, chickpeas are a versatile little bean. A wide range of cultures use it in their cuisine, and there are innumerable recipes available to anyone willing to do even minimal research. You can find some great ones on www.saveur.com, so be sure to check that out if you’re interested. In hot dishes, chickpeas are terrific in soups and stews, dry-roasted and spiced as a snack, mashed and fried into falafel, served up with pastas, popped and eaten like popcorn, and even brewed as a kind of “coffee”. Prefer them cold? No problem; I love them in salads (both pasta and greens-based) and of course the ever-famous, always-loved hummus. Hummus is in fact the Arab word for chickpea, and there are numerous brands and flavors on the market to suit virtually every taste. They also be ground into chickpea flour, and are also a popular source of animal feed as well. Apparently among it’s many attributes, chickpeas contain certain enzymes that actually aid the body in digestion, which makes them both practical and economically sound for farmers to use. Chickpeas are also relatively simple to store; dried ones will keep in an airtight container for up to a year. Canned ones of course will keep a very long time as well. Once they have been cooked, they can be stored in the refrigerator for about three days in a covered container.
So that’s “all the news that’s fit to print” about these amazing little beans. Grab your hummus, spice up that soup or grab a handful of dry-roasted ones as a snack. You will not be sorry. Happy eating!