What Is Chickpea Flour?

Chickpea flour with dried chickpeas

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Chickpea flour is a gluten-free flour that is a traditional ingredient in Indian cuisine, but one that is gaining popularity in the West as an alternative to wheat flour. 

You're probably familiar with chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans. It's perhaps best known as the main ingredient in dishes like hummus, falafel and chana masala. So is chickpea flour simply ordinary chickpeas that have been ground up? The answer is: yes and no.

Fast Facts

It's made from ground-up chickpeas.

It is also called gram flour or besan.

Can be used as a thickener or binding agent for batters.

What is Chickpea Flour?

There are a couple of different types of chickpea flour, and the main difference between them is that they're made from two different types of chickpeas: kabuli chickpeas, which are the common tan-colored chickpeas you're probably most familiar with, and desi chickpeas, which are smaller and with rougher hulls. Desi chickpeas also come in darker colors, from green to brown to nearly black, depending on when the seedpods are harvested.

The traditional kind of chickpea flour, which is sometimes called gram flour, or besan, is made from the brown version of desi chickpeas, which are also known as kala chana or Bengal chickpeas. To produce the flour, the dark hulls are removed from dried chickpeas, and then the inner seed is split. The resulting split chickpea is sometimes called chana dal, which can lead to a bit of confusion, as the word dal often refers to lentils. Indeed, the hulled and split desi chickpeas do resemble yellow lentils or yellow split peas. 

But they are in fact chickpeas. While lentils, peas, and chickpeas all come from the same botanical family, Fabaceae, they're different species. 

Chickpea Flour Varieties

In any case, one version of chickpea is flour is made by grinding the chana dal into a fine powder. This is the version known as besan or gram flour.

The other version is made by grinding up dried kabuli chickpeas, the common tan-colored ones, to make a flour. This is also called chickpea flour. 

And the two products are similar, though not identical. Besan, made from desi chickpeas will be finer and denser. Whereas chickpea flour made from ordinary garbanzos will be a bit coarser, and fluffier. The flavor will be similar, but the biggest difference is in how much liquid you'll need to produce a batter with the same consistency. Besan will require less water.

Ideally, the recipe you are following will specify what type of chickpea flour to use for any given preparation. Even better is to use recipes that are either on the package of chickpea flour you're using or are provided by the manufacturer on their website. Bob's Red Mill chickpea flour, for instance, is made from ground garbanzo beans. 

How to Use Chickpea Flour

Chickpea flour can be used as a binding ingredient in fritters and veggie burgers, as a thickener for sauces, soups and stews, for making flatbreads and batter-based foods like pancakes and waffles, and to make batters for deep-frying other foods. It's also a great ingredient to combine with other gluten-free flours for making quickbreads, cookies and muffins. 

What Does It Taste Like?

Like other flours, chickpea flour has a neutral flavor, and dishes prepared with it will derive their flavors from the flavorings, seasonings, oils, fats and main ingredients that the dish consists of, rather than from the chickpea flour itself. If you were to taste it straight from the container, it would have a dry, bland, powdery flavor.

Chickpea Flour Recipes

In addition, this recipe for veggie burgers made from chickpeas, suggests as a variation using chickpea powder as a binding agent. 

Where to Buy Chickpea Flour

You can find chickpea flour at the supermarket or specialty food stores, at Indian and South Asian grocery stores, and online.

Chickpea Flour Storage

Chickpea flour can be stored at room temperature in a tightly sealed, airtight container, for about six months, or longer if kept in the refrigerator. In the freezer, if stored properly, it should keep for 1 to 2 years.

Make Your Own Chickpea Flour

One way to sort out the confusion relating to which kind of chickpea flour you're using is to grind it yourself from whatever type of chickpea you choose. Obviously, ordinary dried garbanzo beans are much more widely available, but if you have access to an Indian grocery store near you, you will probably be able to get your hands on some of the less common types of chickpeas. Again, look for products with names such as split chickpeas, chana dal, split bengal gram or split desi chickpeas.

Or you can simply grind your own regular chickpeas to make your own chickpea flour. 

Basically, once you've obtained your chickpeas, it's a simple matter of grinding them in a high-speed blender (such as a Vitamix), which will grind two cups of dried chickpeas into a powder in about 45 seconds.