Chickpeas (Cicer arietinum) are a large roundish legume with a bumpy beige or dark surface. A staple of Middle Eastern, African and Indian cuisines, the chickpea is the world’s second most widely grown legume and one of the eight founder crops of agriculture, dating from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period. The wild version of chickpeas (Cicer reticulatum) is only found today in southeastern Turkey and adjacent Syria, and was first domesticated there about 11,000 years ago.

The name “chickpea” traces back to the French word “chiche”, and before that as “cicer” from Latin (from which the Roman Cicero was taken). Chickpea is also known as “garbanzo” from an alteration of Old Spanish “arvanço”, and came to American English as “garvance” in the 17th century.

Domesticated chickpeas have been found at several early archaeological sites, including Neolithic sites of Tell el-Kerkh and Dja’de (about 9,000 BC) in Syria, and several sites in Turkey at about the same time.

Domesticated chickpeas come in two primary varietals called “desi” and “kabuli”. Scholars believe that the oldest variety of chickpea is the desi form. Desi are small, angular, with dark variegated color, and likely originated in Turkey. Desi are grown mostly in Pakistan, India and other parts of the South Asia, as well as in Ethiopia, Mexico, and Iran. Desi means ‘country’ or ‘local’ in Hindustani; its other names include kala chana (“black chickpea” in both Hindi and Urdu) or chholaa boot. Desi chana can be black, green or speckled. This variety is hulled and split to make chana dal.

Kabuli, or garbanzo, is the most common form of chickpea today, and was most likely developed in India. Kabuli are lighter-coloured, larger, and with a smoother coat. They are are mainly grown in the Mediterranean, Southern Europe, Northern Africa, South America, and South Asia. The name means “from Kabul” in Hindi and Urdu, and this variety was thought to come from Kabul, Afghanistan when it was introduced to India in the 18th century.

Chickpea grows to 1 to 2 feet in height and has small, feathery leaves on either side of the stem. Chickpeas are a type of pulse crop with nitrogen sparing characteristics, with one seedpod containing two or three peas. It has white flowers with blue, violet, or pink veins.

Chickpeas are a rotation crop, suited to a sequence with cereals grains. Chickpeas are poor competitors with weeds during their slow early growth stage. However, once established they are an excellent break crop from diseases, weeds and pests. Chickpea crops are best suited to well-drained loam and clay soils that are neutral to alkaline and have good water holding capacity.

India is the world leading producer of chickpea farm production, and produces approximately 10 times as much as the second-largest producer, Australia. Other key producers are Pakistan, Turkey, Myanmar, Ethiopia, and Iran. Chickpeas are also grown in the Palouse region and the Great Plains of the USA.

Chickpea varieties vary with their rainfall requirements. Chickpeas prefer warmer growing conditions, but will tolerate frosts during the vegetative stage.

Chickpeas are a nutrient-dense food, providing high levels of protein, dietary fibre, folate, and certain dietary minerals such as iron and phosphorus. Proteins in cooked and germinated chickpeas are rich in essential amino acids such as lysine, isoleucine, tryptophan, and total aromatic amino acids.

Domesticated chickpea contains nearly twice the tryptophan of the wild form, an amino acid that has been connected with higher brain serotonin concentrations and higher birth rates and accelerated growth in humans. And, preliminary research shows that chickpea consumption may lower blood cholesterol.

Chickpeas can be cooked and eaten cold in salads, cooked in stews, ground into flour, ground and shaped in balls and fried as falafel, made into a batter and baked to make farinata or cecina, or fried to make panelle. Chickpea flour is known as gram flour or besan in South Asia and used frequently in South Asian cuisine.

Chickpeas are usually rapidly boiled for 10 minutes and then simmered for a longer period. If soaked for 12–24 hours before use, cooking time can be shortened by around 30 minutes.

Soaking and cooking of dry seeds possibly an increase in crude fibre content. Thus, cooking can increase protein quality. Cooking also increases protein digestibility. Cooking also significantly reduces fat and mineral contents. The B vitamins riboflavin, thiamin, niacin, and pyridoxine dissolve into cooking water at differing rates.

Popular dishes are many, and include:

-Chickpea flour is used to make “Burmese tofu” which was first known among the Shan people of Burma.

-In South Asian cuisine the Chickpea flour (Besan) is used as a batter to coat vegetables before deep frying to make Pakoras.

-The flour is also used as a batter to coat vegetables and meats before frying, or fried alone such as panelle (little bread), a chickpea fritter from Sicily.

-Chickpea flour is used to make the Mediterranean flatbread socca and called panisse in Provence, southern France. It is made of cooked chickpea flour, poured into saucers, allowed to set, cut in strips, and fried in olive oil, often eaten during Lent.

-In Tuscany chickpea flour (farina di ceci) is used to make an oven baked pancake: the flour is mixed with water, oil and salt.

-In Portugal, they are one of the main ingredients in rancho, eaten with pasta and meat, including Portuguese sausages, or with rice. They are used in other hot dishes with bacalhau and in soup.

-In Spain, they are used cold in tapas and salads, as well as in cocido madrileño.

-In Italy, chickpeas are eaten with pasta or in soup. In southern Italy, chickpea flour is made into a batter for panelle, a sort of crepe.

-Hummus is the Arabic word for chickpeas, which are often cooked and ground into a paste and mixed with tahina (sesame seed paste), the blend called hummus bi tahina. Chickpeas are roasted, spiced, and eaten as a snack, such as leblebi.

-Some varieties of chickpeas can be popped and eaten like popcorn.

-Chickpeas and Bengal grams are used to make curries and are one of the most popular vegetarian foods in South Asia, served with variety of breads or steamed rice.

-In the Philippines, chickpeas preserved in syrup are eaten as sweets and in desserts such as halo-halo.

-Sephardic Jews traditionally serve whole chickpeas at a Shalom Zachar celebration for baby boys.

-Guasanas are a Mexican chickpea recipe in which the beans are cooked in water and salt.

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