Packed with protein and fiber, this legume adds nutty flavor to countless dishes.
The next time you spread a spoonful of hummus onto a cracker, know you’re also enjoying a taste of agricultural history. Dating back to about 7,500 years ago in the Middle East, chickpeas are considered one of the world’s “founder crops,” some of the earliest to be cultivated. Don’t let their name (or names) fool you. Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are neither peas nor beans; rather, they’re legumes and are as versatile and nutritious as they are ancient.
A cup of canned chickpeas is only 210 calories and contains about 11 grams of protein and 9.6 grams of fiber, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They’re rich in vitamins and minerals, including manganese, providing 84 percent of the recommended daily value (RDV) for a 2,000-calorie diet, folate (71 percent), copper (29 percent), and iron (26 percent). Also, chickpeas are a source of “resistant starch,” a type of fiber that a recent British and Irish study published in Nutrition Bulletin claims can be useful in managing diabetes and promoting gut health.
Chickpeas are available canned and dry at most supermarkets, and which variety you should choose is based on personal preference and patience. Those looking to avoid BPA exposure from canned products or reduce sodium may prefer to cook dry chickpeas (tip: they taste better than their canned cousins too). The downside to this variety is that cooking them is time consuming. The legumes must be soaked overnight (12 hours) and then boiled for over an hour.
The different ways to prepare cooked or canned chickpeas are countless—you can roll ’em, roast ’em, sprinkle ’em and spread ’em. They can be pureed with tahini into hummus, ground and rolled with spices and flour into falafel balls, sprinkled plain over salads, added to pasta dishes or soups, and even roasted into a crunchy snack (drizzle with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and spices like cumin, cayenne, and turmeric, then roast at 400°F for about 30 minutes). Chickpeas can also be ground into chickpea flour, which is sold at most health-food stores and specialty markets and is a protein-packed substitute for those eating a gluten-free or wheat-free diet.
Did you know?
Chickpeas may be at the forefront of the fight against global hunger. Scientists are working to develop a climate-resilient chickpea crop through the Chickpea Innovation Lab, an initiative called “Feed the Future” by the United States Agency for International Development. This facility is one of 23 such labs hoping to improve the resilience and yield of nutrient-dense crops to help feed a growing global population and support small-scale farmers worldwide. Read more at FeedtheFuture.gov.
"When buying canned chickpeas, look for ones that are free of BPA, a toxin that you want to avoid. Though the canned variety generally retains the majority of its nutrition, some folate is lost in the canning process. Buy dried chickpeas if you are eating them for folate. Soak them overnight for maximum nutritional value, absorption and digestibility.” —Robin DeCicco, certified holistic nutritionist, Power of Food Education, Ramsey.