If you already consume them - well done! Not only are pulses a good low-fat source of protein, minerals (such as iron and zinc) and B-vitamins such as folate, their high fibre content can also help lower bad cholesterol levels (LDL) and decrease the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
But how well do you know the pulses you consume? Read up on our list of some of the top pulses consumed across the world.
The Toor pulse, also known to the Western world as the Pigeon pulse, is a commonly consumed pulse in western and southern India. They originated in South Asia and are now grown in the world’s semi-tropical and tropical regions, with the largest producing regions being India, Eastern Africa and Central America. It forms the base for the South Indian Saambaar and Rasam, as well as for the Gujarati Osaman and Maharashtrian Amti. A major source of protein for the entire Indian subcontinent, this lentil is considered slightly heavy to digest and is therefore, almost always cooked with a small amount of asafetida. A simple tadka works best, although it can just as well be eaten plain on a mound of soft rice, drizzled with ghee!
2. Bengal Gram (Chana)
A close cousin of the Chickpea family, and a more filling form of daal, the split Bengal gram is at the heart of the Maharashtrian ‘Puranpoli’ and makes its way to several other desserts as well. India is a leader in cultivation of this lentil, that more often than not, manages to steal the limelight in the vegetarian culinary scenario. Dry-roasted, it forms the basis for dry chutneys, and serves as a thickener in the form of Besan, its powdered avatar. Packed with protein, it is often considered a good replacement for animal protein. Vegetarians-to-be, are you listening?
3. Black Gram (Urad)
Smooth and sticky when cooked or soaked and ground, the Urad daal is what gives the idli or dosa batter its characteristic texture. Added in small quantities to tadkas, it turns wonderfully toasty and offers a crunch to an otherwise smooth chutney. Urad daal is also used to make a dry daal preparation which can be eaten with roti instead of rice. Black gram is grown in the Indian subcontinent, and has a surprising number of health benefits, including its ability to boost energy, protect cardiovascular health, improve immunity, prevent diabetes, and optimize digestion. A top bean choice, we must say!
4. Red Lentil (Masoor)
Possibly one of the oldest lentils in the block, the red variety have been found dating back to more than 8000 years! Split masoor is a favourite in the eastern part of the country as well as in the north, where it is used to make daal as well as stuffed parathas. Since the masoor is similar to the French Puy lentils, it works beautifully in stews and soups cooked with Mediterranean flavours. Unlike most other beans, lentils don’t need to be soaked before cooking. Did you know that for many centuries, lentils were considered to be “the poor man’s meat”? Imagine the amount of protein packs.
5. Kidney Beans (Rajma)
Who can forget the Punjabi Sunday favorite. This fiber star tops the list when it comes to packing essential nutrients. Red kidney beans are thought to have originated in Peru and were probably cultivated as early as 8,000 years ago. Not only do they work great in curries, but are also amazing additions to Mexican-style dishes or for making a red bean hummus!
6. Chickpeas (Kabuli Chana/Desi chana)
You know why your desi chana are called chickpeas? It’s because of their unique shape that resembles the beak of a baby chick. The large Kabuli chana or the small brown or green desi chana belong to the same family as well, and while they are usually eaten in the form of chaat and the ubiquitous Chhole, they are important components of the hummus and can also be used in several middle-eastern style dishes that call for protein. Calls for new dinner recipes today, doesn’t it?
7. Soy bean (Bhatwan)
This protein-rich legume is hardy and provides sustenance in mountainous areas where other crops are difficult to grow. It is now common practice to add soy beans to wheat when milling it but soy beans can also be cooked whole as a curry—try it with a freshly ground masala of your choice. Not just the legume, but soybean oil also provides many health benefits, and alternatively, can be used as an environmentally friendly fuel for diesel engines!
8. Moong beans
Perhaps the most common of the lot, this native of the Indian subcontinent is also the key element of the Indian staple ‘Khichri’. Whole moong beans are used to make a soup in Maharashtra and sprouted beans can be turned into a salad or curry or a stir fry because they cook easily and are easily to digest as well.
9. Faba Beans
This bean is quite the traveller! While Faba beans are native to North Africa and southwest Asia, they are now also grown in other countries around the world, from Canada to Sweden, and Colombia to China, to name a few. They are good for the heart, aid in weight loss and pack a host of essential nutrients. It’s culinary competence is also unparalleled, with it being used in many dishes across the world - from a fragrant Mexican soup to Egypt's national dish!
Cowpeas are versatile, delicious and an absolute must for human health. Grown in dry areas of tropical regions like Africa, cowpeas have been important complementary dietary items to traditional grain-based meals, according to many age-old culinary traditions. Packed with protein, these pulses are used in salads, soups, cakes and even as stand-alone vegetarian dishes. They are easy to prepare and provide far more nutrition than many other legume species.