(Reader alert: there is a tasteless joke at the end of this tasty article.)
Chickpeas … Really?
We were in Portland, Oregon, a city so hip and groovy that they have their own TV parody show (Portlandia) and their own edition of Green Living Journal. They also have the most highly evolved awareness of all things sustainable of anywhere on the planet. Thus, it was not entirely shocking to find a frozen confectionery specialty store offering a selection of what strongly resembles what we refer to a “ice cream” that is made entirely of chickpeas.
Of course, we had to try some, and although it was unquestionably delicious, it immediately set off my curmudgeon alarm. “This is so Portlandia,” I said. “Here we’ve got a town that prides itself on being the capital of fresh, local, and sustainable, and they’re making ice cream from chickpeas from India while local dairy farmers are sucking wind from falling milk prices.”
I quickly learned how much I didn’t know about chickpeas.
The chickpea or chick pea is an annual legume of the family Fabaceae, subfamily Faboideae. It is also called gram or Bengal gram, garbanzo or garbanzo bean, and Egyptian pea. How something can be both a “pea” and a “bean” is beyond my ability to explain. India is indeed the king of the chickpea growing countries with almost eight million hectares under cultivation producing nearly seven million metric tons.
This is one of the earliest known legumes to be cultivated. Although the acreage under cultivation has remained relatively constant in recent years, output has increased greatly due to improvements in agricultural efficiency. The fastest growing areas of cultivation for this nutritional powerhouse are in the American West, specifically, California, Montana, and North Dakota. Americans are finally embracing a crop that the rest of the world has known about forever. Hence, chickpea ice cream.
Amanda Mull, a writer for The Atlantic, has written an article (March, 2019) titled “In the Future, Everything Will Be Made of Chickpeas.” Here are few distilled tidbits:
* Biena Snacks, which offers more than a dozen varieties of crunchy, flavored chickpeas is now available in more than 12,000 retail locations. The firm was started by Poorvi Patodia in 2007 who wanted a healthy alternative to potato chips and fondly remembered the roasted chickpeas that her mom used to make. Now Biena is just one of several food companies that has sprung up around the humble chickpea.
* The chickpea universe extends well-beyond junk food, however. In addition to ice cream there is dessert hummus and aquafaba that is is used in cocktail bars to create a fizz without the threat of salmonella borne by a raw egg white.
The interest in chickpeas extends online. Google inquiries, reports Mull, have tripled in the last decade (mine included). In a world increasingly aware of the downsides of meat consumption the chickpea’s growing popularity in hindsight appears inevitable.
* Most people’s first exposure to chickpeas is hummus. Ali Bouzari, a food scientist and culinary consultant quoted by Mull says “Hummus was The Sopranos of the grocery store.” Bean dips became a multi-cultural rage in the 1970’s with Mexican, Italian, Turkish, Greek, and Ethiopian variations joining those from the Middle East. The Israeli company Sabra became so successful that PepsiCo bought a 50 percent ownership stake in it in 2008.
“It boils down to the fact that people like creamy, starchy stuff,” Bouzari says. “And at this point, the American learning curve for new foods is just insanely short.” He cites the growing popularity of the internet as a source of information and increased international travel as contributing factors to the chickpea’s surge in popularity.
Chickpea’s reputation as a nutritional powerhouse is due to its high protein and fiber content. They also have value for those with food allergies or dietary restrictions, tending to trigger fewer reactions than wheat or soy. Chickpeas are nothing if not versatile, with the ability to take on flavors at both ends of the palate spectrum.
Chickpeas appeal at the agricultural level as well. On a planet that is getting hotter and drier they do not require intensive irrigation or fertilization. Like other legumes they fix nitrogen in the soil, benefiting other crops and promoting general soil health. It is not by coincidence that they have dominated global diets for millennia.
So there you have it. Chickpeas will lead us to a sustainable future, and I was wrong to think that they somehow violate the tenets of green living. To console myself I’m going to pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees, open a can of chickpeas, rinse, pat dry with a paper towel, toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and roast until lightly browned, approximately 20-30 minutes. I will then season with a bit of my favorite garlic salt, grab a beer from the fridge, and admit that I am an idiot.
HOW TO BUY CHICKPEAS
Dried chickpeas: You may find dry chickpeas in the bulk section of your grocery or with the canned goods. These should be stored in an airtight container for up to a year. The longer they’re stored, the more moisture they’ll lose and the longer they’ll take to cook.
Canned chickpeas: Canned chickpeas are pre-cooked chickpeas. You can eat canned chickpeas straight out of the can! Just be sure to rinse them off before chowing down to wash out excess sodium!
Chickpea flour: Indian and Italian cuisines both incorporate chickpea flours into a lot of dishes, from curries to pastas! In fact, India is crazy about chickpeas and produces more than any other country in the world.
HOW TO COOK DRIED CHICKPEAS
Cooking dried chickpeas is an affordable and easy way to get more chickpeas into your diet. Here’s how to transform your dried chickpeas into soft, edible deliciousness!
Soak: Rinse and place chickpeas in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Soak for 4 to 12 hours. This is going to help speed up the cooking time and, more importantly, make them more digestible.
Cook: Once they’ve soaked, drain that water, throw them in a stock pot with more water, and simmer for about an hour, or until tender. Once cooked, chickpeas will stay good in the fridge for about three days.
per 1 cup (164g) mature seeds, boiled without salt
Fiber: 12g, 50% Daily Value (DV)
71% DV of Folate (Vitamin B9): A water-soluble vitamin that helps make DNA & RNA and metabolize amino acids.
28% DV of Phosphorus: A mineral that works with calcium to form calcium phosphate, the foundation of bones and teeth. Also plays a role in energy metabolism as part of ATP (adenosine triphosphate).
26% DV of Iron: A major component of hemoglobin, the proteins that make up red blood cells and carry oxygen around the body. This is a non-heme source, meaning it does not come from an animal. It is not absorbed as well as heme iron.
17% DV of Zinc: A mineral important in strengthening your immune system, healing wounds, and maintaining your sense of taste and smell.
13% DV of Thiamin (Vitamin B1): A water-soluble vitamin that turns your food (carbohydrates) into fuel (glucose). People at risk for deficiency include those with Crohn’s Disease, alcoholics, and those undergoing kidney dialysis.
11% DV of Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): A water-soluble vitamin that works behind the scenes as a coenzyme in many important reactions within your body, including protein metabolism and red blood cell formation, among countless other functions.
8% DV of Calcium: 1% of the calcium in your body plays a vital role in vascular contraction/dilation and nerve transmission and signaling. The other 99% supports teeth and bone structure and function.
Thanks to Amanda Mull, liveeatlearn.com, and cdc.gov, and nutrition.self.com for cited information
Now, the tasteless joke. A reporter asks Ivanka Trump “What’s the difference between a garbanzo bean and a chickpea?”
Ivanka: “Daddy never had a garbanzo bean on his face.”