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A pulse (Latin "puls", from Ancient Greek πόλτος poltos "porridge"), sometimes called a "grain legume", is an annual leguminous crop yielding from one to twelve seeds of variable size, shape, and color within a pod. Pulses are used for food for humans and other animals. Included in the pulses are: dry beans like pinto beans, kidney beans and navy beans; dry peas; lentils; and others.
Like many leguminous crops, pulses play a key role in crop rotation due to their ability to fix nitrogen. To support the awareness on this matter, the United Nations declared 2016 the UN International Year of Pulses.
The words "bean", "lentil", and "pulse" may refer to just the seed or to the entire plant.
The term "pulse", as used by the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), is reserved for crops harvested solely for the dry seed. This excludes green beans and green peas, which are considered vegetable crops. Also excluded are crops that are mainly grown for oil extraction (oilseeds like soybeans and peanuts), and crops which are used exclusively for sowing (clovers, alfalfa). However, in common use, these distinctions are not clearly made, and many of the varieties so classified and given below are also used as vegetables, with their beans in pods while young; cooked in whole cuisines; and sold for the purpose; for example, black-eyed beans, lima beans and Toor or pigeon peas are thus eaten as fresh green beans, or cooked as part of a meal.
Archaeologists have discovered traces of pulse production around Ravi River (Punjab), the seat of the Indus Valley civilization, dating circa 3300 BC. Meanwhile, evidence of lentil cultivation has also been found in Egyptian pyramids and dry pea seeds have been discovered in a Swiss village that are believed to date back to the Stone Age. Archaeological evidence suggests that these peas must have been grown in the eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia regions at least 5,000 years ago and in Britain as early as the 11th century.
India is the world's largest producer and the largest consumer of pulses. Pakistan, Canada, Burma, Australia and the United States, in that order, are significant exporters and are India's most significant suppliers. Canada now accounts for approximately 35% of global pulse trade each year. The global pulse market is estimated at 60 million tonnes.
FAO recognizes 11 primary pulses.
Pulses provide protein, complex carbohydrates, and several vitamins and minerals. Like other plant-based foods, they contain no cholesterol and little fat or sodium. Pulses also provide iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and other minerals, which play a variety of roles in maintaining good health.
Pulses are 20 to 25% protein by weight, which is double the protein content of wheat and three times that of rice. While pulses are generally high in protein, and the digestibility of that protein is also high, they are often relatively poor in methionine, an essential amino acid. Grains (which are themselves deficient in lysine) are commonly consumed along with pulses to form a complete diet of protein. Indian cuisine also includes sesame seeds, which contain high levels of methionine.
There is evidence that a portion of pulses (roughly one cup daily) in a diet may help lower blood pressure and reduce LDL cholesterol levels, though there is concern with the quality of the supporting data.