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Health food of the month - Chickpeas

November 2011 

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Diet & Supplements Index

Chickpeas have been around forever – evidence of their use has been found in neolithic pottery and a cave in France has provided chickpeas that were carbon dated back to around 6500 BC.

Their botanical name is cicer arietinum and there are two common types which produce the seeds that are generally used today. One, the “desi” type of plant, produces small, angular seeds which can vary in colour enormously, from yellow and light brown to green and black. The second is the “kabuli” type which produces seeds that are more rounded and are usually in a beige or buff colour.

Chickpeas need a subtropical or tropical climate with at least 16 inches of rain a year; they can sometimes be grown in colder regions but the plants are not nearly so vigorous.The desi type generally comes from India, Iran, Ethiopia and parts of central America while the kabuli type comes from southern Europe, western Asia, Egypt and North and South America.

ChickpeasThe plant grows to around 10 to 20 inches in height and has small feathery leaves on each side of the stem. The plant flowers and the chickpeas form in seed pods, with only two or three peas in each pod.

In some parts of the world the peas are eaten as a snack straight off the plant, but they are quite hard and certainly here in the western world we tend to cook them first. You can buy pre-soaked or cooked chickpeas at many supermarkets, and they also come in split forms or dried whole peas. Dried chickpeas are very popular because they last almost indefinitely. However, they need to be soaked for 8 to 10 hours or more and then boiled for an hour or two to soften them before eaten.

They are useful in a range of foods from curries to salads, but one main advantage of chickpeas is that they are good for you.

Dried chickpeas contain about 20 per cent protein. They offer a rich source of lecithin and potassium and also small quantities of vitamins A, B and C. Equally useful, chickpeas contain levels of phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, and some studies say chickpeas also can assist in lowering cholesterol levels. They also have a good fibre content.

Some sources also say chickpeas contain molybdenum, a trace mineral that is needed by the body to detoxify sulfites, preservatives that are common in many modern foods.

As so many nutritionists suggest, eat moderately from a wide range of foods. Incorporating chickpeas into your diet sounds like a very beneficial addition.

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