A comprehensive guide to pulses as a raw material in the food industry

Pulses are the fruit of leguminous plants. They are a significant source of protein, nutrients and soluble fibre, hence they are consumed worldwide and constitute a key raw material in the food industry. 

They are used to make ready meals, frozen foods, sauces, hummus, but, above all, to produce tinned pre-cooked pulses as well as tinned organic pulses. Knowing their characteristics inside out is essential when it comes to good provisioning in the food industry

Pulses were first grown in the Middle East over 10,000 years ago and the worldwide exchange of their many varieties began in the Middle Ages. At present, they are cultivated virtually anywhere in the world.

This guide contains everything you need to know about pulses: their types (including the most in-demand kinds), harvest, characteristics and how they are used in the food industry.

Types of pulses

Legumes are one of the most diverse plant families. In fact, there are approximately 19,000 species of legumes.

There are very popular legumes such as soybeans, peanuts and carob beans, but the most common ones include:

  • Common beans
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Peas
  • Lima beans
  • Lupins

 

Chickpeas

The chickpea plant grows around 50cm tall. It has white flowers and its pods usually hold two to three peas which can be smooth or wrinkled, depending on the variety.

Chickpeas are rich in healthy fats and are an essential source of fibre.

  • Sowing: seeds should be sown into the ground and covered with two centimetres of soil. Chickpeas are best adapted to dry climates and clay soils.
  • Irrigation: they might be watered every two weeks after sowing, provided it does not rain.
  • Harvest: when the leaves turn yellow. In warm climates, chickpeas are seeded between April and May and harvested between July and August.

 


Chickpeas are one of the most widely produced and consumed pulses in the world.
Find out how pre-cooked chickpeas are made.


 

Peas

The pea plant is a climber. Its cylindrical pods contain three to twelve green seeds of varying shapes and sizes.

Peas are rich in protein, minerals and fibre. 

 

  • Sowing: the seeds are sown directly into the soil. The seeds have to be planted in rows 50 centimetres apart and covered with some four centimetres of soil. Peas prefer moderately cold weather, although they adapt to practically any type of soil.
  • Irrigation: they need copious watering, avoiding waterlogging.
  • Harvest: between 12 and 14 weeks after germination. In warm climates, peas are seeded in autumn and harvested after three months.

 


You can usually find peas in canned vegetable aisle in glass jars or tins.


 

Lima beans

The lima bean plant has erect stems which can grow over a metre and a half tall. The leaves alternate and the pods hold two to nine beans protected by white, spongy padding. Lima beans are rich in potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium and vitamin A. 

 

  • Sowing: the seeds are sown directly into the soil (preferably well-drained and clay) in cool conditions with plenty of sunlight exposure.
  • Irrigation: they need constant watering at ground level since they thrive in moisture.
  • Harvest: 85 to 110 days after sowing. In warm climates, lima beans are seeded in late autumn and harvested after two months.

 


Lima beans are one of the most widely consumed tinned pulses.


 

Beans

Bean plant pods hold between four and ten seeds of varying colours and sizes depending on the variety.

Beans are rich in B vitamins, folic acid and minerals. 

 

  • Sowing: the seeds are sown directly into the soil with full sun exposure. They thrive in tropical and warm temperatures and soils rich in humus.
  • Irrigation: although they need moisture, it is recommended not to water them in spring as there is enough rainfall.
  • Harvest: two to three months after sowing. In warm climates, common beans are seeded between March and April and harvested between May and July.

 


Beans are widely used in the food industry.
This is how pre-cooked beans are made.


Lentils

Lentil plant stems are about 40 centimetres tall. The plant produces white flowers and small pod-shaped fruits that hold two to three brown seeds, half a centimetre across. Lentils are an excellent source of B vitamins, folic acid, zinc and selenium. 

 

  • Sowing: the seeds are sown into the soil at a depth of two to three centimetres. They require cool or winter climate and well-drained sandy soil.
  • Irrigation: they tolerate drought but need the soil to be kept moist.
  • Harvest: when the seeds turn brownish yellow. In warm climates, lentils are seeded in late autumn and harvested in late spring.

 


Find out how pre-cooked lentils are produced in the food industry.


 

Lupins

The lupine plant can grow to a metre and a half. The flowers may be pink, white, purple or blue, depending on the variety.

Lupins are rich in insoluble fibre, protein and omega-3.

 

  • Sowing: directly into the ground.
  • Irrigation: they require regular watering, especially during the blooming period.
  • Harvest: six months after sowing. In warm climates, lupins are seeded in October and harvested in June. In areas with harsh winters, they are seeded in February and harvested in October.

 


Lupins are a superfood and are usually sold canned in glass jars.


Pulse production in the food industry

Legumes as a raw material are most widely used in the production of pre-cooked pulses and organic pulses. In this playlist of short 30-second videos, you can see how the most common pre-cooked pulses (common beans, chickpeas and lentils) are made.

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