Easy Peasy Chickpeas: Nutrition, Benefits, and Everyday Uses in the Kitchen

Easy Peasy Chickpeas: Nutrition, Benefits, and Everyday Uses in the Kitchen

What do hummus, falafels, and various curry meals have in common? They’re made of chickpeas! Chickpeas are one of the most versatile and beloved foods across the globe. Their grainy, nutty texture makes them perfect in making salads, soups, wraps, fritters, appetizers and desserts. Not only are they flavorful, they are also packed with protein and fiber and contain numerous vitamins and minerals beneficial to our health.

What are chickpeas?

Chickpeas are members of the legume family. They were originally grown solely in the Middle East region 7,500 years ago. Since then, their cultivation has spread to various regions, such as Spain, India, and North Africa. Here in the Philippines, researchers and agriculturists are promoting local growth of the legume in the Cordillera region.

Chickpeas generally possess a mild, nutty flavor and a crunchy texture when eaten. There are two main varieties of chickpeas based on their appearance: kabuli and desi.

Kabuli chickpeas

Kabuli chickpeas

Kabuli chickpeas or garbanzo beans are round, cream-colored seeds with paper-thin, smooth seed coats. These mainly grow in the Mediterranean, South America, and Southeast Asia regions. Kabuli chickpeas are the typically added in salads, stews, and soups. During grocery runs and food trips, I’d frequently find them canned, pureed as hummus, or fried into falafel balls. Dried kabuli chickpeas can be finely milled into protein-rich, gluten-free flour.

Desi chickpeas

Desi chickpeas

Desi chickpeas account for 80-85% total chickpeas in the world. Typically grown in East Africa and India, Desi chickpeas are smaller, angular seeds, ranging from light to dark brown or black in color. They have relatively thicker seed coats compared to kabuli chickpeas. Desi chickpeas are commonly used to make South Asian dahl or soups. Like kabuli chickpeas, desi chickpeas can be ground into flour as well.

Nutritive value

Like other legumes, chickpeas are rich in protein and fiber. They also contain substantial amounts of vitamins and minerals that protect us from deficiencies and diseases. Let’s take a closer look at the nutritional profile of chickpeas compared to other popular legumes below:

Nutritive Value per
100-gram edible portion
ChickpeasLentilsSoybeansPeasBlack beans
Energy (kcal)164116172118132
Protein (g)8.869.0218.218.348.86
Fat (g)2.590.388.970.390.54
Carbohydrate (g)27.4220.138.3621.1023.71
Fiber (g)7.67.968.38.7
Folate (μg)1721815465149
Phosphorus (mg)16818024599140
Magnesium (mg)4836863670
Zinc (mg)1.531.271.151.001.12
Vitamin C (mg)1.31.51.70.40.0
Vitamin A (IU)278976
Sodium (mg)72121
(Çakir, Uçarli, Tarhan, Rhan, Pekmez, Murat, & Turgut-Kara, 2019). 

Kabuli and desi chickpeas generally share minimal differences in their nutrient content. However, desi chickpeas contain more fiber than kabuli ones due to their thicker hulls.

Chickpeas are a rising alternative to animal-based food products. Unlike animal food, chickpeas are low in fat, yet high in fiber, preventing heart diseases and obesity. Although chickpeas only have almost half the amount of protein in chicken (given the same number of calories), they generally are a good source of protein, containing 25-30% of protein. Since proteins in plant are incomplete (containing fewer than all nine essential amino acids), it is recommended to eat chickpeas with other vegetarian protein sources, such as lentils and beans.

Health benefits

1. Chickpeas promote our cardiovascular health.

Various studies have shown that consumption of chickpeas can lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure, reducing the risk for cardiovascular diseases. Secondary metabolites in chickpeas, such as isoflavones, also aid in heart disease prevention by maintaining the structure of our blood vessels and reducing blood lipid levels.

2. Chickpeas help with cancer prevention.

Chickpeas also have protective functions against a variety of cancers. They contain butyrate, a short chain fatty acid, which suppresses cell proliferation, stimulates apoptosis, and lessens inflammation in colon cells for the prevention of colorectal cancer. Carotenoid in chickpeas may also reduce the risk of prostate and lung cancer due to their antioxidant potential.

3. Chickpeas aid in regulating our blood sugar response.

Because chickpeas contain high amounts of resistant starch and amylose, they generally have a low glycemic index, resulting in the lower availability of glucose to our bodies. This leads to the slower entry of the sugar into our bloodstreams, and in turn, prevents spiking insulin levels, lowering the risk for type 2 diabetes. Resistant starch also aids in glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity.

How to use

Chickpeas are available dried or canned and precooked. The former usually requires more time and effort for preparation since they need to be sprouted or cooked for our consumption. Like other pulses, raw chickpeas contain toxic lectins and may be difficult to digest.

Here’s how to prepare and cook dried chickpeas:

  • Chickpeas should be first rinsed, strained, and sorted to clean the beans and remove unwanted debris. 
  • They are then soaked in cold water overnight (8-12 hours). This process makes the chickpeas swell and become softer for easier digestion.
  • For busy bees who’d like to consume chickpeas more immediately, chickpeas can be soaked more quickly by boiling them for 5 minutes in a large pot and letting them sit in the water for 1 hour. 
  • After the chickpeas are soaked, they may then be cooked by boiling them for around 45 to 60 minutes in a pot with water twice the volume of the chickpeas. 

Dried chickpeas may also be sprouted to neutralize anti-nutrients and make vitamins and minerals more available for our systems.

  • After rinsing dried chickpeas in lukewarm water, they are submerged in water in a container covered with cheesecloth for 24 hours in a dark area.
  • They are then rinsed and placed back into the same covered container, moist but not submerged and left to sprout for 2-3 days. It’s recommended to rinse these beans twice a day to remove any dirt or waste.
  • After the lentils have sprouted, they are set to dry before eating or cooking them.

Canned chickpeas are fairly easy to prepare. They are simply strained and rinsed well and can already be added to several meals or cooked alongside different dishes.

Don’t throw away the water in the can or used in cooking chickpeas! This liquid is called aquafaba and contains numerous carbohydrates, proteins, and soluble plant solids from the chickpea seeds. Due to its similar properties with egg whites, it is often used as an emulsifier or binder in foods. Learn the different ways you can use aquafaba.

Recipes

One of the best qualities of chickpeas is that they can practically be added to any meal! They complement many kinds of foods and act as a great meat substitute for vegetarians. Here are some of my favorite chickpea recipes:

Chickpea Scramble Breakfast Bowl (left); Cauliflower Tomato Salad with Chickpeas (right)

Final thoughts

  • Chickpeas are versatile legumes that can be used in practically every recipe, from salads to soups!
  • They are prominently grown in the Middle East, Spain, India, and North Africa, but efforts in cultivating chickpeas in the Philippines are recently being made.
  • Chickpeas not only serve as great source of protein and fiber but also boost our cardiovascular health, play a role in cancer prevention, and help regulate our blood sugar response. 
  • Chickpeas are usually available canned or dried. Dried chickpeas must be soaked or sprouted prior to cooking. Water used in storing or cooking chickpeas is called aquafaba and can be added to various recipes!

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References

Bea Reyes

Bea is a summa cum laude graduate of the BS Biology program in the University of the Philippines Diliman. She is an aspiring medical physician who aims to integrate functional foods and holistic wellness in her practice. Her interests lie in sustainable living, mindful self-care, and fitness, and strives to empower other individuals with these passions. In her free time, she loves creating hearty food recipes, listening to inspirational podcasts, nature walks, and staying active.

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