Image used for representational purposes only.
Image used for representational purposes only.(File Photo)

The pulse of food

From taking the family surnames of the Roman Empire, pulses boast a rich and unique history. On this World Pulses Day, TNIE explores the wonders of the crop.

KOCHI: Pulses are small but important members of the legume family. Pulses, or the seeds of the legumes, are an integral part of cuisines from across the world, especially in dishes that are considered staples. From the popular Indian dal, the Mediterranean hummus to the traditional Italian soup Pasta e Fagioli (a one-pot dish with pasta, vegetables, and white beans), beans are a main component in these recipes.

Celebrating the versatility of pulses, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 2016 as the International Year of Pulses. Following its success and recognising the potential of the seeds to achieve the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, the General Assembly proclaimed February 10 as World Pulses Day.

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) recognises 11 types of pulses — dry beans, dry broad beans, dry peas, chickpeas, cowpeas, pigeon peas, lentils, Bambara beans, vetches, lupins, and pulses nes (minor pulses that do not fall into one of the other categories). Before delving into the goodness of the seeds, their nutritional value, and environmental benefits, let’s check pulses’ rich history.

The long story

Dry peas, beans, lentils, and chickpeas are those pulses that have had their presence right from ancient times. The first evidence of pulses comes from 11,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, a region in the Middle East. Roughly around the same period, the presence of peas was found by archaeologists in caves in Thailand. Archaeological evidence suggests that peas were also grown in the eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia regions at least 5,000 years ago and in Britain as early as the 11th century.

Legumes in a way have been an important part of agriculture for centuries. These small beings even became as integral as grains, a commodity which is considered to be a staple.

As per records, evidence of the cultivation of lentils has been discovered in the Egyptian pyramids. Interestingly, the royal Egyptian tombs contained lentils,--this could be true--as the pharaohs stocked tombs with food. That was a way to sustain the dead in the afterlife.

Pulses were also a part of the patrician families that controlled the Roman empire. The Romans consumed more legumes in their diet than any other civilisations, and these legumes even found their way into the names of some historical figures. For example, first-century Roman senator Gaius Calpurnius Piso was named after peas and Roman politician and general, Publius Cornelius Lentulus Spinther or simply Lentulus was named after Lentis. And the visionary Marcus Tullius Cicero of Rome was named after cicer (Latin for chickpea), because one of his ancestors had a cleft at the tip of his nose, resembling a chickpea.

Pulses provide about 10% of the total dietary protein consumed in the world and even have twice the protein content of most cereal grains. According to Italian historian and philosopher Umberto Eco, peas, beans, and lentils could have saved the Western civilisations during the early Middle Ages. And it is said that the introduction of pulses gave way to a more nutrition-filled diet for the populace and helped save generations of people in Europe from malnutrition after the Black Plague ravaged the land in the 1340s.

The seeds of the legume plants were also pivotal in several traditions. During the New Year’s celebration in Iran, which lasts for up to 13 days, the dining table displays seven food items starting with the letter ‘S’ and of these, lentil seeds known as ‘sabzi’ take the centre stage to symbolise rebirth and renewal. Also for hundreds of years, northern Italy has been enjoying the New Year’s tradition with lentils. Here, the pulse symbolised coins and were eaten to ensure good fortune throughout the year.

India and Pulses

Pulses have been the crucial food grown by farmers for millennia in India. The Indian subcontinent has been the place of origin of several pulses, including pigeonpea, black gram, green gram, lablab bean, moth bean, and horse gram. There’s also a possibility of chickpea and the Indian-type lentil being domesticated in the Indian subcontinent.

Chickpeas are claimed to have originated in the Turkey-Syria region and then spread to South Asia. However, there has also been a documented history of chickpeas in India. In Rigveda, there’s a mention of a grain called Khalva and Yajurveda specifies khalva as a pulse. Also, Chanakya (321-296BC) mention a post rainy season crop called Kalaya which can be consumed in various ways, including in the roasted form. According to experts, the word Kalaya has a resemblance to khalva and the word used today for chickpeas in Karnataka (kadale) and Kerala (kadala).

Whereas black gram has remained confined to South Asia. Its ancient Sanskrit name is Masha, and the word has been mentioned even in works like Mahabharata.

Horse gram is indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. Archaeological evidence proves the use of horse gram as food around 2000 BC. In Rigveda, Yajurveda and even in Buddhist and Jain literature, mentioning of horse gram is evident, but in different names.

Environmental benefits

Pulses improve soil quality and this makes them a perfect choice for intercropping. Also, its unique ability to capture nitrogen from the air and store it in the roots makes it less dependent on fertilisers compared to other crops. Since leguminous plants require little water, they can be adapted very well to dry soils. Now this has brought greater benefits to African farming communities.

Power Pack

  • High in protein: Pulses are an excellent source of plant-based protein, making them ideal for vegetarians and vegans.

  • Rich in fibre: They are high in dietary fibre, which promotes digestive health, aids in weight management, and helps regulate blood sugar levels.

  • Low in fat: Pulses are low in fat, particularly saturated fat, making them heart-healthy options.

  • Complex carbohydrates: They provide complex carbohydrates, offering sustained energy and keeping you feeling full for longer periods.

  • Vitamins and minerals: Pulses are rich in vitamins such as folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin C, as well as minerals like iron, potassium, and magnesium.

  • Antioxidants: They contain various antioxidants, including flavonoids and phenolic compounds, which help fight inflammation and oxidative stress in the body.

  • Low glycemic index: Pulses have a low glycemic index, meaning they cause a gradual rise in blood sugar levels, making them suitable for individuals with diabetes.

  • Cholesterol-lowering properties: Regular consumption of pulses may help lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Sprouts Salad

Courtesy: Chef Arun Vijayan, Restaurant consultant


Sprout green gram: 150 gram

Sprout black channa: 80 gram

Chopped cucumber: 25 gram

Chopped seedless tomatoes: 20 gram

Pomegranate seeds: 15 gram

Chopped onions: 20 gram


Salt to taste

Honey: 5 ml

Olive oil: 20 ml

Lemon juice: 5 ml

White pepper powder: 2 gram


Prepare the dressing and keep it aside. In a bowl, mix all the ingredients along with the prepared dressing.

Chocolate Chickpea Mousse

Recipe by Sheeba La Fleur


Aquafaba, liquid from one can of chickpeas - 1 can

Cup sugar - 1/4cup

Cream of tartar - 1/2 tsp

Dark chocolate chips - 2 cups

Coconut milk - 115 oz can

*For garnish*

Orange zest - 1 tsp

Chopped pistachios - 2tbsp


Pour the liquid from the chickpeas into the bowl of a stand mixer. Attach the whisk and beat on high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar and cream of tartar to the mixer while it’s running. Continue whisking until stiff peaks form. Place the chocolate in a large bowl, and melt the chocolate either in the microwave or over a double boiler. Allow the melted chocolate to cool slightly. Gently fold the melted chocolate into the whipped chickpea meringue until well combined. In a separate mixing bowl, add the coconut cream and whisk until stiff peaks form. Add 1/3 of the whipped coconut cream into the chocolate-chickpea mixture, stirring gently to combine. Then, carefully fold in the remaining coconut cream until evenly distributed. Divide the mixture evenly into four 1-cup containers. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to set. Before serving, garnish each portion with chopped pistachios and a sprinkle of orange zest.

Mix fruit horse gram

Courtesy: Chef Arun Vijayan, Restaurant consultant


Boiled horse gram: 150 gram

Strawberry cubes: 15 gram

Kiwi cubes: 10 gram

Sesame seeds : 5 gram

Edible flower for garnish

Skinless coconut slices : 5 gram

Black grapes: 15 gram


In a bowl,arrange the all ingredients and garnish with edible flower.

Toor dal curry


Toor Dal- 3/4 cup

Chana dal- 1/4 cup

Jeera- 1tsp

Green chilli- 3 nos

Onion- 1 large

Ginger garlic paste- 1 tsp

Tomato- 1 medium

Turmeric- 1/4 tsp

Chilli powder- 1tsp

Coriander powder- 1tbsp

Garam masala- 1/2 tsp

Kasoori methi- 1tbsp

Salt- as per taste

Oil- 2 tbsp

In prior: Cook both the dals in a pressure cooker with 3 cups of water and wait for 3 whistles.


Heat some oil in a pan and sauté jeera, green chillis, ginger garlic paste, and onion. After the onion has turned translucent add the tomatoes and cook it till it’s mushy. Then add the masalas and sauté till the raw smell is gone. Add kasoori methi and cooked dal alongwith the water it has been cooked with. Simmer it for 15 min, top it up with a dollop of fresh cream and kasoori methi and enjoy it with roti and rice.

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