What Are Chickpeas?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Close-up of chickpeas

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Chickpeas originated in the Middle East about 7,500 years ago and are now an inexpensive and essential ingredient in kitchens around the world, especially in North Africa, Spain, and India. These small legumes are also commonly known as garbanzo beans or ceci (chee-chee) beans. Chickpeas appear in dishes ranging from hummus and chana masala to falafel and salads. Chickpeas can be eaten straight from a can, puréed, stewed, or dried and ground into flour. Dried chickpeas must be soaked and sometimes peeled before being cooked.

Fast Facts

  • Other Names: Garbanzo beans, ceci beans, chana
  • Popular Uses: Hummus and falafel
  • Yield: 1 cup of dried chickpeas equals approximately 3 cups cooked

Varieties

Chickpeas may be green, black, brown, or red, but the most recognizable variety is the large, smooth, thin-skinned beige kabuli, the kind most commonly found in U.S. grocery stores. Smaller desi chickpeas look darker and rougher on the outside, with yellow flesh inside. You may see split desi chickpeas sold as chana dal in Indian markets. You can purchase chickpeas either dried or canned.

Chickpea Uses

Versatile chickpeas can be added to dishes whole or blended as a creamy base for a variety of uses. Roasted or fried chickpeas add a crisp element to salads, rice dishes, and soups. They can be seasoned to match the flavor profile of nearly any cuisine.

Dried chickpeas need to be soaked before you cook them. Put the beans in a large bowl, generously cover them with cold tap water, and leave them to soak at room temperature overnight (or for at least eight to 12 hours). Some cooks recommend adding a teaspoon of baking soda per liter of soaking water, which may facilitate the loosening of skins and yield a more tender cooked garbanzo bean. For a quicker method, drop the dried chickpeas into a pot of boiling water, cook them for a minute or two, and then leave them to soak off the heat for an hour. With this method, add the baking soda after you move the chickpeas off the heat. Finish by draining the chickpeas and rinsing them, extra thoroughly if you added baking soda.

Canned chickpeas are ready to use right out of the can but rinse them first to wash away any residue. You can reserve the aquafaba, the liquid in the can, for other uses, such as an egg substitute.

How to Cook With Chickpeas

Some Moroccan recipes such as harira instruct you to peel the chickpeas. The soaked chickpeas need to remain wet in order for the skins to slip off, so work with drained chickpeas quickly. If you intend to peel a large quantity, keep them in a bowl of water and remove them by the handfuls for peeling. 

To peel, roll and pinch the soaked chickpeas one-by-one between your forefinger and thumb to snap off the skin. Another roll and pinch may be necessary to remove the second layer of skin. Some chickpeas may break in half during this process but they're still fine to use.

You can also put a large quantity of soaked, drained chickpeas between two kitchen towels and massage them against a hard surface such as a counter or table. This separates the skins from the chickpeas, which you can pick out of the residue. Similarly, some Moroccans traditionally roll soaked chickpeas against the rough surface of a woven platter-like basket called a tbeq.

If a recipe calls for plain cooked chickpeas, put the soaked beans in a pot and cover them with ample salted water. Bring it to a boil, put the lid on, and simmer the pot for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the chickpeas reach your desired level of tenderness. Drain and use them salads, soups, and other dishes.

You can also cook chickpeas in a pressure cooker. Add them to salted water in the cooker, cover it tightly, and bring it to pressure over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the chickpeas for approximately 45 minutes, or until tender. 

What Do They Taste Like?

The mildly nutty flavor and buttery texture of chickpeas make a neutral base for an array of added seasonings or accompanying ingredients. Chickpeas blend smoothly, making them a particularly good start for dairy-free creamy dips such as hummus and vegan spinach dip.

Chickpea Substitutes

You can swap other beans for chickpeas in a recipe. It won't be a perfect match, but try butter beans, white lima beans, or cannellini beans. They can all easily be found dried or in a can and share a similar creamy texture, especially when pureed.

Chickpea Recipes

Chickpeas are a mainstay in Indian vegetarian recipes, but they also add texture to pasta dishes and make a protein-rich base for falafel and other vegetarian patties.

Where to Buy Chickpeas

Chickpeas can be found in most major grocery stores and from online retailers, generally in 16- or 32-ounce cans or dried in bags near the rice and dried beans. They are often sold in 1-pound bags but you can also buy them in bulk. Check Middle Eastern and Indian grocers for greater variety. It's possible to grow your own chickpeas, but you'll need ample room outdoors since they don't transfer well. The crop will be ready to harvest 100 days after planting.

Storage

Canned and dried chickpeas are shelf-stable for a number of years; refer to the expiration date on the packaging. You can store soaked chickpeas, with or without skins, in an airtight container in the freezer for up to a year. Make sure you drain them thoroughly and allow them to dry before transferring them to the storage container. You can also freeze cook chickpeas; for best results, use them within six months.

Nutrition and Benefits

One cup of cooked chickpeas contains about 270 calories, 4 grams of fat, 9 to 12 grams of fiber, and 10 to 15 grams of protein. Additionally, one cup of chickpeas supplies 40 percent of your daily requirement of fiber, about 70 percent of your daily requirement of folate, and about 22 percent of your daily requirement of iron. Canned and dried chickpeas have a low glycemic index, so the body digests them slowly, which prevents spikes in blood sugar levels.