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A legume // in botanical writing is a plant in the family Fabaceae (or Leguminosae), or a fruit of these specific plants. A legume fruit is a simple dry fruit that develops from a simple carpel and usually dehisces (opens along a seam) on two sides. A common name for this type of fruit is a pod, although the term "pod" is also applied to a few other fruit types, such as vanilla and radish. Well-known legumes include alfalfa, clover, peas, beans, lentils, lupins, mesquite, carob, soy, and peanuts. Locust trees (Gleditsia or Robinia), wisteria, and the Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) are also legumes. They are referred to in India as Kathod or pulses, and are often mistaken for nuts at first glance.
Farmed legumes can belong to many agricultural classes, including forage, grain, blooms, pharmaceutical/industrial, fallow/green manure, and timber species. Most commercially farmed species fill two or more roles simultaneously, depending upon their degree of maturity when harvested.
Forage legumes are of two broad types. Some, like alfalfa, clover, vetch (Vicia), stylo (Stylosanthes), or Arachis, are sown in pasture and grazed by livestock. Other forage legumes such as Leucaena or Albizia are woody shrub or tree species that are either broken down by livestock or regularly cut by humans to provide livestock feed.
Grain legumes are cultivated for their seeds, and are also called pulses. The seeds are used for human and animal consumption or for the production of oils for industrial uses. Grain legumes include beans, lentils, lupins, peas, and peanuts.
Legume species grown for their flowers include lupins, which are farmed commercially for their blooms as well as being popular in gardens worldwide. Industrially farmed legumes include Indigofera and Acacia species, which are cultivated for dye and natural gum production, respectively. Fallow/green manure legume species are cultivated to be tilled back into the soil in order to exploit the high levels of captured atmospheric nitrogen found in the roots of most legumes. Numerous legumes farmed for this purpose include Leucaena, Cyamopsis, and Sesbania species. Various legume species are farmed for timber production worldwide, including numerous Acacia species and Castanospermum australe.
According to the protein combining theory, legumes should be combined with another protein source such as a grain in the same meal, to balance out the amino acid levels. Protein combining has lost favor as theory (with even its original proponent, Frances Moore Lappé, rejecting the need for protein combining in 1981) - a variety of protein sources is considered healthy, but these do not have to be consumed at the same meal. In any case, vegetarian cultures often serve legumes along with grains, which are low in the essential amino acid lysine, creating a more complete protein than either the beans or the grains on their own.
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|Wikisource has the text of the 1920 Encyclopedia Americana article Legume.|
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