Chickpeas. They’ve been around for a long time.
Chickpeas grew wild until they were domesticated nearly 10,000 years ago. While most of us know them as hummus or falafel, they have a far greater reach. Today they’re the second most widely grown legume in the world.
Huh? Are we talking about those round, bumpy little things?
Susan Bell, of University of Southern California, calls it “The small but mighty chickpea.” She believes that chickpeas might be the answer to the “world’s looming food crisis.” Experts warn that global food production must double [by 2050] to keep up with population growth.
What’s with these protein-rich, nutritious legumes? Think about it this way – your can eat them raw, roasted, in stews, soups, snacks, and salads. Feast on chickpea curry or burgers. How about a scoop of sweet chickpea ice cream?
Chickpeas are travelers. Nicholas Culpeper, a seventeenth century botanist, physician, and astrologer knew something when he described them as “less windy than peas and more nourishing.”
Archeologists found the earliest traces of chickpeas in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic epoch. People lived in tiny, mud-brick houses in the Mediterranean basin. Chickpeas were domesticated and cooked in small hearths. Below is a small Neolithic Statue, about 9,000 years old, from the Rockefeller Archeological Museum, Jerusalem, Israel.
Chickpeas were grown in The Fertile Crescent in the Middle East. Called the “Cradle of Civilization,” The Fertile Crescent was known for inventions like writing, the wheel, agriculture, and irrigation. Today it spans modern-day Israel, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iran.
A study led by Anna Igolkina from St. Petersburg University, concluded that “the spread of chickpeas within each region occurred predominantly along trade routes rather than simple diffusion.” In other words, chickpeas migrated to Europe, Northern Africa, and Asia. They hitched rides with Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Celts, Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans.
Long before UPS, FedEx, and DHL.
Perhaps that’s why there are so many varieties. The most popular are kabuli and desi. Kabuli chickpeas are cream colored; desi are smaller, nuttier, and dark brown. There are also kala chana (black), red chana, and hara chana (green).
Chickpeas come with very colorful stories.
Pliny the Elder, a philosopher, writer, and naturalist in Ancient Rome, wrote about chickpeas. He noted that they were offered to Venus, the Goddess of love, beauty, and fertility.
I wonder if it helped.
Marcus Tullius Cicero was an orator and philosopher during the late ancient Roman empire. His name came from the Latin “cicer” which means chickpea.
According to Priya Sen-Sharma in Little Kitchen Big World, “[Cicero] would hold a handful of chickpeas in his hand while rehearsing his speeches, using their presence to aid his memory.” Another story says that he got his name because his family grew chickpeas. José Miguel Baños wrote in National Geographic that the “the name came from an ancestor who had a dent in his nose resembling the cleft of a chickpea.”
A chickpea dent?
The term cicer was called pois chiche in France, crossed the channel, and was changed to chich-pease in English. The Basques called them garbantzu – garbanzo beans.
Sound familiar yet?
It was only a matter of time until chickpeas hit the seas and arrived in America.
Today more than 17 million tons of chickpeas are grown around the world each year, with Turkey and India the leaders. You can get them fresh, canned, frozen, dried, made into flour, and served in countless regional dishes. Amazon offers over one thousand books that range from the Mediterranean Diet and Okinawa Cookbook to vegan and anti-inflammatory recipes.
Martha Stewart posts over fifty chickpea recipes from her test kitchen. Jennifer Aniston popularized her famous chickpea salad.
Katherine Romanov in Eating Jewish notes that chickpeas are traditional on the holiday of Purim. They celebrate when “[Queen] Esther ate only vegetarian foods while living in the King’s palace . . . [subsisting] mainly on legumes, seeds, and nuts.”
Perhaps the most out-of-this-world tale is about chickpeas in space. According to Sarwat Nasir, “hummus may be on the menu for future moon and Mars colonists.” Israel sent 28 chickpea seeds to the International Space Station. Yonatan Weintraub, co-founder of SpaceIL, teamed up with NASA to attempt to germinate and grow chickpeas in an environment free of gravity and natural light.
Small but mighty? A food that can save the world and nourish space travelers? What are you waiting for?