Legumes have shed their hippy image and have become a part of every fashionable chef's menu. However, there's more to pulses than this and their resurgence is amply justified when examining their nutritious value and why we should also include them in our diet.
A pulse, sometimes called a 'grain legume', is an annual leguminous crop yielding from one to twelve seeds of variable size, shape, and colour within a pod. Pulses are used for food for humans and other animals. Pulses include beans, lentils and peas. They are a cheap, low-fat source of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, and they count towards your recommended five daily portions of fruit and vegetables.A pulse is an edible seed that grows in a pod. Pulses include all beans, peas and lentils, such as:
- baked beans
- red, green, yellow and brown lentils
- chickpeas (chana or garbanzo beans)
- garden peas
- black-eyed peas
- runner beans
- broad beans (fava beans)
- kidney beans, butter beans (Lima beans), haricots, cannellini beans, flageolet beans, pinto beans and borlotti beans
Why eat pulses?
Pulses are a great source of protein. This means they can be particularly important for people who do not get protein by eating meat, fish or dairy products. However, pulses can also be a healthy choice for meat-eaters. You can add pulses to soups, casseroles and meat sauces to add extra texture and flavour. This means you can use less meat, which makes the dish lower in fat and cheaper. Pulses are a good source of iron. Pulses are also a starchy food and add fibre to your meal. Eating a diet high in fibre is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Pulses are often bought in tins. If you buy tinned pulses, check the label and try to choose ones that have no added salt or sugar.
Pulses and 5 A DAY
It's recommended we get at least five daily portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables, and pulses count towards your 5 A Day. One portion is 80g, which is equivalent to around three heaped tablespoons of cooked pulses. However, if you eat more than three heaped tablespoons of beans and pulses in a day, this still only counts as one portion of your 5 A DAY. This is because while pulses contain fibre, they don't give the same mixture of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients as fruit and vegetables. This excludes green beans, such as broad beans and runner beans, which are counted as a vegetable and not a bean or pulse for 5 A DAY.
Don't let flatulence put you off pulses!
Baked beans are renowned for their effect on the bowels. This is because beans contain undigestible carbohydrates. Soaking and rinsing dry beans before cooking, as well as rinsing canned beans in water, can help to reduce these hard to digest carbohydrates. You shouldn't let a bit of wind put you off eating pulses. People react differently to certain foods and may find that symptoms subside, especially if you increase your intake gradually.
Cooking and storing pulses safely
Typically, pulses are bought either tinned or dried. Tinned pulses have already been soaked and cooked, so you only need to heat them up or add them straight to salads if you're using them cold. Dried pulses need to be soaked and cooked before they can be eaten. Dried kidney beans and soya beans contain toxins, so it is important to ensure they have been cooked properly before you eat them.
Cooking times vary depending on the type of pulse and how old they are, so follow the instructions on the packet or a recipe.
Cooking kidney beans safely
Kidney beans contain a natural toxin called lectin. This can cause stomach aches and vomiting. The toxin is destroyed by proper cooking. Tinned kidney beans have already been cooked, so you can use them straight away. When using dried kidney beans, follow these three steps to destroy the toxins:
- soak the dried beans in water for at least 12 hours,
- drain and rinse the beans, then cover them with fresh water,
- boil them vigorously for at least 10 minutes, then simmer the beans for around 45-60 minutes to make them tender.
Cooking soya beans safely
Soya beans contain a natural toxin called a trypsin inhibitor. This can stop you digesting food properly. The toxin is destroyed by proper cooking. Tinned soya beans have already been cooked, so you can use them straight away. When using dried soya beans, follow these three steps to destroy the toxins:
- soak the dried beans in water for at least 12 hours
- drain and rinse the beans, then cover them with fresh water
- boil them vigorously for one hour, then simmer the beans for about two to three hours to make them tender
Storing cooked pulses
If you cook pulses and you aren't going to eat them immediately, cool them as quickly as possible and then put them in the fridge or freeze them. As with all cooked foods, don't leave cooked pulses at room temperature for more than an hour or two because this allows bacteria to multiply.
If you keep cooked pulses in the fridge, eat them within two days. It should be safe to keep pulses frozen for a long time, as long as they stay frozen. However, keeping food frozen for too long can affect its taste and texture. Follow the freezer manufacturer's instructions on how long types of food can be kept frozen.