If you don’t know what a pulse is, you are not alone. A 2010 study of 1100 Canadian households (sponsored by Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development and conducted by Ipsos Reid) concluded that most Canadians are unsure of what a pulse is. Take 20 seconds to watch the video above. It will tell you – very artistically – what a pulse is.
Pulses are beans, dry peas, lentils and chickpeas which are the edible seeds of pod-bearing legumes. They are a great ingredient for cooks. Pulses grow so well in Canada that we are the world’s largest producer and exporter of peas and lentils and they contribute over $3 billion annually to our economy.
This post will delve deeper into why the United Nations declared 2016 as the International Year of the Pulse and why they believe pulses are at the heart of health for people, land and our planet. It will also examine the pulse industry in Alberta and how you can participate in the International Year of the Pulse by taking a pledge to eat more pulses.
This poster from the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) details the many positive attributes of pulses. When you read through the list you can begin to understand why the FAO believes that even if we all ate as little as a half cup of pulses each week it would improve our overall health.
Not convinced? Watch this video and you’ll be blown away by what a nutritional powerhouse they are.
Move over kale, chickpeas are the new superfood with their fibre, vitamins and protein.
Canada’s annual crop of 5.7 million tonnes of pulses are exported to over 150 countries around the globe. Ironically, many are branded, packaged overseas and shipped back to us for sale at ethnic markets across the country.
Why do we not eat more of the pulses we grow? When I travel to India each year, pulses are a daily staple. Indian cooks have hundreds of ways to prepare them and they are the chief source of protein for the one third of the population who are vegetarian. In Canada, we’ve been able to afford meat as our chief source of protein but have we really stopped to question what that’s costing our environment? Pulses take a fraction of the water (1/10 – ½) that other proteins do to produce. Pulses fix nitrogen to the soil and play a vital role in crop rotation schemes and they decrease greenhouse gases.
This video focuses on the environmental impact of pulses.
Perhaps all our focus on other protein sources in Canada has left us with a knowledge deficit in how to prepare pulses. There’s good news on this front. If you’d like to learn a variety of visually beautiful, imaginative and tasteful ways to prepare pulses all you have to do is sign up for something called The Pulse Pledge here.
How does it work? You agree to eat a half cup of pulses each week for 10 weeks and you’ll receive recipes and fun information as well as chances to win prizes each week for 10 weeks. I just finished week four and after filling out a short survey I was able to download the cookbook below.
I’ve made several of the recipes and will share them in the next post. If you check back at the pulse pledge website you’ll also be able to watch the number of people who’ve taken the pledge grow as it’s updated frequently.
Sixty per cent of Canadians are considered light consumers of pulses. They eat them less than once per month. If you eat pulses once a week you are considered to be part of the twenty per cent who are moderate to heavy consumers and there’s a full twenty person who are non-consumers. The research study showed that consumers needed explanations and recipes to help them increase their consumption and that “taste” and “health benefits” would also be helpful. More people are concerned about eating local now than when the research was conducted.
To understand more about how the pulse industry looks in Alberta I interviewed Debra McLennan who is a Registered Dietitian and the Food and Nutrition Coordinator for Alberta Pulse Growers. She told me that in 2014 there were about 1 million acres of pulses in Alberta and by this year there will be 1.8 million. That’s an incredible increase which she attributes to the better price for these crops that has come with an increased demand for them.
Alberta farmers grow some lentils and chickpeas but mainly they grow dry peas (yellow, green and marrowfat) and dry beans (great northern, pinto, black, small red, Faba and pink). There is a large bean processing facility in Bow Island Alberta but otherwise the peas and lentils are transported to Saskatchewan or Manitoba for processing as Alberta does not yet have a facility to do so. If you want to support local, look for products labeled “Product of Canada” and you’ll be helping our farmers’ bank account while helping your own too.
As a food source pulses are incredibly affordable. A 100 gram serving of lentils costs about $0.25 as compared to animal protein at $0.80 – $1.30.
Here, we’ve learned that pulses are good for us, good for our soils and good for the sustainability of our planet. In the next post, I’ll share some great information on how to cook them and a few recipes so you can sample their great taste.