2016 has been declared the International Year of Pulses—find out why!
Think back about 10 years – had you heard of quinoa? Probably not. The culinary grain grew in popularity after the Food and Agriculture Organization declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa. It stirred the pot, so to speak.
Now pulses are getting the same attention – and don’t feel bad if you don’t know what they are. With luck, they’ll soon be as popular as quinoa. But until then, here’s a primer to help you celebrate the International Year of Pulses in 2016.
What are pulses?
They are the nutritionally-dense, edible seeds from legumes–think chickpeas, split peas, beans and lentils. If you love black bean burritos, lentil soup and hummus, you’re already enjoying pulses, you trend-setter you!
Are pulses heart healthy?
They are very heart healthy! Pulses are high in fibre, and contain important vitamins and minerals, including iron, potassium and folate. As for protein, move over quinoa! Pulses, such as lentils, deliver twice the protein per serving.
Eating pulses regularly may lower your risk of heart disease. How does this work? Pulses are high in fibre (specifically soluble fibre), which can limit the absorption of fats in the intestines and lower bad LDL cholesterol levels, which helps reduce heart disease risk. Bonus: their high-fibre content satisfies hunger and may help manage body weight, which is key since obesity is also risk factor for heart disease.
But it’s not just fibre that helps! Pulses contain antioxidants and other beneficial plant compounds that inhibit the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and improve arterial health.
Why are we celebrating pulses?
In addition to being nutritious and heart healthy, pulses deserve special attention because they’re:
- Affordable: A bag of chickpeas, kidney beans or lentils generally costs a fraction of what you’d pay for beef, chicken or pork. With the price of food on the rise, pulses offer sweet relief.
- Sustainable: Pulses enrich the soil they grow in, reducing the need for fertilizers. They can grow in harsh environments – even through drought or frost. They also require little water: It takes just 43 gallons of water to produce one pound of pulses, but up to 1800 gallons to produce a pound of meat.
- Versatile: Pulses can be cooked and added to a variety of dishes – from salads to soups to wraps and pasta. But they can also be milled into flour and used for baking, and can be whipped into dips and smoothies. Roasted crunchy chickpeas are my new go-to snack.
How should I prepare pulses?
The stumbling block for many people is not knowing how to prepare pulses. Here are some easy ways to start:
- Try lentils. Most peas and beans take a while to soak and cook (up to 3 hours for some). But the mighty lentil requires no soaking, and cooks in 15-30 minutes depending on the variety. Red lentils are the quickest to prepare. Try them in this Satisfying red lentil and mushroom soup or Butternut Squash Dhal.
- Use canned beans: If you want to skip the cooking process, canned beans are fast and convenient. Looks for brands with no added salt, and add black-eyed peas to salad, toss kidney beans into vegetable soup, or blend chickpeas with lemon juice, salt and garlic for speedy hummus. If your canned beans are salted, drain them and rinse under running water –this step can remove about 40 percent% of the salt. Try these Fresh avocado and bean lettuce wraps or use chickpeas in this spicy Chana Masala.
- Use bean or pea flour: Chickpea flour makes a wonderful flatbread, known as socca in France and farinata in Italy. Pea flour is a wonderful addition to pancake batter, soups, smoothies and oatmeal to bump up the protein and fibre content.
From appetizers through to dessert, pulses can be the star of so many dishes. When a food is delicious, nutritious and affordable, it makes sense to celebrate it as the hottest food of the year.