All pulses are legumes but not all legumes are pulses. Pulses are harvested from their pods as mature, dry seeds, not when immature, as in the case of fresh legumes like green peas and string-and-runner beans. Pulses are also low in fat, yet rich in fibre and protein, unlike soya beans and peanuts, which are high-fat legumes (yes, peanuts are legumes).
Dietary guidelines recommend eating pulses together with other foods in order to boost the body’s absorption of their nutritional benefits. As stated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO): “… eating pulses with cereals creates a complete protein, containing amino acids that the body cannot produce itself. Complete proteins are essential for healthy diets, and this is why pulse-cereal combinations like beans and rice are popular in many countries. Similarly, eating pulses with vitamin C-rich foods increases the body’s ability to absorb iron.”
The International Journal of Molecular Sciences’ report, Polyphenol-Rich Dry Common Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) and Their Health Benefits, concurs, adding that: “Similar to other food legumes, common beans contain a greater amount of essential amino acids, including lysine, which is deficient in most cereals.” The report also identifies phenolic acids (health-boosting chemicals found in plants) as another notable component of beans, including the antioxidant and fighter of disease-causing free radicals, ferulic acid: “Raw and cooked beans contain phenolic acids… Among them, ferulic acid is the predominant phenolic acid on the dry common beans. Studies have demonstrated that cooking of common beans at high temperatures does not change the content of phenolic acids… These phenolic compounds are generally varied, based on the seed coat colour pattern and types of the cultivar of the beans.”
Another nutritional box ticked by pulses is that of complex carbohydrates. These carbs are loaded with more nutrients and fibre than simple carbs (like sugar and fruit) and therefore take the body longer to digest. This helps to keep one feeling fuller for longer and also means blood sugar levels are not raised as much in the body as they are when consuming simple carbs.
The virtues of pulses (and all legumes) start well before harvesting and consumption, however: they are one of the few plant species with nitrogen-fixing abilities. This means they can pull nitrogen gas from the air and channel it into the soil through their roots in the form of ammonia. This aids plant growth and soil regeneration, and can reduce the farmer’s (and veggie gardener’s) need to add nitrogen-containing fertilisers.
Now that we’ve got to the root of the matter, it’s time to unearth some interesting and inspiring facts about different pulses…
While it comes in other colours, the most common adzuki (or azuki) bean is red and is also known as the red mung bean. Of Asian origin, sweet and nutty flavoured adzuki beans are popular in Asian desserts – combined with sugar, adzuki beans are made into jams, jellies or mashed into a paste, which is used as a filling for sesame balls, rice cakes, dumplings and more. This paste is called anko in Japan.
The soft texture of adzuki beans also makes them well suited to serving with rice, adding to soups, Buddha bowls and warm salads, and even whizzing into guacamole. Says celebrity American medical doctor and advocate of holistic wellness, Dr Andrew Weil: “Adzuki beans, along with lentils and chickpeas, are a staple of the macrobiotic diet, which calls for the consumption of plenty of fibrous, protein-packed legumes. Macrobiotics considers adzukis to be the most ‘yang’, or warming, of all beans, and consequently, good for imparting strength… Like many other beans, adzukis are a good source of magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, copper, manganese and B vitamins. Also of note is the adzuki’s status as the ‘weight loss bean’, since they are so low in calories and fat, yet high in nutrition.” Available locally in dry form, adzuki beans contain less than 1g of fat and 19,9g protein per 100g when dry.
Part of West Africa’s Mandé ethnic group, the Bambara tribe – and namesake of Bambara groundnuts – is native to Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and Senegal.
Contrary to what their name suggests, Bambara groundnuts are in fact legumes and they have recently enjoyed a ramp-up on global food trend indexes thanks to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Knorr’s Future 50 Foods initiative launched last year. This campaign, which drives agricultural and dietary diversity, lists Bambara groundnuts as one of 50 crops that can assist the resilience of the world’s food system. The Future 50 Foods report led by Dorothy Shaver, an American registered dietician and the Global Knorr Sustainability Lead, says of Bambara groundnuts: “They boast an impressive nutrient profile… with their unique combination of carbohydrates, protein, fibre, and many vitamins and minerals… Compared with other legumes, they have a high amount of the essential amino acid methionine. The Bambara groundnut is considered ‘complete food’ because of the balance of micronutrients accompanied by the amino acid and fatty acid content”.
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