By Heidi Spurrell

Pulses are not just great for your health, but are absolutely brilliant for soil fertility and biodiversity.  It’s a win-win! While pulses are the mainstay of many national dishes; think dahl, falafel, refried beans, even baked beans, to name a few, chefs around the globe are finding new and creative ways to introduce pulses onto their menus in order to deliver top notch nutritional benefits, and save our soils too!

We were delighted to learn more about why pulses are just so superb at the latest Sustainability Breakfast Seminar, our first online event, which focused on our Society Pillar:  Feed People Well. A big thank you to Punam Chopra from SpiceBox Organics who was able to highlight some of the most exciting pulses that will make nutritional and environmental waves on your menu.

There’s a reason why pulses were one of the first crops to be domesticated by humans and have been farmed, across the world, for millions of years.

Why farmers love pulses

  • Pulses have natural nitrogen fixing properties which makes the soil richer for their growth, but also for other plants growing nearby, perfect for crop rotations
  • This reduces the need for fertilisers
  • They also lock carbon into the soil which is one of the best ways to sequest GHG emissions
  • From a farming systems point of view, pulses and cattle grown together on the same farmland is a great way to protect and nurture soils
  • Pulses are climate smart as they adapt to climate change while also contributing towards mitigating its effects
  • They are relatively cheap! 
  • Pulses have a long shelf life, making them a good option for food security, and can be germinated and planted even after being in storage for a long period
  • Many pulses can grow in arid climates and can also supply groundwater for crops

FACT: 1lb of pulses only requires 43 gallons of water to grow, compared to 1lb of beef which requires 1799 gallons!

Pulses are well recognised for their nutritional value and their versatility as a core ingredient.

Why kitchens love pulses

  • Pulses are absolutely packed full of healthy protein, in fact twice the amount of protein as whole grain cereals
  • This high nutrient content makes pulses ideal for vegetarians and vegans, but also helps with protein balance for menus that are choosing to deliver less meat
  • The nutritional value of pulses can become even greater when combined with other foods such as rice

Punam’s Top ‘Chana Wala’ Choices

Chana walla depicts Punam’s love of sprouted pulses via her childhood memories of the Sprouts Vendor whipping up scrumptious snacks. Pulses are called Dal and channa in India and they have the largest range of variety of pulses as well are probably the largest consumer

Here is Punam’s conscious collection of the key pulse ingredients, including the aquafaba- a versatile use for the leftover liquid that is used to cook or soak the beans! No food waste!

  • Dried beans, such as Kidney Beans and Black Beans are packed with protein, iron and potassium and are naturally low in fat.   They need to be soaked overnight and are great for salad, stews, vegan burgers and soups.
  • Lentils don’t need to be pre-soaked and in addition to their high protein, iron and folic acid content, are also high in fibre which helps to lower cholesterol.  In addition to dahl and soups, lentils can also be used in fermented dishes for extra probiotic punch.
  • Dried peas include Chickpeas and Pigeon Peas, and need soaking overnight, but are packed with soluble fibre and other proteins and minerals.  Delicious for hummus, coconut curries, salads and stews.
  • Aquafaba is the thick liquid that results from soaking or cooking the beans, and can be used as a direct replacement for eggs as an emulsifier to bind fats into a spreadable butter-like substance.  Amazingly it can be used to make meringues, mousses, pie crusts, butter, buttercream and mayonnaise, to name a few. It is vegan-friendly, low-calorie and dairy-free. Punam’s Tip:  Throw in 1/8 – ¼ tsp cream of tartar to whip up much easier, faster and makes the peaks firmer!
  • Fermented foods are rich in probiotic bacteria, which increase the health of the gut, digestive system and immune system.  Add a teaspoon of culture, such as kefir, kombucha or powdered starter culture, to every cup of cooked beans, which will make them easier to digest and encourage nutrient absorption.

For any chefs out there itching to start experimenting, Punam is a wealth of information around the more common and the more ‘off the beaten track’ grains, and will be happy to host a one-to-one workshop, or group workshop.  Do let us know if you would be interested.

As a taster, Punam has shared a couple of her tried and trusted recipes here to get you started!

It was truly inspirational to learn more about the countless benefits of pulses, both health and planetary, and how pulses can support our combined mission to ‘feed people well’. There is no doubt in our mind that pulses are an altogether good bean!

Share your pulse recipe on our oneplanetplate.org website!