What Are Pulses?

2016 is the International Year of Pulses!

Pulses include all peas including snow and snap, chickpeas or garbanzos, green beans, wax beans, soybeans, and lentils and peanuts. The term is used interchangeably with “legumes,” except that legumes includes things we don’t eat like clover, alfalfa, lupins, wisteria vines, and trees including Honey Locusts, Redbuds, and Tamarind.

Most people in the world eat pulses. South Asians eat bean and lentil curries. Middle Easterners enjoy hummus, and for breakfast, Egyptians eat a broad-bean dish, fuul. East Asians have tofu, Mexicans eat chilli and refritos, and there’s Quebec’s Maple-syrup flavoured feves au lard and molasses-flavoured Boston baked beans.

North American Indigenous people’s staples were “The Three Sisters”: corn, winter squash, and climbing beans, planted together in hills. The corn, planted first, gave the beans something to climb up, beans nourished the soil, and large squash leaves growing close to the ground discouraged weeds and shaded the ground, preserving moisture.

There are many recipes using pulses for Appetizers, Entrees, Soups and Sweets.

Cooking tip

Beans need to be soaked before cooking. Traditionally, this is done by soaking over night, but there is a “quick-soak” method: put beans in four-times the volume of water, and bring to a boil. Boil two minutes, turn off the heat and let soak for one hour. Discard the soak water, or save for plant watering, then cook beans in fresh water. Lentils don’t require pre-soaking.

Why to Eat More Pulses

How many of you serve pulses at least once a week? Fred Lautenschlager says there are not many areas where we are able to implement many of our principles than by eating more pulses/legumes. They make life-supporting proteins accessible at a much lower cost to our grocery bill and to the environment.

There are so many advantages to eating pulses, both health wise and environmental. The disadvantage is they are bland on their own; but with seasoning, they come alive. Some people have digestion difficulties with some pulses. I eat them many times a week and my system has adjusted, but if you need help, there’s “Beano,” a product containing an enzyme which helps to digest carbohydrates.

Environmental Reasons for Eating Pulses

Have you heard of the “Yes Men”? They create colossal hoaxes or frauds, impersonating experts at business meetings. One of their most successful was a campaign by their volunteers proudly saying that they “gave up 55 showers in order to enjoy a 4 oz. hamburger.” Yes, it takes 1800 gallons, or 6813 litres of water to produce one pound of beef, including water to grow fodder. In the world each year, nearly four billion people now experience water shortages in at least part of the year, and that will get worse with climate change and disappearing glaciers.

Farm animals also produce methane, a combustable gas, which is 21 times as damaging to the environment as the same amount of CO2. Methane comes from decaying organic matter including landfills, thawing permafrost in the arctic, and from the digestion processes and the breathing of animals destined to become human food. Cows release 70 – 120 kg. of methane per year. One cow produces the equivalent of burning 1000 litres of fossil fuel per year, which would allow a car to drive 12,500 km a year. Beef and dairy cattle produce twice the emissions of pork; four times as much as chicken, and 13 times as much as pulses.

Because legumes have nitrogen fixing bacteria in their root nodules, planting legumes every other year and allowing the roots to rot creates a “green manure” in the soil that eliminates the need for chemical fertilizer, which in turn drastically reduces the storm runoff pollution of rivers and lakes. Also no nitrogen runoff from feed lots where animals are fattened up prior to slaughter.

40% of the earth’s land surface is used for for food production, but 3/4 of that is used for food for animals that we eat. Livestock uses 1/3 of the world’s fresh water. Meat eating is not evenly distributed: Americans eat 270 lbs. of meat a year; a Bangladeshi, 4 lbs.

Industrial Reasons for Eating Pulses

Happily, Canadian farmers are important producers of all things pulse-ish, and pulses production, preservation, and transport require much less energy than animal food.. Saskatchewan exports 65% of the world’s supply of lentils. Due to demand, especially from India, pulse production in our Prairies will increase in 2016. Health

Not coming from animals, pulses contain fewer hormones and antibiotics, their low fat content enables better/easier obesity control and reduces heart disease. They contain excellent protein, generally 14 – 17 grams per cup of boiled pulses, which is essential for muscle growth, plus dietary fibre to help regulate you-know-what, and folate, thiamine, manganese, magnesium, potassium and iron.

Social/Economic Reasons for Eating Pulses:

A pulse diet can be vegan, and eating vegan eliminates poor treatment of farm animals. We know that legumes will play a much larger role in our future diets, as the price of meat will increase sharply in the future, and alternative protein sources are desperately needed. This should encourage us to show leadership in diet modification. As much as you can, eat local, eat organic, and eat pulses!

Pulse Lunch Comments by Doug Buck

Pulses are our future food; legumes, the word I grew up with, means the same thing. Many know that, given the amount of food and water it takes to grow a serving of meat, the world simply cannot produce enough to feed us all. It takes an incredible 6813 litres of water to produce one pound of beef. Meat is already a luxury: U.S. citizens eat 270 pounds a year; Bangladeshis, 4 pounds.

Livestock also produce quantities of methane, a combustible gas that’s 21 times as damaging to the environment as the same amount of CO2. In one year, one cow produces the methane equivalent of burning 1000 litres of fossil fuel.

Pulses, on the other hand, take little water to grow and little fossil fuel to move to market. And they enrich the soil: all legumes have nodules in their roots that fix nitrogen, which fertilizes the soil and decreases commercial fertilizer runoff into water sources.

More good news is that Canada is a major grower of pulses, and I’ve learned that more pulses will be planted in in the Prairie Provinces in 2016.

And now a word on cuisine: creative preparation of pulses, livens up a pleasant but bland taste: garlic, onions, fruit, ginger, basil, oregano, cinnamon, cumin, soy sauce, hot peppers and many more. They can be baked, boiled, barbecued or fried. So now, let’s love our legumes, let’s pursue our pulses!



The bread we served at the Pulse lunch is from Queen Street Bakery, Romano Bean Bread and Breakfast Bread (white bean). Available at specialty grocery stores like The Sweet Potato on Dundas St W, and Best Cooking Pulses (free shipping on orders over $34.99).