The power of pulses

This is just a sample of the great stories available in our 2016 Get Set For Summer issue!

By Catalina Margulis

Pulses may not be part of your daily diet, but that might be about to change, especially since the United Nations called 2016 The International Year of the Pulses. Packed with protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, pulses are easy to grow—even in our own gardens—and versatile to cook with. So why have Canadians ignored them for so long? According to Dan Jason, who co-authored the new book The Power of Pulses: Saving the World with Peas, Beans, Chickpeas, Favas & Lentils (Douglas & McIntyre, $24.95), our country is a top exporter of pulses, although at home we hardly consume them—in short, we grow pulses for the world to enjoy. “Canada is the number one exporter of pulses in the world, but the percentage we eat in Canada for all these crops is less than 10%,” Jason says. “We import varieties from somewhere else when we send them everywhere else. That’s sad that we’re not eating food that is so well grown in this country, when other countries appreciate and love these crops so much.”


Jason, whose Salt Spring Seeds company sells pulse seeds to gardeners, says Canadians’ lack of love for pulses might have to do with their reputation as being hard to digest—which he says is only because the pulses we purchase have often sat on shelves for years. “In North America, we’re not familiar with the proper way to eat these things. What you get in stores is tired old fare that’s been sitting around for three or four or five years. Most people in countries around the world eat pulses within a year of harvest; we eat them 3, 4, 5 years later and they become much harder to digest. That’s why we’re so turned off—most haven’t had the experience of eating them fresh.”

Besides their great nutritional benefit, Jason notes that pulses are GMO-free. “There are no GMO pulses on the market right now,” he says. For increasingly wary consumers, that’s a huge plus. Gluten-free eaters can also enjoy them, with pulses making for a great, nutritious gluten-free flour. Then there’s the fact that pulses are among the cheapest foods to buy at the grocery store. “Per pound, they are one-fifth of the cost of meat or dairy, but the food quality is every bit as good or better. They’re a really cheap way of getting high-quality food,” says Jason.

preview-full-C Jan ManganIMG_6120So now that you have every reason to buy and cook with pulses, what’s left to stop you? Perhaps only a stockpile of recipes that you can use to work them into your family’s meals—but here Jason recruits co-authors Hilary Malone and Alison Malone Eathorne, whose delicious creations feature ingredients that are easy to find and preparation that is easy to follow.

Frittata and tacos get a lentil and pinto bean twist, while chickpeas and spring shoots dress up fine salads. For heartier fare, there’s black bean burgers, lentil cottage pie and mac and peas—as well as, of course, the Power Pulse Chili. Dessert too gets the pulse treatment with chickpea peanut butter banana cookies and black bean brownies.

As if that weren’t enough to whet your appetite, another benefit of incorporating more pulses in your diet? Positively affecting climate change, says Jason. “Everyone is talking about what to do about climate change and pulses provide an amazing answer,” he says, pointing out that according to the United Nations and Worldwatch Institute, one of the major causes of greenhouse gas emissions is the way we grow food. “It’s time we addressed not just our cars and coal, but our diets,” he says. In his book, Jason observes that pulses require between 20 to 40 times less fossil fuel to produce than meat, use little water to grow and actually nourish the soil they grow in—now that’s a crop with a future in it.

You don’t have to become a vegetarian; just adding a meal or two a week can make a huge difference, says Jason. “Just cut back a little bit on the meat and dairy and once a week have a pea soup or something. Even that would be significant. And it’s a good way to support our own Canadian farmers.”

preview-full-IMG_6752While purchasing local helps our home economy and supports our farmers, for avid DIYers, the book includes chapters to guide you toward growing your own pulse crops. Even in small backyard spaces, you can grow climbing varieties using trellises and chicken wire, says Jason, who grows more than 100 pulses on his property. “You can grow them anywhere, they’re really hardy and maintenance free,” he says. “These crops can be grown without chemicals and don’t need much water—I rarely ever water my crops. Pulses are easily stored, and don’t have to be processed.” Good for us, and good for the world? We can’t wait to get started.


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