By Cindy Yuong
Published in the CIA TASTE Magazine
Healthful and Economical Additions to Your Plate
Food trends are ever-evolving, and this year it seems the trend has landed on pulses. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has named 2016 the International Year of Pulses. Pulses are dried seeds from the legume family, including varieties of edible beans, dried peas, chickpeas, and lentils. With the slogan, “nutritious seeds for a sustainable future,” the FAO’s focus this year is on spreading the use of pulses in food and on farms.
Nutritious for You, Good for the Planet
Pulses are both highly nutritious and critical for sustainable agriculture, a significant contributor to food security. These dried legumes are a versatile nutrition source, providing many micronutrients, B vitamins, and minerals. Plus, they serve as a valuable plant-based protein high in fiber, low in fat, and with no cholesterol or gluten.
Producing pulses is extremely environmentally friendly. First, they require significantly less water usage than other protein sources do—for example, according to the FAO, it takes 10 times as much water to produce a kilogram of beef than it does for certain dried legumes. In addition, the food waste associated with pulses is much lower than for other food sources, and they do not spoil quickly nor need refrigeration to be consumed. The FAO also indicates that pulse particles can be used as animal feed or compost, provide fertility to the soil with their increased biodiversity, and are ideal for crop rotation. With the broad diversity of pulses, new varieties that are adapted to our changing climate can spring up. As a result, pulses will play an important role in sustaining our earth and people both now and further into the future.
Essential for Food Security
As it is now, pulses are a subsistence crop in developing countries, where they are grown to be sold and consumed. Pulses already serve as an important nutrition source in less-developed nations with smaller farms and where—without the technology and industry to produce other crops or cattle—people have less of an opportunity to get other sources of protein in their diet.
According to the FAO, developed countries currently consume fewer pulses than developing countries. With their relatively low cost for high yield, these dried legumes are an important part of food stamp and nutrition programs that help lift families out of hunger.
Moving Forward into the Future
In 2015, we saw the rise of vegetable-centered plates. Consumers were beginning to be aware of some of the health factors of eating meat and grains and often opted for vegetables instead. This year, we need to move this trend even further, pushing pulses to the center of the plate as a sustainable, nutritious protein source. The FAO is already calling for recipes that highlight numerous ways to use pulses, and as a thriving center of chefs and future chefs, we should be contributing to the cause. Not only can we create wonderful dishes with these dried legumes, we will be leading others in a cascading promotion of pulses as a lasting food choice.
As the International Year of Pulses goes on and more support is raised, the crops being produced can be kept in continual use. With more people knowing that pulses are an excellent food source, nutrition programs are likely to increasingly include them in food plans, especially those helping the hungry. And since costs are overwhelmingly lower for both production and trade, pulses can help sustain people around the world.
The Versatile Chickpea
One of the rising stars of this year’s pulse trend is the chickpea. Also known as the garbanzo bean, this pulse is widely known for its high protein and fiber content. Found in many Middle Eastern and Indian recipes, the chickpea can be found in hummus, falafel, salads, pastas, and stews. In addition, garbanzo beans can be eaten roasted and seasoned like nuts for a snack (dry the beans, toss them in your favorite spices, and stick them in the oven until dry and crispy). The dry bean can also be ground up and used in gluten-free goods as a flour alternative.
When you open a can of chickpeas, what do you typically do—drain the liquid? No. Do not do that. You will never want to again after reading this. The cooking liquid from a can or pot of beans is called aquafaba, and it works wonders. It turns out that, without any added gums or starches, aquafaba at the right viscosity can substitute for eggs in a recipe. In general, three tablespoons of the liquid is equivalent to one egg. Granted, aquafaba is not a perfect replacement in every recipe, but it does what it is supposed to in most.
Even more intriguing is that aquafaba can be a vegan substitute for egg whites. According to aquafaba.com, through the individual efforts and experiments of U.S. software engineer Goose Wohlt and French tenor singer Joël Roessel, it was discovered that aquafaba whipped with sugar makes the perfect meringue. Mr. Wohlt posted his meringue findings online, and the community at the Facebook group Vegan Meringue—Hits and Misses tested the results. From there blossomed a new set of aquafaba recipes, including marshmallows, French macarons, cakes, cheese, mousse, and ice cream.
Try it for yourself: Drain the aquafaba from a 15-ounce can of chickpeas into a container (you should have about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of aquafaba). Place it in a clean mixing bowl and whip on high. Once you get soft peaks, slowly add in 3/4 to 1 cup of granulated sugar. In about 10 minutes, you will have stiff-peaked meringue. For softer peaks, or a nice marshmallow fluff, stop the mixing earlier.
Aquafaba freezes well and can even be portioned into one-egg servings so you can have some on hand any time you want. To learn more, visit http://www.aquafaba.com.
Cindy Yuong is a student in the CIA’s baking and pastry arts degree program and the social media editor for La Papillote, the Hyde Park, NY campus newspaper. After graduating with her associate degree in 2017, she expects to return to Seattle, WA to expand her culinary knowledge by working in local bakeries and experimenting in her kitchen.