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Pulses - Legumes

The function of pulses

Pulses are included in the most important nutritional crops in the world.  They are important ingredients for a great many different cold and hot dishes.  Pulses are available in various forms and can be divided into race varieties. Take for example, two varieties of brown beans: the small, round bullet beans remain whole when cooked and are suitable for dishes where whole bones are required.  The larger elongated beans, which break down during cooking are excellent for brown-bean soup.

Pulses can be used in the following ways:

  1. In cold starters for example lentil salad
  2. In soups, for example pea soup
  3. In main course dishes such as cassoulet or chilli con carne
  4. In vegetarian dishes
  5. As a garnish

Sprouting vegetables from seeds
Sprouting vegetables are obtained by germinating seeds.  The germination process takes place in a dark, humid and warm atmosphere.
Included in this group of vegetables are alfalfa, taugé, mustard cress or seed, bio cress, shiso purple or shiso green.
They are most commonly used in salads and as garnishes for sandwiches and cold dishes. Apart from alfalfa and taugé, they are all sold in the containers they are grown in.  They are usually cut for use, half way down the stems.
Germinated sprouting vegetables are richer in vitamin C and contain fewer calories than most seeds.  They have higher protein content and contain more vitamin B and iron than most vegetables.  They can be stored for a few days at a temperature of 0 - 1º C in a humid atmosphere

garden cress beansprouts

The nutritional value of pulses

Pulses have a high nutritional value.  They are rich in proteins (21 gram per 100 gram), carbohydrates (43 gram per 100 gram), fibre, the minerals phosphate, calcium and iron and the vitamins of the B-complex.  The vegetable proteins in pulses can replace to a great extent animal proteins.  This is important for vegetarians who use pulses as a substitute for meat.
They are low in sodium and saturated fats.

Carbohydrate is a starch, which provides energy in the human body.   Unpeeled pulses contain many nutritious fibres or cellulose: Podded pulses (with the skins removed) lose a large amount of this indigestible cellulose, which stimulates digestion in the stomach and intestines.

Soaking dried beans for several hours brings them back to life, activating enzymes, proteins, minerals and vitamins.

Purchasing pulses

When purchasing pulses, attention should be paid to the following:

  1. The types of pulses available
  2. The physical condition of the pulses
  3. The quality of the various types of pulses
  4. The price of the various types of pulses
  1. The types of pulses available

Pulses can be divided into three main groups, which in turn can be sub-divided according to their race.

  • Peas, such as green or yellow peas, split peas, marrowfat peas or chickpeas
  • Beans, such as brown beans, white and black beans, lima beans, kidney, mung or flageolet beans
  • Lentils, such as peeled or unpeeled red, brown, yellow and green lentils
  •  Young, fresh peas and beans are discussed in the section on vegetables.

    Why it is important to purchase pulses from the last harvest.

    Pulses from the previous harvest should always be purchased.  The longer pulses are stored, the more time is required to soak and cook them.  Older pulses have a tougher skin. Beans that have been stored too long can be used for blind baking tart bases.

    1. The physical condition of pulses

    A division is made in pulses between:

      1. Dried pulses
      2. Pre-prepared pulses, which are sold as preserves, dried or frozen.

    a. Dried pulses
    Check when buying pulses that there are not too many broken seeds.  When buying in bulk, a sample should be taken.  From this sample a cooking trial should be done and the following points carefully noted:

    • The flavour
    • The toughness of the skin
    • The cooking time

      1. Pre-prepared pulses

    By preserving pulses, the storage time and preparation time can be reduced. Examples of pre-prepared pulses are:

    • In dried form: pureed soups, such as pea soup or brown-bean soup
    • In tins or jars: tinned brown beans, marrowfat peas in jars, (pasteurised or un-pasteurised)
    • Deep-frozen: loosely frozen peas or beans

    Products made from a basis of pulses
    A distinction is made between:

    • convenience products
    • meat replacement products
    • various other products

    Convenience products
    Since pulses are so suitable for preparation in advance, there are many convenience products on the market.  Examples of these are: ready to heat and eat meals such as chilli con carne or marrowfat peas with bacon and onions.

    Meat replacing products
    Soya beans are the most versatile of all the pulses.  From soya beans, the following meat replacement products are made: tempeh, tofu (also known as soya curds or tahoe) and soya meat

    • Tempeh is a fermented product made by the controlled fermentation of cooked soya beans with a Rhizopus mould (tempeh starter).  The tempeh fermentation by the Rhizopus mould binds the soya beans into a compact white cake.  Tempeh fermentation also produces natural antibiotic agents, which are thought to increase the body’s resistance to intestinal infections.  This cake, where the beans are still visible, can be marinated, stewed, fried or boiled.
    • Tofu, also known as soya bean curd, is a soft, cheese-like food made by curdling fresh hot soya milk with a coagulant.  Traditionally the curdling agent used to make tofu is nigari, a compound found in natural ocean water, or calcium sulphate, a natural mineral.  Curds can also be produced by acidic foods like lemon juice or vinegar.  The curds are generally pressed into solid blocks.   It is used in a similar way to tempeh.
    • Soya meat: this looks similar to meat, has a similar consistency and a nutritional value similar to meat, but is cheaper to buy.  It can be bought in tins and in a dried form. Dried soya meat must be soaked before use.  It can be marinated, coated in breadcrumbs, fried, deep-fried or used in stews.

    Various other products
    There are other products made from soya beans:

    • Soya meal.  Soya meal is made from soya beans that have their skins removed and are flattened and roasted then milled.  The oil in the beans is extracted with the aid of solutions during a chemical process.  The colour of soya meal is yellow/white.  It is used in bakery products, in sweet products, diet products, cooked meats, soups and sauces.
    • Soya milk.  Soya milk is made from boiled soya beans.  It is available both in liquid and powder forms. Children who are allergic to cows milk, have often no reaction to soya milk.
    • Miso.  Miso is a brown paste that is used to improve the flavour of soups and sauces.
    • Toatjo.  Toatjo is similar to miso and is also a thick paste.  It is sometimes mixed with sambal or used in combination with tempeh.

    3. The quality of the various pulses

    Pulses are judged on the following points:

    • The shape and size must be identical
    • The colour should be regular and characteristic of the type
    • The fruits should not be mouldy or smell musty
    • They should have an unblemished, soft and thin skin
    • They should have a high purity ratio
    • The fruit should not be contaminated by beetles

    All pulses should be sorted by size, colour and quality. The legal demands for the correct naming and hallmarks is set out in the Pulses Decree of 1985.

    4. The price of the various types of pulses
    The price of the various types is dependent on the size and the harvest, the quality and the form they are sold in.  It may be dried, tinned, potted or deep-frozen.
    Normally the product is more expensive the larger the seeds become.  The size has no influence on the flavour or the nutritional value.

    The Treatment of pulses in the kitchen

    .The handling of pulses in the kitchen is separated into three phases:

    1. The delivery of pulses to the kitchen
    2. The storage
    3. The preparation
    1. The delivery of pulses to the kitchen

    Special attention should be paid to the following:

      1. That the type of pulses delivered match the order form
      2. That the correct amount has been delivered
      3. That the quality is satisfactory
    1. The storage of pulses

    Dried pulses are best stored in good, airtight packaging in a cool, dry and dark storage area. They can be stored for maximal one year.
    Under the influence of light, moisture and heat, beans can germinate.  Pulses discolour when stored in light.  If they are stored in a damp or humid area, they can become mouldy.  Airtight containers will protect them from coming into contact with insects or rodents.

    Pulses in tins or jars can be stored for a year or longer.  In glass jars, they should be stored in a dark storage to avoid light discolouring the product through the glass.

    Deep frozen varieties should not be stored for more than a month at a temperature of - 18º C. Check the details on the packaging.

    Storage of convenience, meat replacements and other products:
    Convenience products are purchased deep-frozen.  Take note of the use-by dates when storing and preparing.
    Soya beans cannot be stored so long due to their high fat content and therefore the chance that they will become rancid.  The storage time of soya products varies, depending on the composition and preparation techniques.

    1. Tempeh can be stored for three days in the fridge and a month in the freezer.
    2. Tofu, soya curds or tahoe can be stored three days in the fridge and one month in the freezer
    3. Soya meat, which is dried or tinned, can be stored for a year in a cool and dry area.

    Other products:

    1. Fat soya flour can be stored for three months in a cool and dry area. Fatless soya flour can be stored in similar conditions for nine months
    2. Liquid soya milk can be stored for three to six months in a cool and dry area. In powder form, it can be stored for six months in similar conditions.
    3. Miso and toatjo can be stored in the fridge for a year.

    Note: pay attention to the use-by dates on all products packaging.

    1. The preparation of pulses

    Pulses can be cooked in the water they are soaked in or fresh water. During soaking, a percentage of the vitamin B dissolves in the water, it is therefore better to use this water to cook beans and peas that are cooked for soup.  Salt should not be added to the cooking water as this will encourage the pulses to burst open and break down during cooking.


    Soaking time

    Cooking time




    Split peas


    ½ - 1 hour


    6 – 8 hours

    1 – 1 ½ hours

    Marrowfat peas, green and grey

    8 – 12 hours

    1 – 1 ½ hours




    Rice bean

    1 hour

    1 hour

    Kidney beans

    6 – 8 hours

    1 – 1 ½ hours

    White, brown, red beans

    8 – 12 hours

    1 – 1 ½ hours

    Kievitsboon, lima bean, adzuki beans

    8 – 12 hours

                 1 – 2 hours

    Soya beans

    12 – 18 hours

                 2 – 3 hours




    Red lentils


    15 – 20 minutes

    Brown, yellow and green lentils


    30 – 45 minutes

    To reduce the cooking time, a pressure cooker can be used.  The high temperature reduces the cooking time.

    Dangers of raw or insufficient heating of pulses:
    Besides valuable nutrients, pulses also contain anti-nutritive agents. The most important anti-nutrients in unprocessed soya beans are protease inhibitors (trypsine and chymotrypsine) and haemaglutines-lectines.  Sufficient cooking at high temperatures can destroy these poisonous toxins.
    Incidents of food poisoning have been reported associated with the consumption of raw or undercooked red kidney beans.  Symptoms may develop after eating only a few beans and include nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain followed by diarrhoea. A naturally occurring haemaglutin is responsible for the illness, but can be destroyed by high temperature cooking, making the beans completely safe to eat.

    The production of pulses

    Pulses are a very important food source particularly in Middle and South America, the Middle East, China, Africa and Asia.  They are grown practically over the whole world.  Peas grow best in a slightly milder climate and are normally dried artificially. Beans and lentils require a warm and dry climate to develop properly and to dry well.

    Peas are grown mainly in France, England, Belgium and Germany.  Many types are also grown in Holland.  Harvesting is normally in July and August.
    Beans are grown mostly in Africa, The U.S.A., China, Canada, Argentine, Chilli, Bulgaria, Hungary and Italy.  White beans are also grown in Holland and are also harvested in July and August.
    Lentils are mainly grown in China, the U.S.A., Canada, Chilli and Argentine.  A less common, specialised type of grey lentils, are also grown in Puy, in France (known as Puy lentils).