Monday May 26, 2008
A common ingredient in many Middle Eastern and Indian dishes like hummus, falafel and curry, the garbanzo bean has been enjoyed for its nutty flavor and buttery texture for thousands of years. Relied upon heavily in certain cultures for its high protein content, the garbanzo bean is also praised for being a good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber. It may even help prevent heart disease.
Garbanzos are one of the most consumed legumes in the world. Wild garbanzos originated in the Fertile Crescent some 7,000 years ago where the climate was ideal for production. They were widely cultivated in the Middle East, and later, by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. Today, the main producers of garbanzo beans are India, Pakistan, Turkey, Mexico, Canada and the United States. World production is about three times that of the lentil.
“The introduction of fresh, green garbanzos in California has delighted consumers. Available only in that brief time when the peas fill the pods and just before they start to turn golden, consumption has soared. The best quality garbanzo pods can now be found in your local store,” says Bob Rinker, Head of Business Development for Califresh of California, LLC, the biggest single company producing fresh, green garbanzos.
The garbanzo is not actually a bean, but a pea, and in fact, is often referred to as a “chickpea.” Desi and Kabuli are the two predominant types of garbanzo. Desis are small-seeded and multicolored; Kabulis are large-seeded and a white or light tan color. Kabulis are usually considered the premium variety. Versatile and tasty, garbanzos can be beige, black, green, red or brown.
Garbanzo beans require more than 400 mm of rain annually to grow properly, thriving in a temperate, Mediterranean type climate. The plants grow to between 20 and 50 cm high, with small, feathery leaves on either side of the stem and white or reddish-blue flowers. Each seedpod contains two to three peas. They grow best in well-drained soil, as they are easily waterlogged. Seeds should be planted about one to two inches below the soil, and in rows about six to 12 inches apart.
Harvesting comes about 100 days after planting, typically in mid-September for dry peas. Fresh, green peas are harvested continuously from October through May in Mexico, and from May through October in California. Those harvested for dry peas or canning are allowed to dry on the vine, in the field, before harvest.
Garbanzos can be harvested both by hand and by machine. Seed size is an important marketing factor, but the most crucial test of a garbanzo’s marketability is seed hue. Most producers look for seeds that are light and yellowish-cream in color when drying their garbanzos. Fresh garbanzos come to market green.
While dry garbanzos are threshed and handled like any dry bean or pea, fresh garbanzo pods are stripped from the plant in a manner similar to picking fresh green beans. Dried garbanzos are left in the field to dry in the sun until moisture content is less than 16%. In contrast, fresh green garbanzos are harvested with a moisture content of about 85%.
“Dried garbanzos should be kept in airtight containers to prevent insect infestation and stored in a dry cool place. In this manner, they will keep their quality for several months. Fresh, green garbanzos should be refrigerated at about 34 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit, and should maintain good quality condition for several days to a couple of weeks,” says Rinker.
In terms of health benefits, garbanzos are high in Folic acid, protein, soluble fiber, calcium, and Vitamin C. Their calcium content is equivalent to that of yogurt. Low in sodium, garbanzos offer the added health benefit of lowering blood pressure. And they are low in fat, most of which is polyunsaturated.
“Garbanzos are wonderful in any form, but are considered a delicacy when fresh,” adds Rinker.