Legumes vs. Pulses...what's the difference?

Legumes vs. Pulses...what's the difference?

Dry beans are a beloved staple crop grown all over the world and used in many different cuisines. Dry beans are low in fat and packed with fibre, and are a great source of quality protein, which makes this versatile food perfect for vegans, vegetarians, and meat-loving tummies too! Dry beans also store for a really long time, which makes them a great crop for bulk buying and an excellent source of essential nutrients in the off-season months.

Did you know that Canada is such a great place to grow beans that we actually grow way more than we need? That’s right! Canada exports surplus beans around the world! In fact, 80-90% of the beans grown right here in Ontario are exported.

But what exactly are dry beans? Dry beans are classified as ‘pulses’, which are a subset of the legume family. Legumes are a family of plants that take Nitrogen from the air and fix it into the soil, which enriches the soil for other crops such as corn. The legume family consists of soybeans, peanuts, fresh peas, and fresh beans. When farmed sustainably, legumes and corn should be rotationally cropped, or planted alternately year from year, to maintain healthy nitrogen levels in the soil. 

So, legumes are excellent for sustainable planting, but if beans are part of this family, why are some called ‘pulses’? They should just be called legumes right? Not quite. Pulses are actually technically different from legumes. Pulses are the dried seeds of certain legumes, with virtually no fat. Pulses are grown specifically to be dried and are harvested for their dried seeds, whereas most legumes are harvested young or are harvested dried and made into oil. Not all legumes can be dried and made into pulses, pulses are limited to a very specific variety of beans that are grown to be dried. 

Pulses include dry lentils, dry beans, dry peas, and chickpeas. Soybeans and peanuts are not pulses nor can they be dried to be pulses because of their high fat content.

Why does this distinction matter? Most legumes are grown to be processed into other products or animal fodder because of their higher fat content, or are grown to be green manure due to their nitrogen fixation abilities. Pulses, due to their high protein and fibre content and low fat are better for eating, and they are low in saturated and trans fats, so eating them can reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, and stroke. The essential nutrients they contain are also excellent for balancing vegan and vegetarian diets, and contribute to growing healthy babies in the womb. Pulses are an excellent source of energy and have impressive amounts of B-vitamins, calcium, and iron, phosphorus, potassium, Zinc and very little sodium, and can be stored for long lengths of time. 

Dry beans are super easy to use and incorporate into your cooking! Just soak them in water overnight to rehydrate them, and add them into your favourite bean dishes. They can also be simmered or boiled from their dry state right in soups or stews, especially in a crock pot, for a cooked and tender bean done at the same time as the rest of the ingredients in the dish. 

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