Checking Out Chickpeas

Chickpeas (Cicer arietinum) are legumes that belong to the family Fabaceae, along with  fava beansedible-pod and mature peassoybeans, common beans (green snap beanspinto beansheirloom beans, black turtle beans, kidney beans, and navy beans), jicamaadzuki beans,  lentilslima beanspeanuts, carob, and licorice. The family also includes broom, gorse, and kudzu.

Also known as garbanzo beans, ceci beans, bengal gram, shimbra, hommes, lahlabi, and chana, chickpeas were probably first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent region of Mesopotamia during the Holocene epoch, which began 11,700 years ago. They were grown along with flax, peas, emmer wheat, barley, einkorn wheat, lentils, and bitter vetch.

Chickpeas were cultivated in what is now southeast Turkey 7,500 years ago. Domesticated chickpeas have been found in the aceramic levels of Jericho along with Cayönü in Turkey and in Neolithic pottery at Hacilar, Turkey.

Mesolithic layers in a cave at L’Abeurador, Aude, in southern France, have yielded wild chickpeas carbon dated to about 6790 BC.

Chickpeas were found in the late Neolithic (about 3500 BC) at Thessaly, Kastanas, Lerna and Dimini, Greece.

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. Ancient people also associated chickpeas with Venus because they were believed to increase sperm and milk, provoke menstruation and urine, and help to treat kidney stones. “White cicers” were thought to be especially strong and helpful.

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

The Roman cookbook De re coquinaria (“On the Subject of Cooking”) – Apicius, from the 4th–5th century AD, gives several recipes for chickpeas.

Charlemagne’s Capitulare de villis (about 800 AD) mentions chickpeas as cicer italicum, which were grown in the imperial gardens.

Albertus Magnus, a European writer of the 13th century, mentions red, white, and black varieties.

Nicholas Culpeper, a 17th-century English herbalist, noted “chick-pease or cicers” are less “windy” than peas and more nourishing.

In 1793, a German writer noted that ground-roast chickpeas could be used as a substitute for coffee in Europe. During the First World War, farmers in some areas of Germany grew chickpeas as a coffee substitute in some areas of Germany. They are still sometimes brewed instead of coffee.

Today, chickpeas are traditional favorites in Middle Eastern, Indian, European, and even Burmese cooking.

Chickpeas can:

  1. Fight free radicals. Many of your body systems, including your cardiovascular system, your lungs, and your nervous system, are susceptible to oxidative stress and damage from reactive oxygen molecules. Chickpeas contain plentiful amounts of antioxidants that are critical for supporting these body systems. Just one cup of chickpeas can provide you with nearly 85% of the DV for  of the mineral manganese, a key antioxidant in the energy-producing mitochondria inside most of your cells. Chickpeas also contain concentrated supplies of antioxidant phytochemicals, including the flavonoids quercetin, kaempferol, and myricetin (usually found in the outer layer of the beans), and the phenolic acids ferulic acid, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, and vanillic acid (usually found in the interior portion of the beans). Depending on the type of bean and the color and thickness of the outer layer, chickpeas can also contain significant amounts of the anthocyanins delphinidin, cyanidin, and petunidin.
  2. Promote cardiovascular health. Eating chickpeas and other legumes regularly can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease. The folate in chickpeas helps prevent homocysteine build-up in your blood, which decreases your risk of heart attack. Chickpeas are also a rich source of both types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, but are particularly rich in soluble fiber, which may help improve your blood sugar and cholesterol and triglyceride levels. About one-third of the fiber in chickpeas is soluble fiber, which is particularly effective at lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol levels. The copper in chickpeas also plays a role in keeping your blood vessels healthy. Phosphorus, along with magnesium in chickpeas, helps maintain a healthy heartbeat. Magnesium, along with potassium, helps regulate blood pressure.
    Chickpeas also have a unique combination of antioxidants, which provide support for your blood vessels walls and blood itself. And chickpeas contain valuable amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids, including alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the omega-3 fatty acid from which all other omega-3 fats are made. There are about 70-80 milligrams of ALA in every cup of chickpeas, and there are about 2 grams of other polyunsaturated fatty acids.
  3. Support your immune and nervous systems. Like all legumes, chickpeas are loaded with nutrients, including folate, copper, phosphorus, magnesiumiron, potassium, and thiamine. Together, these nutrients contribute to a better immune and nervous system. The folate in chickpeas supports your immune system and allows your nerves to function properly. The copper and magnesium in chickpeas also plays a role in keeping your immune system healthy. Phosphorus and potassium in chickpeas help regulate nerve transmission. Iron helps generate T lymphocytes, white blood cells often referred to as T cells, which play an important role in immune function. Iron also helps generate hypochlorous acid, a beneficial reactive oxygen species that white blood cells use to kill pathogens. The thiamine in chickpeas is important for a nervous system function and energy metabolism.
  4. Support blood health. Folate supports red blood cell production and helps prevent anemia. Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, a protein responsible for oxygen transport in your bloodstream.  Copper helps produce red and white blood cells and triggers the release of iron to form hemoglobin.
  5. Support healthy skin. Folate supports cell production, especially in your skin.
  6. Maintain strong bones. Folate in chickpeas helps prevent osteoporosis-related bone fractures. Manganese facilitates formation of bone. Copperphosphorus, and magnesium are important for maintaining strong, healthy bones.
  7. Support your digestive tract. Chickpeas contain about 12.5 grams of fiber per cup, or 50% of the Daily Value (DV). At least two-thirds of the fiber in chickpeas is insoluble. This insoluble fiber typically passes all the way through your digestive tract unchanged, until it reaches the last part of your large intestine, your colon. Bacteria in your colon can break down the chickpeas’ insoluble fiber into short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) including acetic acid, propionic acid, and butyric acid. The cells that line your colon wall can absorb these SCFAs and use them for energy. In fact, butyric acid is the preferred source of energy for the cells lining your colon. With the extra energy provided by SCFAs from the insoluble fiber in chickpeas, your colon cells can stay optimally active and healthy. Healthier colon cell function means lower risk for colon problems, including lower risk of colon cancer.
  8. Regulate blood sugar. Chickpeas improve blood sugar regulation. Fiber and protein help stabilize the flow of food through your digestive tract, and prevent food from breaking down too quickly or too slowly, and sugar is released into your blood at an optimal rate. Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants can also help stabilize a food’s digestive impact on your blood sugar.
  9. Help you maintain a healthy weight. Along with their unusual combination of protein and fiber and their ability to stabilize digestion, chickpeas are moderate in terms of calories. At approximately 270 calories per cup, they contain 10-15% of daily calories. In return for this moderate calorie cost, you get 84.5% of the DV for manganese, 70.52% of the DV for folate, 64.44% of the DV for copper, 50% of the DV for fiber, 39.36% of the DV for phosphorus,  and 29% of the DV for protein. They’re low in fat, and most of it is polyunsaturated. That nutrient profile amounts to great news for anyone struggling with weight loss or weight management.

Nutrients in 1 Cup (164 grams) of Cooked Chickpeas

Nutrient Amount Daily Value
manganese 1.69 mg 84.5%
folate 282.08 µg 70.52%
copper 0.58 mg 64.44%
fiber 12.46 g 49.84%
phosphorus 275.52 mg 39.36%
protein 14.53 g 29.06%
iron 4.74 mg 26.33%
zinc 2.51 mg 22.82%
carbohydrates 44.97 g 19.99%
magnesium 78.72 mg 19.68%
thiamine 0.19 mg 15.83%
Calories 268.96 14.94%
potassium 477.24 mg 13.64%
vitamin B6 0.23 mg 13.53%
choline 70.2 mg 12.76%
selenium 6.07 µg 11.04%
pantothenic acid 0.47 mg 9.4%
calcium 80.36 mg 8.04%
riboflavin 0.1 mg 7.69%
vitamin K 6.56 µg 7.29%
fat 4.25 g 7%
niacin 0.86 mg 4%
vitamin E 0.57 mg 3.8%
omega-3 fatty acid 70 mg 2.92%
vitamin C 2.13 mg 2.84%
sodium 11.48 mg 0.77%
vitamin A 44.28 IU 0.25%
cholesterol 0 mg 0%
carotene-ß 26.2 µg

Many grocery stores sell chickpeas either canned or dried. Canned chickpeas are more convenient, but may contain additives or extra salt added to them to help preserve their color and flavor.

For dried chickpeas, make sure there’s no evidence of moisture or insect damage and that peas are whole and not cracked. If buying in bulk, make sure that the bins are covered and the store has a good product turnover rate to ensure maximum freshness.

Store dried chickpeas in an airtight container in a cool, dry, and dark place where they will keep for up to 12 months. If you purchase chickpeas at different times, store them separately; they may feature varying stages of dryness and therefore will require different cooking times. Cooked chickpeas will keep fresh in a covered container in the refrigerator for about three days.

Before washing dried chickpeas, spread them on a plate or cooking surface to check for small stones, debris, or damaged peas. Then, place the peas in a strainer, and rinse them thoroughly under cool running water.

Note that most of the phosphorus in chickpeas is in a storage form of phosphate called phytic acid or phytate. Seeds are how most plants reproduce. When they are eaten by animals, it is beneficial to the survival of their species if they can pass through the animal’s digestive system intact to be deposited, encased in fertilizer, elsewhere. In order for the plant to reproduce, it’s necessary that the seed pass through the digestive tract whole (undigested). Many plant seeds have developed defense mechanisms to make them more difficult to digest, including enzyme inhibitors that can interfere with digestion and other natural substances that block nutrient absorption. Phytic acid prevents premature germination and stores nutrients for plant growth. Unfortunately, it also reduces the absorption of the important minerals calciummagnesiumiron, and zinc, and reduces the digestibility of protein. This applies not only to the minerals and protein in the food containing the phytic acid, but also the food that you eat with it. Over time, these phytates can lead to mineral deficiencies, allergies, and irritation of the intestinal tract. Only about 50% of the phosphorus from phytate is available to humans because we lack phytase, the enzyme that liberates phosphorus from phytate.

Traditionally, humans soaked, sprouted,  or fermented beans before eating them, processes that neutralizes phytates and enzyme inhibitors so that all the nutrients are more available.

When a plant seed undergoes germination, changes occur that provide the growing plant with needed nutrients. These changes include the breakdown of phytic acid, the inactivation of protease inhibitors, and the increased availability of vitamins and minerals, all of which increase the nutritional value of the seed and improve its digestibility. In nature, germination typically occurs when a plant seed encounters conditions that are favorable for growth, and that typically involves water. You can easily initiate the germination of chickpeas by soaking them in 2-3 cups of water per cup of peas. Soaking reduces phytic acid in about 4 hours. Soaking can also increase the content of some vitamins and help break down complex carbohydrates such as raffinose-type oligosaccharides (sugars associated with causing flatulence). Cooking also deactivates natural plant toxins that may still exist after soaking.

To prevent chickpeas from absorbing chemicals from the water or container that they’re soaking in, consider using a glass or ceramic container and filtered water. It may also be beneficial to use lukewarm water and increase its acidity with a tablespoon or two of lemon juice or vinegar. Soak chickpeas for 4 to 24 hours in water with 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice. Rinse well and cook as usual in 2-3 cups of fresh water per cup of dried beans.

Soaking seeds is easy; it just takes takes a little discipline. In the evening, put your chickpeas in a bowl and cover them with filtered water. By the next day, the beans are ready to cook.

You can cook chickpeas either on the stove top or in a pressure cooker or slow cooker. For the stove top method, add three cups of fresh water for each cup of dried peas. The liquid should be about one to two inches above the top of the beans. Bring the beans to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, partially covering the pot. If any foam develops, simply skim it off during the simmering process. Soaked chickpeas generally take about one and one-quarter to one and one-half hours to become tender using this method.

You can also cook kidney beans in a pressure cooker, where soaked kidney beans take about 9-18 minutes to prepare, or in a slow cooker, where they take about six hours on high.

And don’t worry. If you forget to soak your chickpeas, you can always cook them without soaking. Phytic acid, it turns out, is an antioxidant, and you’re probably getting plenty of protein and other nutrients and not relying on a diet of unsoaked chickpeas. Plus, you can always use canned beans for a really quick meal.

Regardless of cooking method, do not add any salt or acid (like tomatoes) until after chickpeas have been cooked; adding them earlier will make the peas tough and greatly increase the cooking time. To aid in digestion, you can add to your cooking peas a four-inch strip of the sea vegetable kombu, available dried in the Asian specialty section of grocery stores. Also try adding a teaspoon of ajwain per pound of peas. Ajwain is a traditional herb of the Middle East that is believed to help with digestion.

Chickpeas can be cooked and eaten cold in salads, blended into hummus, cooked in stews, ground into flour, ground and shaped in balls and fried as falafel, or stirred into a batter and baked to make farinata. Season them with cardamom, cilantro, coriander, cumin, fennel, garlic, ginger, mint, paprika, parsley, or rosemary. In Portugal, chickpeas are often used in hot dishes and in soup. In Spain they are used cold in tapas and salads, as well as hot in stews. Hummus is the Arabic word for chickpeas, which are cooked and ground into a paste and mixed with tahini into a spread or dip known as hummus bi tahini or just “hummus.” Chickpeas are also roasted, spiced, and eaten as a snack. Chickpeas are used to make curries in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Chickpea flour, also known as gram or besan, is used:

  • By the Shan people of Burma to make “Burmese tofu”
  • In Sicily to make panelle, a chickpea-battered vegetable fritter
  • To make the Mediterranean flatbread socca
  • To make a patty called panisse in Provence, southern France, made of cooked chickpea flour, poured into saucers, allowed to set, cut in strips, and fried in olive oil, often eaten during Lent.

Some serving ideas:

  • Puree chickpeas, fresh garlic, tahini, and lemon juice to make a quick and easy hummus.
  • Sprinkle chickpeas with your favorite spices and herbs and eat as a snack.
  • Add chickpeas to your green salads.
  • Simmer cooked chickpeas in a sauce of tomato paste, curry spices, and chopped walnuts and serve with brown rice.
  • Adding chickpeas to your vegetable soup will enhance its taste, texture, and nutritional content.

This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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