Chickpeas: the little pulses with huge potential

#SmartProtein

Chickpeas are one of four high-potential crops that the Smart Protein project is focusing on, along with fava beans, quinoa, and lentils. These powerful little pulses stand out due to their strong nutrition profile and a wide diversity of uses. They can be integrated into various diets in many different and extremely delicious ways. Let’s dive into the world of chickpeas.

By Heike Reuber and Basti Rückert

Why chickpeas deserve the ‘smart’ attribute 

The EU-funded Smart Protein project, with over 30 international partners, focuses on the development of alternative plant-based protein ingredients and products for human consumption. Smart Protein and chickpeas belong together. They and other crops, such as fava beans, quinoa, and lentils, bring numerous benefits. Their potential lies in a positive impact on the bio-economy, environment, biodiversity, nutrition, food security, and consumer trust and acceptance. 

While it’s a no-brainer that chickpeas are rich in protein, what is it about them that is ‘smart’? They are nutritious, have a lower impact on the planet compared to animal-based foods, are affordable, accessible, and have a broad range of culinary applications. All of which makes them pretty smart!

 

The journey of chickpeas

Chickpeas have become an integral part of culinary culture in the Western world, particularly in the forms of falafel and hummus. But before they found their way onto Western plates, these little peas had already had a long journey. It is estimated that chickpeas were cultivated in Asia Minor 8,000 years ago and made their way from there to India, North Africa, and the Mediterranean region. Today, chickpeas can still be found growing wild in Asia and in Southern European countries. 

The cultivation of this multi-talented legume currently takes place in many regions, including the Middle East, South and Central America, and the Mediterranean, with India and Pakistan at the forefront of chickpea production. In Southern Europe, the Kabuli chickpea is the most common cultivar. It is yellowish, round, and larger than the Desi chickpea, which is mainly consumed in Africa, Asia, and Australia. The Smart Protein project focuses on appropriate crop production strategies in European sites, including Poland, Netherlands, Spain, and Ireland. Collecting data regarding different factors such as climate will help to ensure a sustainable local supply of this protein-rich crop.

 

Chickpeas are like chameleons

What do we think of first when it comes to chickpeas? The creamy and seductive consistency of hummus, of course! But chickpeas can do so much more. With their taste and consistency, they are great all-rounders. Chickpeas have a mild, slightly nutty aroma and an excellent texture, making them delicious when cooked, baked, or pureed. These chameleons of the vegetable world are super-flexible and multidimensional. They can be easily incorporated into a wide range of dishes, from traditional Indian curries to falafel, Spanish stews, and fancy bowls.

 

How to enjoy chickpeas

Embark on a creative, multicultural journey with chickpeas. There are no limits to your imagination. However, to get off to a good start, it’s important to know a few basics: chickpeas must not be eaten raw, as they contain special proteins that can be dangerous to your health. When dried, they must be soaked for about 12 hours and then cooked for about 2 hours.

To save time, chickpeas can be bought pre-cooked in a can. They are also particularly tasty as a snack or salad topping, roasted in the oven with a little oil and some spices. Chickpea flour is also a great gluten-free alternative to wheat flour. It’s also easy to turn it into a rainbow of colours for visual appeal. Simply add cooked beetroot, avocado and mint, curry and boiled sweet potato, or roasted peppers to a basic hummus recipe for a rainbow of colours. Hummus can even be combined with chocolate flavours. 

 

Chickpeas broaden your (sweet) horizon

Yes, it’s true – due to their mild taste, delicious chocolate hummus, cookies, or cakes can all be made from chickpeas. Additionally, aquafaba, the cooking water from chickpeas, has similar properties to egg-white protein, which means that it can be whipped into a firm consistency, making it ideal for chocolate mousse, meringues, and many other desserts. (Make sure not to use the soaking water, however, as it contains toxins.)

 

Why your body appreciates chickpeas

National and international food societies 1)https://wiebaktmee.nl/cms/pdf/Schlemmer%20_Mol_Nutr_Food_res_2009_Phytate_in_foods_and_significance_for_humans.pdf
Schlemmer, U., Frølich, W., Prieto, R.M. & Grases, F. (2009). Phytate in foods and significance for humans: food sources, intake, processing, bioavailability, protective role and analysis. Mol Nutr Food Res, 53(2), 330-375.
recommend the daily consumption of legumes such as chickpeas. They can compete with animal-based products, thanks to their high protein and mineral content. In addition, they score points with health-promoting dietary fibre and phytochemicals.2)The U.S. Departement of Agriculture & The U.S. Departement of Health and Human. (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Legumes have disease-protection properties and can be used to optimise health.3)Becerra-Tomás, N., Díaz-López, A. & N. Rosique-Esteban et al. (2017): Legume consumption is inversely associated with type 2 diabetes incidence in adults: A prospective assessment from the PREDIMED study. Clin Nutr. available here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28392166
WHO (2016): Global Report on Diabetes. S. 36. available here: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/204871/9789241565257_eng.pdf%3Bjsessionid=131F7670AEBC4F39A3290A0D0A0E6D11?sequence=1
Chickpeas, in particular, are rich in high-quality proteins, complex carbohydrates, important vitamins, minerals, trace elements, and fibre. They have positive effects on digestion, the cardiovascular system, and blood sugar levels. Furthermore, they also have antioxidant effects, provide a feeling of satiety, and are a great source of protein.4)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22916806/
Jukanti AK, Gaur PM, Gowda CL, Chibbar RN. Nutritional quality and health benefits of chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.): a review. Br J Nutr. 2012;108 Suppl 1:S11-S26. doi:10.1017/S0007114512000797
 

Overall, chickpeas are a sustainable and nutritious alternative to animal-based protein. By putting these and other crops on the agenda, the Smart Protein project is focusing on building a future-proof protein supply, targeting the most urgent global challenges, including climate change and global food security. Chickpeas are a powerful ingredient in terms of supporting this mission. In the Smart Protein project, new nutritious and functional protein ingredients that are industrially validated and optimised will be produced from chickpeas. These proteins, in combination with proteins from fava beans, lentils, and quinoa, will be used for the development of innovative plant-based foods such as cheese and yoghurt alternatives, meat and seafood alternatives, bakery products, pasta, sauces, infant food, and sports drinks. Adding these foods to your diet as a key source of protein will satisfy your taste buds as well as the rest of your body. So, start exploring the wide world of chickpeas today. The possibilities are endless.

References   [ + ]

1. https://wiebaktmee.nl/cms/pdf/Schlemmer%20_Mol_Nutr_Food_res_2009_Phytate_in_foods_and_significance_for_humans.pdf
Schlemmer, U., Frølich, W., Prieto, R.M. & Grases, F. (2009). Phytate in foods and significance for humans: food sources, intake, processing, bioavailability, protective role and analysis. Mol Nutr Food Res, 53(2), 330-375.
2. The U.S. Departement of Agriculture & The U.S. Departement of Health and Human. (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
3. Becerra-Tomás, N., Díaz-López, A. & N. Rosique-Esteban et al. (2017): Legume consumption is inversely associated with type 2 diabetes incidence in adults: A prospective assessment from the PREDIMED study. Clin Nutr. available here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28392166
WHO (2016): Global Report on Diabetes. S. 36. available here: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/204871/9789241565257_eng.pdf%3Bjsessionid=131F7670AEBC4F39A3290A0D0A0E6D11?sequence=1
4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22916806/
Jukanti AK, Gaur PM, Gowda CL, Chibbar RN. Nutritional quality and health benefits of chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.): a review. Br J Nutr. 2012;108 Suppl 1:S11-S26. doi:10.1017/S0007114512000797