The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the 68th United Nations’ General Assembly has declared 2016 The Year of the Pulse. If you are wondering, as I did, why the FAO would be nominating a heartbeat throb, it is because in agricultural terms a pulse is part of the legume family. The term itself comes from the Latin puls meaning thick soup or potage. The term “pulse” refers only to the dried seed. Dried peas, edible beans, chick peas and lentils are the most common forms of pulses. However plants like green beans which are used fresh, and soybeans and peanuts which have a higher fat content, are not called “pulses.” Here at the Raincatcher’s Garden we are growing fava beans, which if left to dry before cooking would be considered a ‘pulse.”
Pulses play an important part in not only contributing to a healthy diet for both people and animals but also are a sustainable crop able to be grown with less water and are able to fix nitrogen back into the soil. They are little super foods with big benefits! Some of the major benefits of pulses include:
Nutrition: Pulses are an important part of a balanced diet and have been shown to play an important role in preventing some diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. They are high in fiber and low in fat. They contain significant amounts of vitamins (Vitamin E) and minerals (iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc.) They also contain twice the amount of protein found in whole grain cereals such as rice, wheat, etc. As such, the World Food Organization includes bags of pulses in their relief packages.
Pulses, especially dried peas, can also be used as feedstock. A study in West Africa showed that animals fed cowpea hay, along with rice feed meal, during the dry season gain 95kg, compared to 62kg for animals that did not receive the cowpea fodder.
Sustainability: Like other legumes, pulses are able to fix nitrogen in the soil and have a positive impact on soil quality since they feed the soil microbes which benefits soil health. Pulses have also been shown to promote diversity in soil composition as they contain a greater and different amount of amino-acids than non-legumes. This may help plants thrive and perhaps offer greater protection from disease-causing bacteria and fungus.
Pulses also require very little water compared to other forms of protein such as animal protein. The United Nations estimates the water required to produce a kilogram of beef, pork, and chicken is 43-11 times higher than the water needed to grow pulses.
So…. Next time you are walking down the bulk produce aisle of your neighborhood grocery store, look at all the different varieties of dried legumes/pulses. You may even want to celebrate The Year of the Pulse with a bowl of 7-Bean soup.