By Julie Garden-Robinson for Area Voices

Have you ever heard of legumes or pulse crops? These foods count as either vegetables or as protein foods in our diet according to MyPlate.

In case you missed it, 2016 was the International Year of the Pulses in celebration of these crops.

The legume family consists of plants that produce seeds inside of a pod. A legume is grown primarily for its grain seed, called a pulse. The chickpea is one of these pulse crops. Other examples of pulses include split peas, lentils and dry edible beans.

Chickpeas also are known as garbanzo beans and they are the key ingredient in most types of hummus. You can buy them at the grocery store under both of these names in the canned form, dried in bags or dried in bulk. Dry chickpeas need to be soaked in water prior to cooking. Soaking helps rehydrate the chickpeas for more even cooking.

Chickpeas can be added to salads, soups or casseroles. They also can be seasoned, roasted in the oven and eaten as a snack.

Pureed chickpeas are the main ingredient in hummus, which also can include tahini, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and paprika. You can create sweet or savory hummus varieties by combining different ingredients.

Pulses are one of the best plant-based sources of protein, with 1/2 cup of chickpeas providing 7 grams of protein. One-fourth cup of cooked chickpeas or 2 tablespoons of hummus count as 1 ounce in the protein foods group.

Chickpeas contain soluble and insoluble fiber and create a feeling of fullness after eating them. This feeling of fullness can be helpful for people wanting to lose weight. Chickpeas also are rich in vitamins and minerals, including iron, folate, potassium and magnesium.

In studies, legumes, such as the chickpea, are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and lower cholesterol levels, among other potential health benefits studies.

Chickpeas are one of the specialty crops that can be grown in North Dakota. Visit the North Dakota State University Extension Service’s Field to Fork website at for more information about growing and using a variety of specialty crops, including chickpeas.

Here’s a chocolatey chickpea recipe to try at home.

Photo by John Borge.

Chickpea Chocolate Cake

1 1/2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
4 eggs
3/4 c. white sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
Optional toppings: powdered sugar, frosting or fresh berries

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease 9-inch round cake pan. Melt chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl, stirring occasionally until chocolate is smooth. Combine chickpeas and eggs in a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Add sugar and baking powder; blend. Pour in melted chocolate, then blend until smooth. Transfer batter to prepared cake pan. Bake for 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.

Makes nine servings. Each serving (without frosting) contains 320 calories, 13 grams (g) fat, 7 g protein, 47 g carbohydrate and 190 milligrams sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a professor and Extension food and nutrition specialist with the NDSU Extension Service, Fargo, ND.

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