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October 12, 2010 / Malcolm Dalebö

Discover Chickpeas

  • The chickpea (Cicer arietinum) (also garbanzo beanIndian peaceci beanBengal gram) is an edible legume of the family Fabaceae, subfamily Faboideae
  • Chickpeas are high in protein and one of the earliest cultivated vegetables; 7,500-year-old remains have been found in the Middle East.

Know your Chickpea – Botany

  • The plant grows to between 20 and 50 cm high and has small feathery leaves on either side of the stem. 
  • Chickpeas are a type of pulse, with one seedpod containing two or three peas. 
  • It has white flowers with blue, violet or pink veins. 
  • Chickpeas need a subtropical or tropical climate with more than 400 millimetres (16 in) of annual rain. 
  • They can be grown in a temperate climate but yields will be much lower.

Know your Chickpea – Origins

  • Domesticated chickpeas have been found in the aceramic levels of Jericho along with Cayönü in Turkey and in Neolithic pottery at Hacilar, Turkey. They are found in the late Neolithic (about 3500 BCE) at Thessaly, Kastanas, Lerna and Dimini. In southern France Mesolithic layers in a cave at L’Abeurador, Aude have yielded wild chickpeas carbon dated to 6790±90 BC.

  • By the Bronze Age, chickpeas were known in Italy and Greece. 

  • In classical Greece, they were called erébinthos and eaten as a staple, a dessert, or consumed raw when young. 

  • The Romans knew several varieties such as venus, ram, and punic chickpeas. They were both cooked down into a broth and roasted as a snack. The Roman gourmet Apicius gives several recipes for chickpeas. Carbonized chickpeas have been found at the Roman legion fort at Neuss (Novaesium), Germany in layers from the first century AD, along with rice.

  • In 1793, ground-roast chickpeas were noted by a German writer as a coffee substitute in Europe and in the First World War, they were grown for this in some areas of Germany. 
  • Chickpeas are still sometimes brewed instead of coffee.

Know your Chickpea – Varieties

  • There are two main kinds of chickpea, desi and kabuli.

Desi chickpea

  • Desi, which has small, darker seeds and a rough coat, cultivated mostly in the Indian subcontinent, Ethiopia, Mexico, and Iran.
  • The Desi (meaning country or local in Hindi) is also known as Bengal gram or kala chana. 
  • Desi is likely the earliest form since it closely resembles seeds found both on archaeological sites and the wild plant ancestor of domesticated chickpeas (Cicer reticulatum) which only grows in south-east Turkey, where it is believed to have originated. 
  • Desi chickpeas have a markedly higher fibre content than Kabulis and hence a very low glycemic index which may make them suitable for people with blood sugar problems.
  • The desi type is used to make Chana Dal, which is a split chickpea with the skin removed.

Kabuli chickpea

  • Kabuli, which has lighter coloured, larger seeds and a smoother coat, mainly grown in Southern Europe, Northern Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Chile, also introduced during the 18th century to the Indian subcontinent.
  • Kabuli (meaning from Kabul in Hindi, since they were thought to have come from Afghanistan when first seen in India) is the kind widely grown throughout the Mediterranean. 

Know your Chickpeas – Cultivation

  • Chickpeas are grown in the Mediterranean, western Asia, the Indian subcontinent and Australia. 

  • Domestically they can be sprouted within a few days all year round with a sprouter on a windowsill.

Know your Chickpea – Uses

  • Mature chickpeas can be cooked and eaten cold in salads, cooked in stews, ground into a flour called gram flour (also known as besan and used primarily in Indian cuisine), ground and shaped in balls and fried as falafel, fermented to make an alcoholic drink similar to sake, stirred into a batter and baked to make farinata, cooked and ground into a paste called hummus or roasted, spiced and eaten as a snack (such as leblebi). 

  • Chick peas and bengal grams are used to make curries and are one of the most popular vegetarian foods in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the UK. 

  • On the Indian subcontinent chickpeas are called Harbharaa in Marathi (the green variety, that is), kadale kaalu in Kannada, shanaga (శనగ) in Telugu, chana in Hindi and other Indic languages, Chhola in Bengali and konda kadalai in Tamil, where they are a major source of protein in a mostly vegetarian culture. 

  • Typically Chana in Hindi and Punjabi might refer to both varieties, as might chhole, but the former is more the green hard small variety while the latter is the large creamy softer one and also the more popular dish served around the region outside homes as well as on celebrations, although it is not restricted to celebrations as a matter of home cuisine. 

  • The harder variety is rarely seen on celebrations in north or served outside homes.

  • Many popular dishes in Indian cuisine are made with chickpea flour, such as mirchi bajji and mirapakaya bajji telugu. 

  • In India, as well as in the Levant, unripe chickpeas are often picked out of the pod and eaten as a raw snack and the leaves are eaten as a green vegetable in salads. 

  • In season the plant cut from earth is sold on streets in bunches and people buy them to eat the bean raw, just for fun. 

  • Chickpea flour is also used to make “Burmese tofu” which was first known among the Shan people of Burma. 

  • The flour is used as a batter to coat various vegetables and meats before frying, such as with panelle, a chickpea fritter from Sicily. 

  • Chickpea flour is also used to make the mediterranean flatbread socca.

  • In the Philippines garbanzo beans preserved in syrup are eaten as sweets and in desserts such as halo-halo. 

  • Ashkenazi Jews traditionally serve whole chickpeas at a Shalom Zachar celebration for baby boys.

  • Dried chickpeas need a long cooking time (1–2 hours) but will easily fall apart when cooked longer. 

  • If soaked for 12–24 hours before use, cooking time can be considerably shortened by around 30 minutes.

  • It should be noted that that chickpeas (Cicer arietinum) do not cause lathyrism. 

  • Similarly named “chickling peas” (Lathyrus sativus) and other plants of the genus Lathyrus contain the toxins associated with lathyrism.


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