Dried chickpeas. Swapnil Kocheta / Getty Images

Chickpeas -- also known as garbanzo beans -- are legumes used in many Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines. Round and tan colored, chickpeas have a mild, nutty flavor and are slightly crunchy even after cooking. Ground chickpeas are the basis for hummus and falafel, both classic Middle Eastern recipes. Chickpeas are also widely used in Indian cooking, in curries and such recipes as chana masala.

Chickpea History

The chickpea is the world's second most widely grown legume after the soybean, and one of the eight founder crops of the origins of agriculture. Chickpeas store really well and are high in nutritive value, although they are not very disease resistant, compared to other legumes.

The chickpea originated in the Middle East about 7,500 years ago. It was first cultivated about 3,000 B.C. and was popular among the ancient Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians. It was not until the 16th century that the chickpea was brought to other parts of the world by Spanish explorers.

Chickpea Basics

There are two types of chickpeas: desi and kabuli. Desi contain smaller, darker seeds and have more of a rough coat. Kabuli is a larger, lighter colored bean with a smoother coat. Chickpeas come in a variety of colors -- green, black, brown and red, though the most popular and recognized color is beige.

Today, chickpeas are used in a large variety of recipes. By themselves, they can be used in salads, soups or stews, or as a quick snack. In India, where the chickpea is known as "chana," a large number of recipes are based on the legume. The chickpea is the main ingredient in many Middle Eastern dishes, like falafel, where it is ground and shaped into balls, and in hummus, where it is cooked, ground and made into a dip.

Buying and Preparing

You can buy chickpeas fresh, precooked, canned or dried. If you chose dried, you'll need to soak the chickpeas before you can use them. You can use chickpeas for making salads. 

If you buy your chickpeas dry, soak them for 24 hours. To speed the process, try adding a teaspoon of bicarbonate to the water -- though doing so may give the chickpeas a bitter flavor. Next, you'll cook the chickpeas for one-and-a-half to three hours or more, depending on the recipe you are using. When the chickpeas are done, they should have a soft and creamy texture. If you use a pressure cooker, you can reduce the cooking time considerably, though you will have to experiment to see how quickly they cook. You can find more information and tips on soaking chickpeas through this link

Chickpea Nutrition

Chickpeas are low in saturated fat -- indeed, a 1-cup serving has only 4 grams of total fat -- and very low in cholesterol and sodium, according to SelfNutritionData. They are also a good source of dietary fiber, protein, copper, folate and manganese.