Chickpeas’ long shelf life and high protein content have made them a staple ingredient in Middle Eastern, Indian, Mediterranean and Ethiopian cuisines since antiquity. As a crop, chickpeas (aka chick peas, gram or Bengal gram, garbanzos or garbanzo beans, or Egyptian peas) were first cultivated in the Fertile Crescent in 7,500 BC and later brought to other countries through trade and conquest. Today, they are second to soybeans as the world’s most produced pulse. In the U.S., they are mainly farmed on either side of the Idaho/Washington state border.

Botanically speaking pulses — dried beans, lentils and field peas — are the seeds of legume plants, which carry an ultra-light ecological footprint. Not only do they require less water and fewer pesticides than fresh vegetables to survive, pulses also pull nitrogen from the air and convert it to nutrients they need to grow, leaving the soil healthier than it was when they were planted.

To gauge America’s growing love for chickpeas, simply look at the hummus market. While canned bean dips have been available in American grocery stores since the 1970s, it wasn’t until the late 1980s that the Astoria, Queens-born Sabra-Blue & White Foods started selling freshly made hummus into regional retail outlets. In 2005, Israeli food manufacturer Strauss bought Sabra and kept hummus production stateside. In 2008, there was enough interest in the 20 odd flavors Sabra offered nationwide that snack food giant Frito-Lay (owned by PepsiCo) took a 50 percent stake in the burgeoning hummus maker. The partnership kicked off a marketing campaign that included gimmicks like hummus-carved busts of presidential candidates and Mediterranean pop-up restaurants in city parks featuring chickpea puree in every course. By 2019, the North American hummus market stood at $600 million. It is projected to grow to $1.6 billion by 2027. Sabra commands about 40 percent of that market.

In addition to the rise of hummus as a healthy snack for all types of eaters, aquafaba, the water drained from a can of chickpeas, became a vegan wonder ingredient a few years back because it can be whipped into a frothy suspension that works like egg whites in baking recipes. Next on the chickpea continuum were crunchy, high-protein, gluten-free snacks made from chickpeas. Those run the gambit from roasted and flavored whole chickpeas and simple crackers to Cheetos-like puffs and Doritos-like triangular crisps.

I’ve tried them all, for research purposes, of course. They are tasty, but caloric, and most have salt and fat ratios cued up to make you want to devour the whole bag. The chickpea product I am finding most useful in maintaining a healthy diet is chickpea flour, which I can use in place of wheat flour of any type. Not as a way of life, mind you, as I love my choices for local wheat flour, but as an option when I want to boost the protein in a baked good or I’m feeding folks who lean toward a gluten-free diet.

I’m not the first, not by a long shot. Gram flour, or besan, is made from split brown chickpeas (also called chana dal), which is a much used ingredient in the cuisine of the Indian subcontinent. I never pass up a besan roti when it’s on an Indian restaurant menu. You can find authentic gram flour in specialty food stores (for instance, Masala Mahal on Rt. 1 in South Portland), but most grocery stores carry Americanized chickpea flour made from domestic white chickpeas in the gluten-free baking aisle. You can also make chickpea flour yourself by grinding dried chickpeas in a spice grinder.

You can find chickpea flour at Indian grocers, or in the gluten-free section of an ordinary supermarket. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Gram and chickpea flours have similar flavors and baking behaviors so they can be swapped out for each other in recipes. But chickpea flour is lighter in color, coarser in texture and fluffier when portioned out in a measuring cup, so if you’re following a recipe that calls for gram flour and you only have chickpea flour, you’ll need to add slightly more liquid to the batter. As an alternative to wheat flour, you can use chickpea flour as a one-to-one replacement in recipes for dense cakes, biscuits, tray bakes like brownies and quick, unleavened breads. But if you’re baking something with a lighter crumb, use half chickpea flour and half all-purpose flour.

If you’re not yet tempted to try chickpea flour, check out these four-ingredient peanut butter cookies. You might just change your mind.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer, tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

Given just four ingredients, and one of them unusual (chickpea flour), plus a very simple method, you’re going to be amazed at how good these cookies taste. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Soft Salted Peanut Butter Cookies

These are vegan and gluten free for those who require those things. For those who don’t, you won’t know what’s missing. Use creamy or crunchy peanut butter.

Makes 1 dozen cookies

1 cup peanut butter
2/3 cup chickpea flour
2/3 cup maple syrup
Course sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment paper.

Combine the peanut butter, chickpea flour, maple syrup and ½ teaspoon salt in a bowl. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes to give it a chance to thicken.

Once it has, use your hands to roll the dough into 12 equal-sized balls. Set the dough balls 2 inches apart from each other on the prepared baking sheet. Use the tines of a fork to make crisscross marks while pressing the cookies flat. Sprinkle each cookie with a pinch of salt.

Bake for 10 minutes. Their color won’t change much and don’t wait for it to or they will get too hard. Cool for 10 minutes on the pan before handling.


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