Whether you call them chickpeas or garbanzo beans, it is the most loved bean on the planet, and for many good reasons! Second to soybeans, chickpeas are the next most widely grown and eaten bean the world over.
It’s believed their origins go back to the ancient Mediterranean civilizations more than 7500 years ago. From there they spread to other parts of Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia.
In ancient times, chickpeas have been associated with the goddess Venus because they were believed to offer powerful health benefits related to reproduction.
Only in the past decade or so they’ve become more popular in North America because of the trend towards a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.
Uses Around The World
Chickpeas are members of the legume family and offer a wide range of health benefits. They increase satiety, stabilize blood sugar levels, boost digestion, reduce bad cholesterol, and provide an excellent source of plant-based protein as well as other vitamins and minerals.
The Romans used them in broths, roasts and stews.
In Greece & the Middle East, it’s no secret that hummus is king and falafels are ever so popular! They are also used in stews and snacks in Africa and the Middle East.
Chickpeas have a special place in Indian and Pakistani cuisines. Of course chana masala (chickpea curry) is on every Indian restaurant menu, as are pakoras. You may not know that pakoras are made with chickpea flour (known as besan or gram flour). You may also not know that chickpea flour is a healthy gluten-free alternative. They are also widely used in snacks, curries and daals.
There are two main varieties of chickpeas:
KABULI are the whitish coloured large ones with a smooth coat. They come from Africa and the Mediterranean region. This variety is what you normally find in cans. Canned, pre-cooked chickpeas are a great option when you don’t have time to cook them from scratch. But make sure to buy “BPA free” canned products to avoid toxins that can leach into your food. Also, make sure to rinse the beans to wash away the brine and reduce salt content.
To cook them from scratch, soak the dry chickpeas overnight to decrease not only cooking time but also help with the following:
- Aids in digestion and less gas forming
- Better absorption of nutrients
- Reduces phytic acid which is known to prevent mineral absorption*
*Many of the vitamins/minerals found in beans are bound to phytic acid, making it difficult to absorb them.
Use a 4 to 1 water ratio and a bit of salt to cook the pre-soaked dried beans for about 1.5 hours or until tender.
The Kabuli chickpeas are used for making hummus, veggie burgers, falafels, pakoras, sandwiches, chana masala, curries, stews, and roasted snacks.
DESI are the darker smaller seeds that are grown mainly in India. They range in colour from light to dark brown. They can be purchased whole or split with the skins removed. Sometimes you can also find these canned in ethnic supermarkets.
The whole brown chickpeas are used in Indian cuisine mainly in curries. The split yellow variety is the same beans without the outer skin. This is called chana daal. It has a much shorter cooking time than the whole beans and does not require pre-soaking.
Pre-soaking and cooking times are similar for both dried varieties of chickpeas.
Fresh / Frozen
Nowadays, you can even get fresh frozen garbanzo beans from California. They have a higher protein content and are lower in calories, carbs and sodium than canned ones! If you can find them, I would highly recommend you try them. They are wonderful in salads, stir frys, curries and even make great dips!
- Blood sugar stabilization: Chickpeas contain starch, which is a slow burning carbohydrate that does not spike glucose levels. This is important for people with diabetes.
- Increase satiety => less calorie consumption: Due to their high level of protein and fibre, chickpeas reduce cravings. Feeling full and satisfied makes you less likely to snack on unhealthy calories in between meals. Being low in calories but high in essential fibre and protein makes chickpeas a perfect food for healthy and sustainable weight loss.
- Help with digestion: For healthy digestion, we need to consume at least 20 grams of fibre every day. With 12 grams of dietary fibre per cup, chickpeas deliver their weight in gold so to speak! Fibre helps with digestion by quickly moving foods through the digestive tract. It also helps to balance pH levels and bacteria within the gut. An imbalance in gut flora bacteria can be linked to many different digestive problems. Fibre increases healthy bacteria while decreasing unhealthy bacteria.
- Protect against cardiovascular risks: Large scale epidemiologic studies have proven chickpeas to be outstanding in supporting heart health if consumed on a regular basis. They help lower bad cholesterol (LDL) as well as total cholesterol and triglycerides. About one-third of the fibre in chickpeas is soluble. This type of fibre is the type most closely associated with support of heart health.
- Supply of essential vitamins, mineral and antioxidants: Many of our body systems are susceptible to oxidative stress and damage. These systems include our cardiovascular system, our lungs, and our nervous system. Plentiful amounts of antioxidant nutrients are critical for the support of these body systems, and chickpeas are a remarkable food in terms of their antioxidant composition. While containing small but valuable amounts of conventional antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene, chickpeas also contain more concentrated supplies of antioxidant phytonutrients (details of which are beyond the scope of this article).
- Support a healthy colon: Because of their high fibre content, beans keep the digestive system and colon free from harmful bacteria and toxic build-up. They create a healthier overall environment where pH levels are balanced, inflammation is reduced and therefore preventing cancer cells from finding a friendly environment to grow in.
- Excellent source of plant-based protein: When eaten with grains or rice and even some vegetables, beans work together with these foods to make up a “complete protein. A complete protein contains all of the essential amino acids that the body requires from food in order to function properly and for energy.
Now that you know more about chickpeas and their health benefits, make sure to always have them on hand to use in salads, dips, stews, curries and so much more!