Chickpea Varieties

Chickpeas (Cicer arietinum), like all pulses, are members of the subfamily Faboideae of the family Fabaceae. Thought to have been first grown in Mesopotamia up to 7,500 years ago, chickpeas are considered one of the earliest cultivated vegetables on Earth. Chickpeas are divided into two types: Desi and Kabuli. The classification is based on seed size, color, and the thickness and shape of the seed coat. Desi types tend to be smaller, angular seeds with thick seed coats that range in color from light tan and speckled to solid black. If intended for human food, they require a specialized seed coat removal process. Decortication requires adjusting the moisture level of the seeds to facilitate the mechanical removal of the thick seed coat, after which the seeds resemble a small yellow pea. Kabuli types, also known as garbanzo beans in the U.S., have larger seeds with paper-thin seed coats that range in color from white to pale cream to tan.

Chickpea plants stand erect and resemble a bush with primary, secondary, and tertiary branching. They flower profusely and have an indeterminate growth habit, continuing to flower and set pods as long as conditions support it. Pods appear on the primary and secondary branches and on the main stem, with each of the individual round pods generally containing one seed in Kabuli types and often two seeds in Desi types.

Chickpeas tend to grow best in fertile sandy, loam soils with good internal drainage. They are a cool season annual crop performing best in 70 to 80 °F (21 to 26 °C) daytime temperatures and 64 to 70 °F (17 to 21 °C) night temperatures. Because of their deep tap root system, they can endure drought conditions by extracting water from deeper in the soil. Chickpeas generally mature in 120 days.

Use of Chickpeas

Chickpeas are consumed mostly as a dry pulse crop. They are one of the most popular vegetarian foods in the world and can be prepared in a variety of ways for an almost limitless range of dishes. Mature chickpeas can be cooked and eaten cold in salads, cooked in stews, ground into flour, ground and shaped into balls and fried (falafel), stirred into a batter and baked (farinata), cooked and ground into a paste (hummus), or roasted, spiced, and eaten as a snack. Unripe chickpeas are often picked out of the pod and eaten raw, while the leaves are used as a green vegetable in salads. In the Philippines, chickpeas are preserved in syrup and enjoyed as sweets and in desserts. They can even be fermented into an alcoholic drink similar to sake or ground, roasted, and brewed as a coffee substitute.

In North America, most Kabuli chickpeas are marketed as canned chickpeas for salads at home or in restaurant salad bars. They are also marketed as dry chickpeas and flour for baking purposes. Other common uses in the U.S. include as an ingredient in soups and stews and as part of vegetable combinations. Hummus, a dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas, has also become a major product in the U.S. in recent years. About 90 % of chickpeas, the majority of which are Desi types, are consumed in India. Decorticated Desi chickpeas are commonly processed into South Asian food products.