Chickpeas ( chickpeas in English) are edible seeds belonging to the legumes (botanical family Fabaceae); they are more or less rounded but with a slightly lumpy surface and more pointed at one vertex, white-beige, black or green in colour.

Produced by Cicer arietinum, an annual herbaceous plant of the Faboidae subfamily, no more than half a meter tall and probably native to Turkey, chickpeas have been part of the diet of many populations since ancient times; the finds indicate its presence in the Middle East as early as 7500 years ago.

Did you know that…

Chickpeas are mentioned in Charlemagne’s “Capitulare de Villis” (circa 800 AD) as cicer italicum, grown in every imperial demesne with red, white and black varieties.

This widespread use is motivated by the excellent nutritional properties and ease of cultivation of the plants, both crucial factors that have contributed to human and animal-related food sustenance in geographical areas that are quite different from each other. Export has meant that today they are produced on all continents (with the exception of Antarctica).

Of the IV fundamental group of foods , chickpeas can therefore be considered similar to other legumes such as: peas , lentils , beans , f. azuki, f. spain, f. cannellini beans , soya , broad beans, lupins . These are energy foods , thanks to the abundance of starch , but also equipped with an admirable portion of medium biological value (BV) proteins . The fat caloric portion is low but of good quality (predominantly unsaturated fatty acids) and useful nutritional factors such as polyphenols , isoflavones and lecithins are linked to it . Regarding the water-soluble fraction, however, excellent levels of B vitamins and minerals can be appreciated .

According to the recommendations of research bodies, legumes should form part of the ordinary diet – for example, at least two portions of chickpeas per week. This is because, in addition to being nutritious , they contribute positively to structuring a balanced diet, to preventing overweight and wellness pathologies , and in some cases to improving them.

Chickpeas can be found in sprouted, whole dried , boiled and pickled form (can or brick), frozen and as flour. There is also a practical format in the form of pasta made with flour from this legume. There are countless recipes based on chickpeas, both in Italy and abroad; we will go into more detail in the dedicated paragraph.

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Nutritional properties

What are the nutritional properties of chickpeas?

Chickpeas belong to the fourth fundamental group of foods. The dried ones have a significant energy intake (320 kcal / 100 g), although it must be kept in mind that after any soaking and boiling, they absorb water to the extent of approximately 100% of their weight ; this results in the reduction of total calories to 160 kcal / 100 g).

Chickpeas are a food rich in nutrients and just 100 g of dry seeds provide almost 20% of the minimum daily protein requirement for an adult – however with medium biological value.

Raw sprouted chickpea protein is richer in essential amino acids including lysine , isoleucine , tryptophan , and total aromatic amino acids . However, cooking these legumes increases the bioavailability of the peptides , especially due to the elimination of anti-nutritional factors; it follows that, even if the heat treatment partially damages the amino acids they contain, the amount absorbed is still higher.

The lipid portion is modest, but of good quality. Fatty acids are predominantly unsaturated -polyunsaturated ; linoleic acid ( an omega 6 ) occupies 43% of the total. It is accompanied by various fat-soluble nutritional factors, such as lecithins, polyphenols and isoflavones.

Chickpeas are rich in dietary fibre , much of which is soluble. Gluten , lactose and histamine are absent . The contribution of the amino acid phenylalanine is not negligible and purines appear in medium quantities. It should also be noted that raw chickpeas have a lower content of trypsin and chymotrypsin inhibitors (two anti-nutrients) than peas, broad beans and soya. Oxalates and phytates are still present, but as they are thermolabile they disappear with cooking – partly also with soaking.

In the abundant vitamin and mineral fraction, the folic acid content stands out ; the levels of thiamine (vit B1), pyridoxine ( vit B6 ), magnesium and zinc can be defined as moderate but relevant.

Diet

Role of chickpeas in the diet

Chickpeas are suitable for most diets. Due to their good energy intake, especially carbohydrates, they contribute to covering daily calorie needs . However, this is not excessive since, despite being starchy seeds , the glycemic load is still of medium magnitude, to the advantage of those who should follow a low -calorie slimming diet .

By virtue of the richness of fibre , these should have a rather low glycemic and insulin index , also more advisable in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus and hypertriglyceridemia . The presence of “good” fatty acids and equally beneficial nutritional factors (lecithins and antioxidants ) makes them suitable for food therapy against hypercholesterolemia .

The dietary fibers in chickpeas are also excellent prebiotics and intestinal regulators. They nourish the physiological bacterial flora and prevent constipation or constipation .

The abundance of proteins is a very important characteristic in the diet of the peoples of the third and fourth world. Vegans can also benefit from it , especially if they are athletes. However, to complete the profile of essential amino acids (remember that they have medium biological value), it is necessary to combine them with ingredients of animal or vegetable origin that provide the missing amino acids – such as some cereals , preferably wholemeal .

Chickpeas are suitable for celiac disease , lactose and histamine intolerance. However, they should be taken in moderation in cases of hyperuricemia and possibly avoided in phenylketonuria .

The richness in folic acid makes them advisable in the pregnant woman’s diet. However, remember that cooking significantly reduces its content.

Formats

Types of chickpeas on the market

In Italy it is almost impossible to find fresh chickpeas, especially because most of the world’s production comes from India (67% of the total) and Australia; However, local crops are not absent, but rather scarce and of limited extent.

Chickpeas, on the other hand, are very common in dried form, in brine – in jars and in bricks – frozen and in flour; all three of these solutions are still considered “cheap”. Worthy of note is the very recent proposal of chickpea pasta.

Kitchen

Chickpeas can be consumed in various ways, to create different recipes.

How are chickpeas cooked?

Chickpeas are cooked mainly by poaching (boiling) in cold water or, only after soaking, in sous vide at 90° C ( vacuum cooking ). For non-soaked ones, boiling lasts a minimum of 2 hours. After rehydration of at least 12 and no more than 24 hours, this is reduced to 30′. Those who have the opportunity to consume them fresh say that in this case around 10 minutes can be enough – for the smaller varieties.

In our country, chickpeas are mainly eaten boiled and in broth – with or without pasta or other ingredients of vegetal or animal origin – in minestrone and soups or other mixed brothy dishes, dry as a side dish or in salads, stews, under form of puree or cream etc.

From the seeds, as mentioned above, it is possible to obtain a fragrant and yellowish-coloured flour (gluten free). This is a primary ingredient of local recipes such as Ligurian farinata and Sicilian panelle. Furthermore, added in a quantity not exceeding 10% to the leavened bread dough, it contributes to enriching its nutritional value (partial completion of the protein biological value).

Chickpea pasta, on the other hand, can be prepared exactly like traditional wheat pasta . A particularly popular recipe is the one which involves accompanying it with cereal seeds ( rice , barley , corn , etc.) boiled and sautéed together with seasonal vegetables , mushrooms, various herbs and extra virgin olive oil .

In Portugal, chickpeas are one of the main ingredients of rancho, accompanied by pasta and meat – including Portuguese sausages – or with rice. In Spain, they are used cold in tapas and salads, as well as in cocido madrileño.

In other countries, especially in the Middle East, the South-Eastern Balkan area, Turkey, North Africa, India etc., dishes of all kinds are made with chickpea flour (sometimes peeled) or with the puree obtained from boiled whole chickpeas. , almost always rich in spices and fresh aromas such as garlic , cumin , chilli etc.; some well-known examples are hummus , chana masala, falafel , and various types of curries . Chickpea flour is used to make ” Burmese tofu “, or batter for coating vegetables and meats before frying.

In India, as well as in the Levant, unripe chickpeas are often removed from the pod and eaten as a raw snack ; the leaves are eaten as a vegetable in salads. If left to germinate, cooked chickpeas are one of the most nutritious sprouts of all.

The liquid derived from squeezing or cooking chickpeas, called “aquafaba”, has emulsifying and stabilizing properties, and can be used as a substitute for egg white to create meringues and vegan ice creams .

Curiosity

During the First World War, chickpeas were grown in some areas of Europe, especially in Germany, as a substitute for coffee – after roasting and grinding.