Legumes, also known as beans, are a group of plants whose fruits are enclosed in pods and belong to the Leguminaceae family.
The nutritional value of legumes is significant and plays a crucial role in overall health and wellness. As a valuable plant-based source of protein, legumes supply essential building blocks for growth and development, making them an excellent protein source for vegetarians.
|Common pulses (beans and lentils)
Legumes encompass an extensive plant family comprising over 500 genera and exceeding 10,000 species.
These plants, originally native to Central and South America, produce fruit pods, which we commonly refer to as beans. This term encompasses not only the fruit itself but also the seeds and the entire plant responsible for their production. For most types of beans, the pods are delectable when harvested before reaching full maturity.
However, once they mature and become dry, they are no longer suitable for raw consumption. In such cases, the beans are typically removed from their pods and designated as "pulses," which can be employed in their dried form for various culinary preparations through cooking.
Fresh legumes, which can range in color from green and yellow to purple, exhibit characteristics akin to vegetables. Some varieties, like snap peas, yardlong beans, and winged beans, can be consumed whole, while others necessitate the removal of their outer husk.
These legumes come in a diverse array of shapes, including long and narrow, flat, broad, straight, or slightly curved.
While the majority of legumes have strings, certain varieties, such as snap peas, are stringless.
|Black gram (Urad beans)
|Chickpea (garbanzo beans)
|Cowpeas (black-eyed peas)
Edamame (green soybeans)
Fava beans (Broad bean)
|Hyacinth (lablab) bean
|Navy beans (haricot)
|Pigeon peas (Red gram)
Legumes including beans, peas, and lentils or pulses are moderately high in total calories.
Legumes are only natural sources wherein calorie composition is proportionately distributed in the healthy range of 70%, 20%, and 10% between carbohydrates, proteins and fats respectively.
The protein levels in the beans range from 17% to 40%. Soybeans have highest percentage of protein among legumes. The protein profile of beans and pulses composed of all the required essential amino acids including leucine which are otherwise deficient in the cereal grains.
Beans and lentils do not contain cholesterol. Their fat composition mainly comprises of poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and less of saturated fats which help in weight reduction and blood pressure control.
Their outer peel (seed coat) is the source of dietary fiber in the beans/lentils. This non-starch polysaccharide inhibits absorption of cholesterol, fats and helps in the slower absorption of glucose into blood.
Pulses compose structurally complex carbohydrates, consisting of more long linear chain amylose than amylopectin. Amylose crystallizes more rapidly than amylopectin , and therefore, high-amylose starch is more resistant to digestion.
Further, pulses starch composition is a type-1 indigestible resistant starch. Pulses, thus, helps in better regulation of blood glucose levels and improve insulin sensitivity even in diabetics.
Some beans like kidney beans are one of the highest valued antioxidant sources. Polyphenolic pigment compounds such as quercetin present abundantly in them.
Research trials found that regular consumption of high fiber, low salt and low saturated fat diet has been shown to bring reductions in blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases, and stroke.
Legumes supply sulfur containing amino acids such as cystiene and taurine. Cystiene in the lentils helps in the healthy growth of hairs and nails.
Germinated legumes contain vitamin-C. Germination also favors bio-availability (absorption) of other vitamins and minerals.
They indeed are excellent sources of B-complex vitamins such as pyridoxine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, niacin and folates. Fresh tender beans indeed very rich in folates.
Legumes are natural low sodium foods. On the other hand, they comprise good amounts of potassium and magnesium. Both potassium and magnesium are heart-friendly minerals which counter pressing-effects of sodium and help regulate blood pressure.
Additionally, they carry other minerals in sufficient amounts such as calcium, manganese, zinc, iron and selenium.
When choosing beans, opt for ones that are firm, crisp, and display a vibrant green or golden yellow hue, free from any bruises or brown spots. To gauge freshness, snap the ends to see if they release a hint of moisture.
Avoid beans that have ripened too much or appear old, as they tend to be tough and unappetizing.
If you're purchasing dry beans, look for high-quality produce. Test their hardness and opt for completely dried beans that produce a metallic sound when shaken.
To keep fresh, unwashed beans in optimal condition, store them in a loosely sealed or perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.
For dry beans, use a glass or metallic container and store them away from direct sunlight, moisture, and humidity.
Before using fresh beans, wash them just before cooking, break off any ends, and remove any strings if necessary.
For most dried legumes, soaking is essential before cooking. Soaking not only rehydrates them but also reduces cooking time while preserving their valuable vitamins and minerals. While legumes are typically soaked for 6-8 hours, this soaking time can be shortened or omitted if using a pressure cooker.
Begin by inspecting the dried legumes and remove any damaged beans or foreign matter. Rinse the legumes thoroughly under cold water, repeating the process several times. As you do this, discard any impurities or beans that float to the surface.
Now, place the dried legumes in a spacious bowl and cover them with three parts water for every one part of legumes. Allow them to soak overnight in a cool location or in the refrigerator.
If you're short on time, you can opt for a quick soaking method. For every cup of dry legumes, use 3-4 cups of water. Bring the water and legumes to a gentle boil, then let them simmer for 2 minutes. Cover the pot and remove it from the heat source. Let the legumes rest for 1-2 hours until they have expanded in size. Drain them and proceed with your chosen recipe.
If you prefer to use a microwave oven, place the dried legumes in a microwave-safe dish that has enough room for them to expand. Cover them with cold water and cook on the highest setting for 8-10 minutes or until they come to a boil. Continue to boil for 2 minutes, then allow them to rest for 1 hour before using.
Stovetop cooking is an ideal method when preparing legumes with other ingredients, as it allows them to soak up all the delicious flavors. Simply submerge dried legumes in cold water, bring them to a boil, then reduce the heat and let them simmer for approximately 2 hours until they reach the desired tenderness.
Pressure cooking is a convenient method for faster cooking, but it works best when you're dealing with a simpler set of ingredients and seasonings. However, it's important to note that pressure cooking comes with certain risks, especially when cooking dried legumes that tend to produce a significant amount of scum, such as soybeans, lima beans, and various types of peas. It's not advisable to use this method for lentils and split peas.
When using salt and acidic ingredients like tomatoes, vinegar, or lemon juice, it's best to add them at the end of the cooking time. This is because these ingredients can toughen dried legumes and prolong their cooking time. If you find that you need to add more water during cooking, be sure to use boiled water, as adding cold water can further delay the cooking process.
It's also important to avoid cooking two different varieties of legumes together, even if they have the same cooking time. They tend to cook unevenly when combined, so it's better to cook them separately for optimal results.
While fresh beans are more commonly cooked than consumed raw, they offer versatile serving options. You can enjoy them as a side dish, incorporate them into salads, add them to soups, stews, marinades, or stir-fries. They can also be transformed into a delightful gratin or enhanced with various sauces or vinaigrettes.
Dried beans offer the flexibility to be enjoyed hot or cold, whole or pureed. They can be featured in soups, salads, sandwich spreads, and as a primary ingredient in main dishes. Surprisingly, they can even be used to prepare delicious desserts.
Consider serving dried bean puree as a side dish or using it as a versatile base for creating croquettes or patties.
Many legumes contain anti-nutritional compounds such as phytates, oxalates, gliadin, and more. Fortunately, cooking can effectively remove most of these substances.
If you want to minimize the flatulence (gas) issues associated with legumes, consider these precautions:
Prior to consumption, remove the outer skin from dried legumes.
Avoid using the soaking water for cooking.
Cook legumes slowly and ensure they are thoroughly cooked.
Take your time to chew thoroughly and refrain from concluding the meal with a sugary dessert. (Medical disclaimer).
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