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BEAN OF THE MONTH: Garbanzo Bean PDF Print E-mail

January 2017
by Chris Ellis, Staff Nutritionist 

We are transitioning from the fabulous grains to another bulk item to feature in Food for Thought: the family of wonderful beans or legumes. Being a vegetarian they are an integral part of my diet and I love all of them, but I do have some favorites, of course, and one of them is the amazing chickpea. I love its nutlike taste and texture. I use it in many things but my ultimate favorite uses for chickpeas are in hummus, soups, eating them as-is in salads, or with a tasty olive oil, salt, and pepper.

The Latin name of garbanzos is cicer arietinunum which translates to "small ram." The next time you see a garbanzo bean examine it closely and perhaps you will see the resemblance to a ram's head. Garbanzo beans have been shown to be one of the earliest legumes on the planet and 7500 year old remains of them have been found in the Middle East. They have been and continue to be a main daily staple of protein in the diet of the people of that region. Garbanzos were not cultivated until around 3000 BC. The cultivation of garbanzo beans then spread to India and Africa which are other regions in the world who are still to this day major consumers of this wonderful bean. Some of the major growers of garbanzo beans are India, Pakistan, Turkey, Ethiopia and Mexico. The U.S does grow some as well, and production is increasing, due to the increased popularity of hummus—which by the way is the Arabic word for chickpea.

Beans have numerous health benefits but specific things have been found that are unique to the garbanzo! They, like many beans, are a great source of fiber, but the fiber content of chickpeas goes a little further than other beans according to studies that have been done. The evidence shows that those who consumed their fiber intake mainly from garbanzo beans had better regulation of fat levels (lower bad cholesterol levels and lower triglyceride levels). They have also been shown to increase satiety levels. Other research has shown that when garbanzo beans are eaten for a short or long duration (many people in third world countries eat them year round), one-third cup was adequate enough to improve control of blood sugar levels and insulin secretion. I will emphasize that after one week of consumption of garbanzo beans, evidence showed that blood sugar control was improved. Therefore anyone with blood sugar issues should not think twice about adding garbanzos to their diet! Another amazing fact about garbanzos is that they are very beneficial for digestive support. They contain between 65 to 75 percent of the fiber referred to as insoluble, which is good for lowering cholesterol levels and promoting optimal health for the colon since this fiber remains undigested all the way to the end of the intestine. Their fiber can be broken down by bacteria to produce special fatty acids that feed and nourish the cells along the colon which help maintain the health of the colon thus impeding colon cancer.

Garbanzos have much to offer nutritionally. They a good source of protein and are an excellent source of manganese, folic acid, copper, and fiber. Manganese plays an essential role in the health of the cell and wound healing, so you can't afford to get by without it. Phosphorus, zinc and some B vitamins also contribute to the well-rounded nutritional profile of this amazing bean. Many antioxidants are found in garbanzo beans, too numerous to mention, and more than many other beans. They play a role in our health since all of us are susceptible to stress damage inside our bodies due to unstable molecules, to put it simply. The antioxidants are essential for support of all our health systems and for prevention of many chronic diseases, just one more reason why garbanzos should be included in the diet!

The type of garbanzos mainly consumed in this country are light yellow and are referred to as the "kabuli-type." There is another one referred to as the "desi-type" which are smaller and darker and a different shape—those I have yet to see. The kabuli-type beans represent only 10-20 percent of the garbanzo beans consumed worldwide.

Beans can be used from the can or cooked up from the dry form. Many of us use the canned form for convenience. The nutritional value of the two forms—canned, and cooked from the dry form available in bulk at the Co-op—are similar but the canning process decreases one specific nutrient: folic acid. It has been shown that 40-45 percent of folic acid is decreased during the canning process, which is significant. So if you rely on beans for that nutrient it would be wise to use the dry bulk source.

It's no hidden matter that beans of all varieties cause a flatulence issue, but presoaking them assists with that issue since during that 6-10 hour soaking time the raffinose sugars are leached out into the water. These sugars are responsible for much of the gas production. Remember to discard the soaking water! Presoaking beans also helps decrease levels of phytic acid by activating phytase enzymes which makes the phytic acid less likely to bind together with other nutrients and reduce the nutrient availability. One more advantage of presoaking is that it dramatically affects the amount of cooking time. Just four hours of presoaking reduces the cooking time by about 25 percent. Before cooking them and after soaking them, discard not only the water but any skins that may float to the surface.

You can cook dry garbanzo beans in a pot with plenty of water and it takes about 1-1/2 hours if you have presoaked them. If you are fortunate enough to have a pressure cooker then you will see the cooking time go down to a mere 10 to 15 minutes. By all means, no matter which cooking method you choose make sure the beans are soft to avoid havoc with your digestive system!

If you haven't used the garbanzo bean yet hopefully this article will motivate you to do so. Consider incorporating beans into your diet whether you are a vegetarian or not. It adds a healthy protein to your diet packed with nutrients and it makes you less reliant on many animal products for your protein needs. Everyone has different nutritional needs but we all can benefit from beans in our diet! It also is a better choice for the earth since the production of beans versus production of meat uses up a lot less of Mother Earth's resources, which are being depleted at a fast pace. If this is the only bean you eat, or even if it isn't, what better way to start the New Year 2017 with the wonderful healthy garbanzo!

Enjoy the delicious Gypsy Soup recipe, tried and tested many times! It's a regular staple in our diet during the fall and winter months. It hits the spot on a cold day or night!