(Cicer arietinum – Family Leguminosae)
Chickpeas, garbanzo beans, calavance, bengal gram, hummus, Egyptian pea, channa, ceci, kabuli chana, kali chana
It is said that the Latin name was used in “honour” of the Roman orator, Cicero, who had a wart on his face that resembled a chickpea; and, although arietinum translates as ‘ramlike’, it is speculated that the ancient Roman’s thought the bean resembled a ram’s head with curling horns.
Others think it just looks like a fat chick.
Native to the Mediterranean, it is widely used in Greek and North African cuisine.
Evidence of its ancient use as a domesticated crop was found at a site in Jericho dated around 6,500 BCE. Seeds excavated in Greece indicated that the chickpea must have been introduced to Europe with the first food crops arriving from the Near East.
The chickpea was certainly used by the Romans, but regarded as a food for peasants and poor people. This rustic image is confirmed by the poet Horace, who lamented his abhorence of city life and longed for a dish of chickpeas and pasta.
Although the Spanish took the chickpea to Latin America, it never became as important a legume as their own haricot bean. Nor is it much eaten in regions east of India, except by immigrants of that nation into countries elsewhere.
Today, chickpeas are cultivated worldwide in sub-tropical or Mediterranean climates as a cool-season crop needing about four to six months of moderately warm dry conditions to flourish.
It is the world’s third most important pulse after peas and beans, and 80% is produced in India. Chickpeas can be eaten fresh or dried, made into flour, used as a coffee substitute, or grown as a fodder crop.
Chickpeas are comprised of two types.
The small, dark, heavily wrinkled seeds come from India. The larger, plump, beige seeds are from the Mediterranean.
The plant grows to about a foot high and has compound leaves with up to eight toothed leaflets.
Its tiny white or blue-tinged flowers
are followed by a small, flat pod containing one or two seeds, each with a small “beak”, and hence the name of chickpea.
The smooth seeded Kabuli is dominant throughout the Mediterranean and Near East while the wrinkled Desai is prominant in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and India.
The following are Indian cultivars:
- Annegeri (yellowish-brown seeds)
- Avrodhi (medium sized brown seeds)
- Bheema (large light brown smooth seeds)
In India, there are red, brown, and black varieties, all with different names. The vast number of names stems from the wide range in varieties and uses.
The chickpea is a highly nutritive legume, being rich in protein, fat, calcium, iron, and B complex vitamins.
The term gram is used mainly for legumes that are whole rather than split. Dal is the split pulse, while channa is used to describe the chickpea (garbanzo) flour. Whole chickpeas are known as Bengal gram.
The finely milled flour, known as Besan flour, can be mixed with a little water to make an excellent substitute for egg batter. There are similar uses in Afganistan and Iran, including biscuits.
As with many foods, the chickpea plants have also been used medicinally. The leaves of the chickpea plant are astringent and used to treat bronchitis. They are also boiled and applied to sprains and dislocated joints. The exudate is used for indigestion, diarrhea, and dysentery. The seeds are used as a stimulant, tonic, and aphrodisiac.
In Egypt, they are used to gain weight and to treat headaches, sore throats, and coughs. Powdered seeds are used as a facial mask and a dandruff treatment.
Because the whole plant, including seed pods, is covered with hairs which can be irritants, gloves should be worn when handling them.