2016 is the year of the pulses

Photo: Bff/Wikimedia Commons

It’s about time – and long overdue – but finally, after years of being overlooked, the small but mighty beans that we often refer to as pulses have been spotlighted for their amazing nutritional attributes.

What is most impressive is that these dried seeds from the legume family, including chickpeas, lentils, dried beans and peas, provide a high quality protein that is not only sustainable but eco-friendly as well.

In fact, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization have declared that 2016 is the International Year of the Pulses, in the hopes that these under-appreciated crops can shine as they should.

This is great news for the Canadian economy. Pulses are our fifth-largest crop, with net exports of more than $3 billion per year.

While pulse crops provide a great boon to our export economy, more importantly, they have a much lower impact on our environmental footprint than other harvests or animal-based proteins, as they only require small quantities of water to produce.

They also create less carbon emissions per yield. In fact, according to the Global Pulse Confederation, producing one kilogram of legumes creates 0.5 kg of CO2 equivalent, whereas it takes 9.5 kilograms of CO2 equivalent to produce an equal amount of beef.

Pulses do not require the use of nitrogen fertilizer to grow, due to their nitrogen-fixing properties. Not using nitrogen helps to protect the rivers and streams from the effects of nitrate leaching, as well as maintaining soil quality for future crops. Moreover, nitrogen use in agriculture is considered one of the main contributors to greenhouse gases.

Aside from the tremendous environmental advantages, the biggest benefit with pulses remains that they are an affordable vegan source of quality protein and complex carbohydrates for those who are watching their budget. With the cost of meat expected to rise about 4.5 per cent this year, pulses offer a viable alternative.

Providing a good source of vitamins such as B5, B6 and B12 and numerous minerals including iron, magnesium and zinc, they offer many health benefits including increased energy, improved immunity and weight management.

Containing high levels of both soluble and insoluble fibre, pulses can also help to decrease cholesterol levels, control blood sugar and improve overall digestion.

They are low in fat and, more importantly, they do not contain any of the saturated fats often present in animal-based proteins. This makes pulses a great option for those who are looking to lower their consumption of less desirable fats due to health concerns.

Easily prepared, pulses can be added to meals straight from a can, cooked from scratch as a dry bean, or soaked and sprouted from a raw seed, which increases their overall nutritional content.

No matter how you enjoy them, the options are endless. Add them to salads, soups, sauces or stews, mash them to make hummus and dips, sprout them to add to meals or use them as a flour replacement in your baked goods. Or my favourite … roast them into a crunchy and guilt-free snack.

Roasted Chickpeas

1 15-ounce BPA-free can chickpeas, drained
1 tsp (5 mL) virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp (2 mL) each, or to taste: garlic powder, paprika and onion powder
1/2 tsp (2 mL) or to taste, sea salt or Herbamere

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Line a rimmed pan with parchment paper. Put chickpeas onto a clean tea towel and gently rub until completely dry. In a bowl gently mix the chickpeas with olive oil, and spices and salt until coated and transfer to the pan. Roast until toasted and crunchy, 25 to 35 minutes, gently rolling chickpeas regularly. Cool on the pan before serving.

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