Cooked chickpeas and chickpea flour (unprocessed) are used to make hummus and falafel, chips and French fries, among other things. Roasted, they can also be eaten as a snack. The somewhat strange name has nothing to do with young birds or chicks, but is derived from the Latin Cicer, also the species name of this pea, which means as much as ‘grey pea’. The chickpea or ‘garbanzo bean’ come from an annual plant, the Cicer arietinum with edible legumes, from the legume family (Leguminosae or Fabaceae) and the subfamily Papilionoideae or Faboideae. It is a very old cultivated crop, having been planted perhaps more than ten thousand years ago. In Anatolia, the chickpea has been cultivated for over 8,000 years. From there, the chickpea was spread to the Mediterranean and India. It probably descended from the wild growing Cicer reticulatum, which is still the closest living relative. So originally, the chickpea plant comes from Southwest Asia. Still today, it is one of the most important, if not the most important legume in India. India is therefore not only by far the largest producer, but also the largest importer in the world. In the countries around the Mediterranean Sea and in the Middle East, the plant has also been cultivated for a very long time. Nowadays they are eaten all over the world.
The chickpea is grown in many subtropical regions. The main growing areas are India, Pakistan, Turkey, Australia, Morocco and Iran. However, India is by far the biggest producer; almost 8 million tons annually, that is more than three times the amount of chickpeas harvested than in the four following countries together.
The legumes grow on low bushes with long pinnate leaves. The peas themselves are in strongly hairy light green pods, usually with only two or three at a time. The plant grows best in dry tropical or subtropical climates and need more than 400 mm of annual rainfall. They can grow in temperate climates, but the yield will be much lower.
The plant grows 20-50 cm tall. The leaves are unevenly pinnate with thirteen to seventeen elliptical or inverted-ovate leaflets, the edge of which is serrated at the top. The plant blooms in June and July with white or red-blue flowers. The stem of the pod is curved downward. There are two to three peas in the approximately 3 cm long pod. In addition to yellow and green, there are also black chickpeas.
Legumes are often full of good nutrients, yet rarely to the same extent as chickpeas. For example, they contain a whopping 7.6 grams of dietary fiber per 100 grams, far more than most other vegetables. They also contain 8.9 grams of protein per 100 grams. The high proportion of essential amino acids in them makes this type of pea very popular with vegetarians and vegans. It also contains high levels of vitamins and minerals, and several important antioxidants. This very high nutritional value makes them particularly healthy.
Chickpeas are not only very healthy, but also very flavorful. They are popular all over the world, but perhaps most commonly in the Middle East, North Africa and India: cooked, roasted, in salads, made into puree in hummus or ground into flour for falafel and papadums.
Cooked chickpeas and chickpea flour (unprocessed) are used to make hummus and falafel, chips and French fries, among other things. Roasted, they can also be eaten as a snack.