Pulses have been eaten since at least 7000 to 8000 B.C. according to the United Nations, but the year 2016 might be the one that pushes these healthy foods to the forefront of our diets.

After all, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses, and is managing a worldwide awareness campaign to encourage more global production and consumption of pulses. #IYP2016 #LovePulses

But before we get much further, what exactly are pulses?

split peas by bekkchen flickrPulses are dried peas, dried beans and lentils. They are actually a subgroup of the legume family – but the term “pulse” is used for the dried seeds of different shapes, sizes and colors within a pod.

Chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, white beans, navy beans, fava beans, pigeon peas, black-eyed peas (cowpeas) and split peas are all pulses. Fresh/green beans and peas, as well as soybeans and peanuts, are not pulses.

Split peas image by bekkchen on Flickr Creative Commons.


Healthy and Delicious

Pulses provide a valuable and tasty source of plant-based proteins and amino acids.

Lentil and Coconut Soup by nettsu on flickr“Many people don’t realize that pulses not only contain significant protein and fiber, but in many cases, are also very high in micronutrients like folate and iron,” says Liz Carlisle, fellow at Center for Diversified Farming Systems at University of California, Berkeley, and author of the highly acclaimed book Lentil Underground.

ICYMI, here is Liz Carlisle’s Interview with UC Food Observer on a range of topics.

Lentil and Coconut Soup image by Nettsu/Flickr Creative Commons

Pulses are not only high in nutrients, but they have no gluten, no cholesterol and a low fat content. Although pulses get their name from the Latin puls meaning “thick gruel, porridge, mush,” they are used in many different ways around the world, from chili and falafel to baked beans.

Here are a few great pulse recipes from USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council.

Share Recipes with Pulses

To encourage more consumption of these delicious, healthy foods, the FAO is collecting recipes with pulses. Chefs from around the world are sharing their favorite recipes– and you can too! If your recipe is selected by FAO, you’ll receive credit for the photos and recipes.

How to enter

Pulses are Good for Earth

It makes sense to honor these humble vegetables, according to Carlisle.

“Pulse crops are critical to the sustainability of the global food system,” she says. “Because they supply biological nitrogen, pulse crops can regenerate soils, replace resource-intensive synthetic fertilizers and provide a healthy protein source for people.”

She cites research that shows legume crops and legume-based pastures use 35 to 60 percent less fossil energy than chemically fertilized grains. When legumes were used in cropping sequences, there was a reduction in the average annual energy usage over a rotation by 12 to 34 percent.

(Jensen, E.S., Mark B. Peoples, Robert M. Boddey, Peter M. Gresshoff, Henrik Hauggaard-Nielsen, Bruno J. R. Alves and Malcolm J. Morrison.  “Legumes for Mitigation of Climate Change and the Provision of Feedstock for Biofuels and Biorefineries: A Review.” Agronomy for Sustainable Development 32 (2012): 329-64.)

The FAO points out pulses are highly water efficient, especially when compared to other protein sources such as poultry or meat. “Production of daal (split peas or lentils) requires 50 liters of water per kilogram,” says the global organization. “Conversely … one kilogram of beef requires 13,000 liters of water during production. Their small water footprint makes pulses production a smart choice in drier areas and regions prone to drought.”

Pulses also require minimal processing and no refrigeration, making them ideal for long-term storage and food insecure areas.

Increasing Consumption

pulses and market ladies - 10b travelling on flickrIn developing countries, pulses make up 75 percent of the average diet, compared to 25 percent in industrialized countries, according to the FAO.

Although global production of pulses has increased by over 20 percent in the last 10 years, consumption has slowed in both developing and industrialized countries. “This may be partially due to an inability for pulses production to keep pace with a growing population, as well as shifting diets in many countries,” says the UN organization.

Let’s hope this global campaign gives the honorable pulses the respect they deserve.

Image of market women selling pulses – nettsu on Flickr Creative Commons

More Information

University of California Grain Legume Workgroup

USDA Vegetable and Pulses Data