The chickpeas are an ancient food that deserves attention: they are energetic , rich in vegetable protein and fiber . Their nutrients boast many properties, indeed, real therapeutic virtues : the chickpeas are in fact good for the heart , they keep blood pressure at bay and are very useful for fighting anemia .
These legumes are found all year round : fantastic for hot winter dishes, such as pasta and chickpeas, but also excellent in summer as an ingredient in tasty salads. Let’s discover the history, properties and benefits of this precious seed.
Chickpeas: what they are
Chickpeas, Cicer arietinum L. , are the seeds of a plant from the Fabaceae family , native to the Middle East. Chickpea is an annual plant , with root that branches in the ground and goes down to 1 meter and 20 meters in depth. It is this characteristic that makes it extremely resistant even if planted in arid soils . The plant has a greyish green color and is ” pubescent “, that is, it is covered with a dense and thin hair: it is the glandular hairs that secrete a solution containing malic and oxalic acid.
The stems are branched, erect or semi-prostrate, about half a meter long. The leaves are composed, with 6-7 pairs of elliptic leaflets denticulated on the edges. The flowers are generally white, mostly solitary. After fertilization of the flower, which is autogamous, an oblong ovate pod is formed, containing 1 or 2 edible seeds: our chickpeas.
Curiosity: history of chickpeas
Chickpea is the product of a selection . The wild progenitors, Cicer reticolatum and Cicer echinospermun , grow only in some areas of Turkey, Syria and Iraq and it is probably here that the chickpea was made domestic, about 10,000 years ago. From these areas, they then spread to Western Asia, India, Africa and Europe.
So, the “domestication” has allowed to improve the amino acid content of the legume and to obtain varieties with spring sowing and summer harvest, unlike the wild form that ripens only in winter.
Furthermore, remains of this legume have been found in some settlements in the south of France dating back to 6000 BC : evidence of a wide diffusion of the plant in ancient times. In 3000 BC it was already cultivated throughout Greece.
The Latin term ” cicer ” probably comes from the Greek kikis, which means strength, vigor, perhaps in reference to the energy and aphrodisiac properties attributed to this seed.
The fame of chickpeas in ancient Rome is evidenced by the fact that one of the most important families of the city, the Ciceroni, owes its name to the legume, because of an ancestor, the famous Marco Tullio, who had an evident growth on the nose. form of chickpea.
These legumes are round and smooth in some varieties, rough, angular and rostrate (“ram’s head”) in others.
The most common color is yellow , but there are reds , dark browns or blacks.
The size of the seeds determines their commercial value: there are large-seeded and small-seeded varieties .
In Italy, Spain and North Africa, where this legume is consumed whole, only large-seeded chickpeas are accepted.
Instead, in the Middle East, Iran and India instead those with small seeds prevail, which are used in food preparations where flour is used.
Where they are grown
Currently, chickpea is grown in over fifty countries :
- Indian subcontinent,
- North Africa
- Middle East
- southern Europe
In fact, it is the third most common legume , alongside dried beans and soybeans. India is the largest producing country with an average of 66% of global production. The other main producing countries are:
- United States.
Chickpeas: nutritional properties
They are rich in proteins of excellent food quality (about 20%) and an ideal source of fats that are important for health, but free of cholesterol . Rich in fiber , they also represent an exceptional source of B complex vitamins , mineral salts and tocopherols, extremely powerful biological antioxidants.
All the benefits of chickpeas
The properties of these legumes are really many and far between. The phytosterols contained in the seed have shown anti-ulcerative, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-tumor and anti-inflammatory properties .
In addition, they have been used in traditional medicine as:
In Ayurvedic medicine, preparations of this legume are used to treat a variety of ailments such as:
- throat problems
- blood disorders
- skin diseases
- liver or gallbladder problems.
They protect against cardiovascular disease
They protect heart health thanks to their soluble fiber content , which contributes to the reduction of total cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol, LDL, with a preventive effect towards the onset of diseases of the cardiovascular system . Even the saponins , of which these seeds are rich, have the property of reducing cholesterol.
The intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) such as linoleic acid , which is the dominant fat in chickpea, has been shown to reduce the risk of vascular events and diseases of the circulatory system .
But, they also play a crucial role in controlling hypertension thanks to the proteins present in them, which represent a good source of bioactive peptides.
Like other legumes, they have a high amount of resistant starch and amylose. These components resist digestion in the small intestine thus leading to a lower availability of glucose and reducing the demand for insulin.
So it is a low glycemic index (GI) food.
In addition, they are rich in anti-nutritional compounds , such as phytic acid, lectins and amylase inhibitors, it can contribute to altering the digestion of starch, thus leading to a further lowering of the glycemic index (GI) in the small intestine .
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Prevention of tumor diseases
The butyrate is a leading short-chain fatty acid: this is produced if you consume, for example, 200 g per day of chickpeas.
In addition, scientific studies show that butyrate is able to suppress cell proliferation and induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) of cancer cells. In particular, butyrate seems to be able to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
Biocanin A, an isoflavone, inhibits the growth of stomach cancer cells. Instead, isoflavones , in laboratory studies, instead inhibited the growth of epithelial tumors and showed no effect on healthy cells, leaving them viable and functioning.
Finally, lycopene , a carotenoid present in this legume, can ultimately reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
Like almost all legumes, they have a beneficial role in managing body weight.
They are rich in dietary fiber , known for its protective role in the development and management of obesity. The high intake of dietary fiber from chickpeas has several positive effects.
- it allows you to eat more since the chickpeas have lower energy density, but at the same time it causes an early sense of satiety, delaying gastric emptying
- the sense of fullness after a meal lasts longer because fiber-rich foods take longer to digest
- causes a reduced absorption of nutrients such as fatty acids and sugars .
They fight osteoporosis
Recent laboratory studies have shown how the consumption of this legume can carry out an estrogenic and anti-osteoporotic activity . The isoflavones contained in chickpeas could potentially be used for the treatment of menopausal symptoms and osteoporosis caused by estrogen deficiency.
In a recent study, treatment with isoflavones from chickpeas resulted in a significant attenuation of bone loss and an increase in its density.
They protect the urinary tract
Thanks to their anti-inflammatory characteristics, they also protect the urinary tract.
They are diuretics and promote the elimination of excess salts in the body.
In addition to having the ability to eliminate uric acid, chickpeas stimulate gastric juices and pancreas. Regular consumption (always in modest quantities, especially in addition to a plate of whole grains) is also recommended for those suffering from stones or sand in the urinary tract.
Ideal for celiacs and vegetarians
Ideal for celiacs because they do not contain gluten , chickpeas are essential for those who choose to follow a vegetarian diet because they are a source of high biological value proteins .
They contain a lot of dietary fiber which has one of the highest concentrations of oligosaccharides among all types of legumes. In addition, oligosaccharides are not absorbed or hydrolyzed by the human digestive system but are fermented by colon bacteria, releasing gas and causing flatulence .
The presence in chickpeas of anti-nutritional factors (phytic acid, lectins, amylase inhibitors) limits their biological value. Anti-nutritional factors interfere with digestion and can make the seed indigestible .
How to cook chickpeas
Soak the dried chickpeas
Before being cooked, dried chickpeas must necessarily be rehydrated to activate seed germination and to allow a good elimination of phytic acid , an antinutritional factor typical of legumes. In fact, the rehydration of chickpeas allows you to avoid the unpleasant effects of phytates, such as tiredness, heavy legs, lack of clarity, dizziness and intestinal swelling.
The chickpeas must be soaked in water at room temperature (better if initially lukewarm at 45 ° degrees) for a time varying between 8 and 48 hours : the older the chickpea is, the harder it is and therefore need more time to rehydrate.
After immersing them in water (they must be completely covered: the proportions are 600 ml of water per 100 g of dried chickpeas), the seeds that come to the surface must be eliminated because they are devoid of nutritional validity.
But, it is preferable that the soaking water is slightly acidulated with lemon juice to facilitate the elimination of phytic acid, but it should not be added with any other substance, nor with the salt that would make the chickpeas hard, nor with the baking soda that would alter its flavor, depleting its nutritional qualities.
Once the soaking is finished, the soaking water should be discarded . Any ingestion would favor the formation of uric acid in the blood due to the purines dissolved in it during soaking.
Boil the chickpeas
The chickpeas can be boiled in the traditional way by putting them in a pot or, better, in the classic terracotta pot with cold salt-free water, with rosemary and garlic. A small piece of kombu seaweed in cooking can help soften the chickpeas. Once boiling is reached, it should be kept slow and sweet until the chickpeas have reached the desired consistency. Salt and other seasonings, especially if acidic, must be added when cooking is almost complete, to avoid making the outer skin too hard.
Chickpeas can also be cooked in a pressure cooker, in the microwave, in the oven and in a pan.
After cooking, the chickpeas must be kept in the refrigerator and consumed within 7 days or they can be frozen and consumed within 2 months from the date of preparation.
The Cooking Water
The cooking water of the chickpeas (even those pre-cooked with their government water) is called aquafaba : not only does it retain many of the properties of the chickpeas, but it can be used in many ways . Vegan cooking, for example, uses aquafaba to replace whipped egg whites.
The varieties of chickpeas
There are two distinct groups of cultivated chickpea varieties: Desi and Kabuli .
- The Desi type (or bengal gram) represents about 80% of all the chickpeas grown and marketed. They are mostly grown in East Asia , India, Ethiopia and Mexico. They have a small seed (microsperm group – less than 0.35 g of weight), angular, wrinkled, brown, black or pigmented, rarely light. The pods have two or more seeds.
- The Kabuli (or garbanzo) type is mainly grown in the Middle East, Western Asia, North Africa, North America and Europe . It has a large seed (macrosperm group – more than 0.35 g in weight) in the shape of a ram’s head and is straw-yellow or light-cream in color.
Chickpea flour is obtained by grinding the dried chickpeas. In Italy the chickpea flour is used in many traditional preparing typical: from porridge to panissa , both from Liguria, the panella Palermo, the Cecina Pisa and Livorno cake .
Chickpeas in the kitchen
The best combination for chickpeas , like many other legumes, are cereals, pasta, rice, spelled, buckwheat or even oats. Chickpea proteins are more easily absorbed by the body if associated with cereals. The coupling of chickpeas with meats, even if tasty, becomes “additional”, since meats already contain proteins.
Even the combination with spices enhances the flavor of these legumes, and not only.
The bay leaf, for example, added in the cooking water makes them more digestible.
Essences such as rosemary, oregano, thyme and sage can give a truly unique aroma to the preparations, for example chickpea porridge.
Even cumin , with its very aromatic seeds, goes very well with the taste of chickpeas and is used in many preparations.
The recipes with chickpeas
Chickpeas are excellent for preparing vegetarian muffins, burgers and meatballs , for example combined with another source of vegetable proteins such as tofu or peas. But they are also delicious to be enjoyed simply as a side dish , flavored with some spice or combined with vegetables such as broccoli or spinach.
Also try the combination of chickpeas and molluscs or crustaceans: they go well with prawns but also with mussels , for example in a soup or in a velvety sauce. A tasty pairing is also the one between chickpeas and avocado , in a salad or for a hummus with a very particular taste. With chickpea flour, in addition to porridge, you can prepare tasty crepes to be stuffed with vegetables and cheeses.
In other culinary traditions, one of the most common preparations involving the use of chickpeas is hummus , the famous recipe typical of many Middle Eastern countries: tahin, garlic, spices, lemon and oil are added to the crushed chickpeas. Paprika (sweet, spicy or smoked) added to hummus gives the cream an even tastier flavor.
Another idea of Middle Eastern inspiration for cooking chickpeas are falafel , tasty meatballs with cumin and garlic.