Botanical Name: Cicer arietinum
Family: Fabaceae (Leguminosae)
Common Names: Bengal Gram, Chickpea, Ceci Bean, Garbanzo Bean, Chana, Sanagalu (Indian Pea)
Bengal gram, scientifically known as Cicer arietinum, is a legume belonging to the Fabaceae family. It is widely cultivated and consumed for its nutritious seeds. The plant is an annual herb that grows up to 20-50 cm in height. The leaves are compounded with tiny leaflets, and the flowers are white or pale blue. Bengal gram seeds are typically round, and wrinkled, and range in color from beige to light brown.
Bengal gram is highly nutritious and offers several health benefits. Here is the approximate nutritional composition of Bengal gram per 100 grams:
Carbohydrates: 61.4 grams
Protein: 19 grams
Fat: 6 grams
Fiber: 17 grams
Sugars: 10.7 grams
Calcium: 105 mg
Iron: 7.6 mg
Magnesium: 48 mg
Phosphorus: 366 mg
Potassium: 875 mg
Zinc: 3.4 mg
Vitamin C: 4.4 mg
Vitamin B6: 0.8 mg
Folate: 557 mcg
Bengal gram is a rich source of dietary fiber, protein, and complex carbohydrates. It is low in fat and contains various essential minerals and vitamins. It is particularly high in folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. Bengal gram is also known for its antioxidant properties and is a good source of plant-based compounds such as flavonoids and polyphenols.
The term “Bengal gram” is commonly used to refer to Cicer arietinum, but its etymology is not directly linked to the region of Bengal in India. The word “gram” is derived from the Latin word “granum,” meaning grain or seed. The name “Bengal gram” likely originated from the trade routes that connected the Indian subcontinent with other regions, where the term “Bengal” was associated with the place of origin.
Bengal gram, or Cicer arietinum, is one of the earliest cultivated legumes and has a long history of cultivation. Its domestication is believed to have occurred in the fertile crescent region, which includes modern-day Iran, Iraq, and neighboring areas of the Middle East. Archaeological evidence suggests chickpeas were cultivated as early as 7,500 years ago in this region.
From the Middle East, chickpeas spread to other parts of the world. They were introduced to the Indian subcontinent around 3,500 BCE during the Neolithic period. Chickpeas have been found in archaeological sites in Thessaly, Greece, dating back to the late Neolithic period.
The cultivation and consumption of chickpeas became widespread in ancient civilizations. In classical Greece and Rome, chickpeas were commonly consumed as a staple food and were used in various recipes. The Romans had different varieties of chickpeas and utilized them in both cooked and roasted forms.
Over time, chickpeas became an integral part of various cuisines in different regions, including the Indian subcontinent, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. They have been used in traditional dishes such as hummus, falafel, chana masala, and many more.
Today, Bengal gram is cultivated in many countries worldwide, including India, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Turkey, and Mexico. It is valued for its nutritional content, versatility in cooking, and its role as a staple food in many cultures.
The long history of cultivation and utilization of Bengal gram showcases its significance as a valuable legume in human civilization, providing sustenance and nutrition for thousands of years.
- Nutritional Value: Bengal gram is a good source of essential nutrients. It provides protein, dietary fiber, folic acid, iron, copper, zinc, manganese, and molybdenum. These nutrients are important for various bodily functions and contribute to overall health.
- Blood Sugar Control: Bengal gram has a low glycemic index and contains complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber. This can help regulate blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity, making it beneficial for individuals with diabetes or those at risk of developing diabetes.
- Digestive Health: The soluble and insoluble fiber present in Bengal gram promotes healthy digestion. It aids in proper bowel movements, prevents constipation, and supports the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. The fiber content also helps reduce cholesterol levels and lowers the risk of digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulitis.
- Heart Health: The fiber, potassium, and antioxidant content of Bengal gram contribute to heart health. Fiber helps reduce cholesterol levels, while potassium supports healthy blood pressure. The antioxidant compounds may help protect against oxidative stress and inflammation, which are linked to cardiovascular diseases.
- Bone Health: Bengal gram contains minerals like manganese, which is involved in the production and maintenance of bone tissue. Regular consumption of garbanzo beans may contribute to bone health and help prevent conditions like osteoporosis.
- Antioxidant Properties: Bengal gram contains phytochemicals called saponins, which have antioxidant properties. These compounds help neutralize harmful free radicals in the body, potentially reducing the risk of chronic diseases and supporting overall health.
- Weight Management: The high fiber and protein content of Bengal gram can promote feelings of fullness and reduce appetite. Including garbanzo beans in a balanced diet may aid in weight management and help prevent overeating.
- Skin and Hair Health: Bengal gram flour is commonly used in skincare and hair care routines. It acts as a natural cleanser, exfoliant, and skin brightener. It can help treat conditions like eczema and pimples. When used for hair, it can keep the scalp clean, nourish the hair, and promote healthy hair growth.
- Choose dry, uncooked Bengal gram, preferably in sealed packaging or from a reputable source.
- Look for beans that are dry, firm, and free from moisture, mold, or insect damage.
- Check for any signs of discoloration or shriveling, which may indicate poor quality or age.
- If buying from bulk bins, ensure that the beans are properly covered and protected from contaminants.
- Store Bengal gram in a cool, dry, and dark place, such as a pantry or cupboard.
- Transfer the beans to an airtight container or a tightly sealed plastic bag to prevent moisture and pests from entering.
- Keep the container away from direct sunlight, as exposure to light can cause the beans to lose their nutritional value and become rancid.
- Properly stored, Bengal gram can remain fresh for up to 12 months.
- To retain optimum quality, it is recommended to consume Bengal gram within 6-8 months of purchase.
Bengal Gram Recipes
1 cup dried Bengal gram (kala chana), soaked overnight and drained
2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, pureed
2 teaspoons ginger-garlic paste
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
Salt to taste
Fresh coriander leaves for garnish
- Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and let them splutter.
- Add chopped onions and sauté until they turn golden brown.
- Add ginger-garlic paste and cook for a minute until the raw smell disappears.
- Add tomato puree, turmeric powder, red chili powder, coriander powder, and salt. Mix well and cook for 5 minutes until the oil separates.
- Add soaked and drained Bengal gram (kala chana) and mix it with the masala.
- Add enough water to cover the chana, cover the pan, and let it simmer for 20-25 minutes or until the chana is cooked and tender.
- Sprinkle garam masala and garnish with fresh coriander leaves.
- Serve hot with rice or roti.
1 cup soaked and cooked Bengal gram (kala chana)
1 cucumber, diced
1 tomato, diced
1 onion, finely chopped
1 green chili, finely chopped (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt to taste
Black pepper powder to taste
Fresh coriander leaves for garnish
- In a mixing bowl, combine cooked Bengal gram, cucumber, tomato, onion, and green chili.
- Add lemon juice, salt, and black pepper powder. Mix well.
- Garnish with fresh coriander leaves.
- Let the salad marinate for 15-20 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.
- Serve the refreshing Kala Chana Salad as a side dish or a healthy snack.