Types of legumes and their properties

Pulse vegetables are back to stay, and this time they are even fashionable. Eating legumes was synonymous up to now with eating a dish of stew with a spoon, loaded with fat and calories. However, thanks to the latest trends in healthy eating and the availability nowadays of more international dishes, pulse vegetables have made a 180-degree turnabout, and are now on the list of so-called "superfoods".

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The Spanish Food Code (CAE) defines pulses as "dry, clean, healthy seeds separated from the pod, from plants of the legume family". They recommend consuming between 2 and 4 servings a week. In Spain, the most frequently eaten products are chickpeas, making up 39.9% of the total, closely followed by beans and lentils, at 29.6% each.

What do legumes provide?

  •  Proteins: Pulses are one of the best sources of protein of plant origin, but they should be combined with cereals or nuts to ensure that you get enough good quality proteins.
  • Fibre: Legumes provide vegetable fibre, both soluble and insoluble, so they are ideal both for preventing and combating constipation.
  • Vitamins and minerals: When we eat pulses, we obtain valuable B group vitamins and an important quantity of folic acid. As for minerals, they provide iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and calcium, and in addition their sodium content is very low.
  • Carbohydrates: legumes’ high carbohydrate content makes them an important source of energy.
  • Fats: This food group is very low in fat.
  • Sugar: The sugar index of legumes is very low, ideal for avoiding sudden hypoglycaemia, which protects against the development of type 2 diabetes.

 Did you know that…

If you cook pulse vegetables for 3-5 minutes (after the usual pre-soaking period) with water and a little salt, before adding them to a stew, this eliminates the undesirable intestinal effects that they can cause in some people. 

Principal types of legumes

Chickpeas: Typical of stews and casseroles, chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, are now very much in fashion due to the popularity of exotic or vegetarian dishes such as hummus and falafel. There are also different varieties, which are mainly distinguished by their size:

  • Castilian chickpea: a good size as well as tasty. It is one of the most widely-used today.
  • Milky chickpea: This is characterised by being an elongated, flat seed on all sides, with a wrinkled surface. It stands out for its richness in proteins, magnesium and iron. It has a very characteristic white colour.
  • Pedrosillano chickpea: Small but tasty. They need a bit more cooking than the bigger ones in order to be tender, with a thin, imperceptible skin, and a very pleasant texture.

 Beans: These include white beans, fava beans, kidney beans, or black-eyed peas. They are characterised by their slightly elongated shape, sometimes resembling a kidney. There are many different varieties depending on their place of origin, and they differ in size and colour.

  • White bean: Rounder and very buttery.
  • Kidney bean: Dark red, it is a widely appreciated variety for cooking stews and hot dishes.
  • Pinto beans: Pinkish with garnet-coloured streaks, of very diverse sizes and with a rounded shape. Once cooked they have a smooth, soft skin and a buttery texture. Pinto beans give a dark broth and lend a strong flavour once cooked.

Lentils: They arrived here from Asia thousands of years ago and became one of the pillars of the Mediterranean diet. Lentils are round and flat, and there are also several varieties.

  • Brown Lentils: they are the smallest type of lentil. They can easily go mushy if cooked for too long.  They are a little floury, although they have a very fine flavour. They give a good consistency to soups and help to make very creamy stews.
  • Castilian lentils: also called yellow, they are a large, very flat variety. They stand up well to cooking and do not usually break up. Being larger and less delicate, they are the most suitable for preparing salads or to sauté afterwards, as they retain their shape in different culinary dishes.
  • “Quick” lentils: These lentils take the least amount of time to cook. They originated in the USA.