Introduction Legumes, Pulses


A – Z list

Pulses is the term for the matured, dry seeds of the papilionaceous plants, also called legumes. About 12 000 different plants belong to this large family. The best-known examples of this group are peas, beans, lentils and soybeans, but peanuts also belong in a botanical sense.

The immature, undried seeds of peas and beans – with or without pods – do not count as pulses but rather as vegetable-like fruits.

Pulses are edible only after preparation. They were somewhat neglected for a time in German cuisine; fortunately, however, they are currently acquiring importance again in vegetarian cooking and in the discussion about a healthy diet.

If pulses are soaked and kept moist for several days, they can be made to germinate. These fruits can then also be eaten as sprouts.

Origin, Areas of Cultivation

Pulses are probably one of the oldest plants cultivated by mankind. Finds from the Stone Age show that some pulses were already in use then.

Most pulse plants stem from the Near East, Central and South America, Africa and Asia, above all China. Pulses remain an important component of the diet today in all of these areas and are one of the staple foods.

For economic and climatic reasons, only small amounts of pulses are grown in Germany. They are imported from southern Europe, North Africa, the USA and South America.

The relatively small domestic harvest of peas and beans is used more in the fresh state, i.e., as vegetables.


The pulses count worldwide as one of the most important sources of dietary protein. Most of them have a protein content of over 20%; no other plant food supplies as much. Although the quality, i.e., the biological value of the protein of most pulses is not very great, it can be perfectly complemented through combination with other protein-containing plants such as grains and cereals.

Furthermore, pulses have a high carbohydrate content. Above all the outer layer of the seeds contains considerable amounts of fibre. For this reason they satiate well and keep the intestinal activity in working order. With the exception of soybeans and peanuts, their fat content is minimal.

Pulses also contain appreciable amounts of minerals, in particular magnesium and potassium. In addition they contain a large amount of vegetable iron.

Quality Criteria, Optimal Storage Conditions

When shopping for pulses, look for seeds that are clean, smooth and shiny. They should be fresh and smell spicy.

Pulses are suitable as supplies that can be stockpiled. The important thing is that they are stored in a cool, dry, dark place. If they are stored too long, the seeds will not soften with cooking. While unshelled seeds can be stored for up to 1 year, shelled products should be kept for no more than 6 months.

If small round holes or dark spots should appear on the pulses, this is a sign of infestation with pests of stored food.

Form of Consumption, Use, Further Processing, Practical Tips for Preparation

Approximately 25–50 grams of dried pulses equal one portion. Prior to preparation, you should put the seeds into a bowl with water to remove dirt and possibly small stones that are among them. 'Empty' pulses swim on top and can easily be fished out.

Pulses should soak in water for about 12 hours before they are cooked, so that they swell up. The amount of water should be 3–4 times the volume of the seeds. Exceptions to this are lentils and shelled peas, which do not need to be soaked.

If you have forgotten to soak the seeds, you can speed up the process with a trick: Bring the pulses to a boil in water, let them simmer for a few minutes, and then remove them from the stove; after about 2 hours the seeds will be sufficiently softened and can be further prepared in the usual manner.

Pulses are best cooked in the water they have soaked in, to keep the loss of nutrients (vitamins and minerals) as low as possible. An exception is lima beans; in this case the soaking water should be poured away.

While cooking you should always check whether there is still enough water in the pot, as pulses absorb a large amount of liquid. The pot should be kept covered, over low heat. The required cooking time varies considerably and depends on the type, age and soaking time of the pulses; it is between 30 and 120 minutes. In a pressure cooker the time is reduced by about half.

Pulses are available as tinned goods on a large scale. These products have already been cooked and need only to be warmed up.

Less popular is the flatulence that often occurs after one has eaten pulses. It is produced by the indigestible components of the hard shell, e.g., stachyose, which causes the development of gas in the colon. This unpleasant side effect should not keep you from eating the nutritious and healthy pulses. There are several ways to make them more easily digestible:

• Shelled seeds are easier to digest than unshelled. Soak shelled pulses in water as described.
• Cooking till soft or puréeing after cooking also makes them more digestible.
• Salty and acidic ingredients delay the cooking process considerably and make the seeds difficult to digest. These ingredients should be added only after the pulses have reached the desired consistency.
• The smaller the pulses, the less flatulence they produce.
• Herbs such as caraway or fennel reduce the flatulent effect of pulses. Ginger, coriander, marjoram, lovage, savoury, thyme and rosemary also aid digestion.

Incidentally, with regular consumption the body becomes accustomed to the "troublemakers", and flatulence occurs less and less often. Begin by eating only small amounts of pulses.

Seasoning Tip

Cook pulses only with mild, dried herbs. Especially suited are bay leaf, savoury, thyme, caraway and coriander. Do not add salt until the pulses are already cooked, because salt makes it difficult for the seeds to soften.

Additional Information

There are industrially preprocessed pulses that have already been soaked, steamed and then dried. With these products the necessary cooking time is reduced, so that the pulses are cooked after a maximum of 10 minutes. The principle is comparable to that of parboiled rice.