Legumes Are Nutritious, Inexpensive, And Healthy

Legumes provide plenty of nutrients and can be used in a variety of ways in the kitchen. Here you can find out which legumes are available, what to look out for when preparing them and why legumes are a healthy food despite criticism.

Legumes are more popular than ever

Legumes have a lot to offer: With their high protein content, lots of fiber, and relevant amounts of vitamins and minerals, they make an enormous contribution to health. In addition, they are inexpensive, filling and dried for a long time.

No wonder, then, that legumes are a staple food in many countries and are even often one of the most important sources of protein. In Europe, they were long considered poor people’s food, but today they are more popular than ever, precisely because of their healthy properties.

Most legumes originate in the Middle East, Central and South America, or in southern and eastern Asia. But there are also legumes that grow in Europe, such as lupins, peas, beans, and, in some regions, lentils.

The variety of legumes

Legumes belong to the plant family of legumes – also known as legumes. With around 20,000 species, it is one of the most species-rich plant families. But only a fraction of it ends up on our plates: About 20 legumes enrich the human diet. These include lentils, beans, peas, lupins, and chickpeas. Peanuts are also legumes.

Lentils: Filling and delicious

Lentils probably originally come from the Orient. In addition to India and Turkey, Russia, Canada, and Australia are among the largest producers today. Within Europe, Spain is an important cultivation country and the lentils even grow in small quantities on the Swabian Jura and in Lower Bavaria.

Numerous different types of lentils such as brown plate lentils, yellow and red lentils, black Beluga lentils, and green Puy lentils are available, which differ in their appearance and consistency.

Some lentils, such as yellow and red, are offered shelled, while others, such as brown lentils, are shelled. Lentils with shells are richer in nutrients – peeled lentils cook faster and are easier to digest.

In our article about lentils, you will find more information about the health properties of the filling and inexpensive legumes.

Beans: kidney, adzuki, soy, and co.

An unbelievable number of genera and species can be distinguished within the beans. Typical European beans are green beans (e.g. French beans, garden beans, etc.), which are eaten unripe with the pod. Adzuki beans, mung beans, and soybeans, on the other hand, come from Asia, typical core beans, of which you only eat the cores and usually only when the beans are ripe.

In Europe, soybeans are eaten less whole than in the processed form in form of tofu, soy sauce, or miso. Harvested unripe and cooked, soybeans are called edamame in Japan. These green beans, which look like snow peas on the outside, are now increasingly found in local supermarkets and restaurants. Unlike green bean pods, the pod is not eaten with edamame.

The red kidney bean, which got its name because it is visually reminiscent of a kidney (“kidney” is English for kidney), is a variety of garden beans – although the two hardly look alike.

Botanically speaking, the field bean (also known as the broad bean, broad bean, or horse bean) does not belong to the beans (genus Phaseolus), but to the vetches (which are another genus (Vicia) within the legume family). Many sweet peas are grown as ornamental plants in the garden for their beautiful flowers. The flowers are also – just like the young shoots and leave z. B. the bindweed – edible. Of the beans, on the other hand, only the blossoms are edible, which in the case of the fire bean also looks very decorative due to their fiery red color.

Peas: With or without pod

The most well-known pea is the garden pea (also known as the garden pea). It originally comes from Asia but is now cultivated in many European countries. Yellow peas or shell peas can hardly be distinguished from garden peas, but they taste a little less sweet and have a more floury consistency. Both varieties are eaten without the pod.

In contrast, the pod of the sugar snap pea or snow pea is eaten and it can even be eaten raw, which is why sugar snap peas are usually only briefly blanched. Field peas are another representative of peas, but they are mainly grown as animal feed.

Chickpeas: Fun powerhouses

Although chickpeas belong to the same subfamily (Lepidoptera) as peas, they are otherwise not closely related to them. They originally come from the Middle East and are particularly popular as an ingredient in hummus and falafel.

By the way, the chickpeas did not get their name because they are particularly funny. The word “giggle” is derived from the Latin “Cicer”, which simply means pea. The main growing areas include India, North Africa, Pakistan, Australia, Turkey, and Mexico.

In addition to the brown chickpeas that we mainly know in Europe, there are also smaller, green chickpeas in India that look a bit wrinkled. These are unripe chickpeas. Chickpeas only get their brown color when they ripen and dry.

Lupins: The regional legumes

Although lupins are one of the oldest cultivated plants, they have only been known to the general public for a few years. They look like lentils because of their shape, but their yellow color is closer to that of corn kernels. Only sweet lupins are edible.

Lupins are mainly available as a lupine meal or lupine flour. Rarely do you find whole lupins in jars or dried? They are processed just like other legumes.

Lupine meal and lupine flour are mainly used for baking. Lupine coffee is also made from lupins – a caffeine-free substitute for coffee beans, although coffee beans are not beans at all, i.e. they are not legumes, but botanically they are stone fruits.

Lupins can be grown in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland and are therefore considered a regional alternative to other legumes. In addition, they are particularly suitable for organic cultivation, as they enrich the soil with nitrogen, so that less or no fertilizer is required for themselves and also for subsequent crops.

Peanuts: The outsider among the legumes

Surprisingly, peanuts are also legumes. Real nuts such as hazelnuts or macadamia nuts are closed fruits. In the case of incipient fruits, each individual seed is completely surrounded by a hard shell. Peanuts, on the other hand, have several seeds in an elongated pod.

However, the peanut is a special case among them

legumes: In contrast to the pods of other legumes, the pod of peanuts does not open by itself. Unlike most legumes, the peanut can also be eaten raw and grows underground. The high-fat content is also more similar to that of nuts.

Peanuts are mainly grown in South America, but also in China, India, the USA, and Egypt.

The nutritional values, vitamins, and minerals of legumes

In our table, you will find the nutritional values, vitamins, and minerals of each 100 g of cooked legumes. Legumes are considered to be the most protein-rich vegetable food source and are significantly more resource-efficient than meat as a protein source.

Legumes also contain plenty of fiber. Dietary fiber is essential for a healthy gut and reduces the risk of chronic diseases. Legumes also have a lot to offer in terms of vitamins and minerals:

  • Even when cooked, they still contain relevant amounts of B vitamins (B vitamins are heat-sensitive), which do not cover the daily requirement but definitely help to cover it.
  • Lupins in particular are rich in folic acid, but the levels in chickpeas and soybeans are also impressive.
  • Chickpeas are also good sources of vitamin E.
  • 100 g of cooked lentils, soybeans, or raw lupine meal cover more than a quarter of the daily iron requirement.
  • 100 g of cooked lentils, chickpeas, or soybeans provide over 15 percent of the daily zinc requirement – raw lupine meal even over 50 percent.
  • In addition, soybeans and lupins in particular contain plenty of magnesium and potassium.

The glycemic load and glycemic index of legumes

Legumes have a low glycemic load of less than 10. This means they only raise blood sugar slowly and evenly, which means they keep you fuller for longer and hardly put a strain on blood sugar levels. For this reason, legumes are particularly suitable for diabetics.

Foods with a glycemic load of over 20, on the other hand, cause blood sugar levels to rise rapidly and sharply.

Legumes reduce the risk of heart disease

Epidemiological studies have also shown that the consumption of legumes could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease: For example, people who eat legumes four times a week are said to have a 22 percent reduced risk of coronary heart disease and an 11 percent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease in general compared to people who eat legumes less than once a week.

The preparation of legumes

You can buy legumes dried, in cans, in jars, frozen, and sometimes even fresh (e.g. at farmer’s markets) – depending on which they have to be prepared differently.

Prepare fresh legumes: peas and beans

Peas, green beans, and field beans can be bought fresh. The pods of green beans and snow peas (mangetout) are edible, but those of garden peas and split peas are not.

To peel peas and field beans, cut open the pod at one end and pull it apart lengthways. Then you loosen the peas or beans inside the pod with your fingers. Peeling is a bit tedious, but fresh peas taste best. With green beans and sugar snap peas, the hard stems of the pods are cut off before cooking.

Fresh peas and beans can only be kept for a few days in the refrigerator. However, they can be quenched in cold water after cooking and then frozen. They will keep in the freezer for about a year.

Prepare dried legumes

Dried legumes such as chickpeas, dried peas, lentils, dried beans, or lupins offer the advantage that they can be kept for several years, provided they are stored in a cool, dry place and protected from light.

They must be soaked in three times the amount of water for at least 12 hours before use. The soaking times vary depending on the legume – note the information on the packaging.

If you want to soak legumes longer than specified, that’s no problem. The longer you soak them, the better their digestibility. However, at some point, they might be so soft that they fall apart. If you soak legumes for more than 24 hours, you should change the water in between so that no germs form. You should also use a sufficiently large bowl, as the legumes get bigger when they are soaked.

By soaking, the substances mentioned above are washed out or broken down and the cooking time is reduced. Specimens that float to the top after soaking are discarded. The soaking water is then poured away. Then rinse the legumes again with clear water and cook them according to the recipe.

Red and yellow lentils do not need to be soaked before cooking because they are already peeled. As a result, some of the antinutrients are already removed, which is why they only have to be cooked.

Legumes in cans and jars

Buying canned and jarred legumes is convenient because they have already been soaked and blanched or boiled, eliminating the long soaking and cooking time. They can then be used immediately.

You do not have to throw away the water in which the legumes are soaked in cans and jars. This isn’t soaking water, so you don’t have to worry about dissolved antinutrients in it.

Chickpea water is also called aquafaba and can be used for vegan whipped cream or as a flavoring like our chefs did in this hummus recipe.

You can add bean water to a stew or soup, for example. Due to its slight sweetness, the water from black beans is also an excellent ingredient for mousse au chocolate. However, make sure that the soaking water contains salt because this is often added for preservation and would then be unsuitable for a dessert.

Make legumes more digestible

For sensitive people, legumes can lead to digestive problems such as bloating. Soaking and cooking legumes already lead to better digestibility. Combining it with spices like aniseed and cumin also helps prevent post-meal bloating.

If legumes have not had a fixed place in your diet up to now, you should start with small amounts and then gradually increase the proportion of legumes in your diet. This gives your digestion time to get used to the unfamiliar meal.

Conclusion: legumes enrich the diet enormously

Legumes are extremely diverse foods that can enrich our diet enormously: They contain many vital substances such as protein, fiber, B vitamins, folic acid, iron, magnesium, and zinc. They fill you up and have a positive effect on your health.

With the right preparation method, you don’t need to worry about lectins, phytic acid, and the like, especially since many of these so-called antinutrients are also said to have positive health effects. One should not reduce foods to a single ingredient, but consider their health properties as a whole. Legumes are therefore an excellent addition to a balanced diet.

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