Get to Know: Garbanzos

Are chickpeas and garbanzo beans the same thing?
The simple answer, yes. The two most common names for this legume, chickpea and garbanzo bean, each have their own history and have been used interchangeably to identify this fibrous protein powerhouse. It seems that garbanzo bean is the more common term used in the United States though, so we’ll stick with that for now.

Today, the garbanzo bean is the world's second most widely grown legume after the soybean, and is considered by some to be one of the eight founder crops of the origins of agriculture. Garbanzo beans were grown by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans and were very popular among these cultures. During the 16th century, garbanzo beans were brought to other subtropical regions of the world. And now we have several varieties growing right here on the Palouse. Many of these growers belong to the Pacific Northwest Farmers Cooperative (PNW) from which the Co-op sources many of its garbanzo beans and lentils.

What are the health benefits of garbanzo beans?
Garbanzo beans, like most legumes, have long been valued for their fiber content. Two cups provide the entire Daily Value for an average diet. In a recent study, it took only one week of garbanzo bean consumption to improve participants' control of blood sugar and insulin secretion. This is partly because the soluble fiber in these little guys helps stabilize blood sugar levels. If you have insulin resistance, hypoglycemia or diabetes, garbanzos can help you balance blood sugar levels while providing steady, slow-burning energy as they have a low GI value of 28 – 32.

While containing small but valuable amounts of conventional antioxidant nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene, garbanzo beans also contain more concentrated supplies of antioxidant phytonutrients. Additionally, just one cup of garbanzos can provide you with nearly 85% of the Daily Value for manganese. The nutrient profile of garbanzo beans and other legumes also have implications for reducing the risk of coronary heart disease. As little as 3/4 cup of garbanzos per day can help lower LDL-cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides in about a month. 

How do I cook with them?
You can purchase garbanzos either dry or canned.

Before washing dry garbanzos, you should spread them out on a light colored surface to check for, and remove, small stones, debris or damaged beans. After this process, place them in a strainer, and rinse them thoroughly under cool water. From here you can prepare the beans two ways: the first method is to boil the beans for two minutes, take pan off the heat, cover and allow it to stand for two hours; the alternative method is to simply soak the garbanzos in water for 4 hours and up to overnight. Before cooking, skim off the any skins that floated to the surface, drain the soaking liquid, and then rinse them with clean water.

You can either cook them in a large pot or use a pressure cooker. You want to add three cups of fresh water or broth for each cup of soaked garbanzo beans. The liquid should be about one to two inches above the top of the legumes. Bring them to a boil, and then reduce the heat to simmer, partially covering the pot for about one to one and a half hours. If the beans are still hard and no more water remains, add 1 cup of hot water and continue to cook until soft. Cooked garbanzo beans will keep fresh in the refrigerator for about three days if placed in a covered container.

The alternative to dry garbanzo beans is canned ones. Unlike canned vegetables, which have lost much of their nutritional value, there is not a large difference in the nutritional value between canned garbanzo beans and those you cook yourself. An important exception here is folate, which is decreased by about 40-45% during canning.

Another great thing about garbanzo beans if their versatility. You can do so many different things, you can: puree them to make an easy hummus spread (like the ones our deli makes); add them to your green salads; or even add them to your vegetable soup to enhance its taste, texture and nutritional content. Other ideas include a Middle Eastern-inspired pasta dish or a dal-type dish with garbanzo beans in a sauce of tomato paste and curry spices served with brown rice.