Guacamole, we adore you and everything you stand for. Full of healthy fat, bursting with fresh flavor, and oh-so-perfect scooped onto a crispy-salty tortilla chip. No doubt, you’ve been queen of the appetizers for a while, but it’s time you made some room for other healthy dips—because these days, we’re going back to our old standby: hummus.
Way more than a savory appetizer trying to steal guac’s thunder, it’s a bona fide health food. Why? The basic recipe calls for tahini (sesame seed paste) and chickpeas—also known as garbanzo beans—an inexpensive source of vegan protein and a staple of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. With an earthy, nutty taste that’s not too overpowering and a slightly firm, buttery mouthfeel, they’re incredibly versatile, whether stirred into soups for extra heartiness, roasted and spiced for a crunchy savory snack, or added to salads for extra protein and fiber.
But chickpeas are more than just another ingredient to add to the grocery list—their proven health benefits just might stop you in your tracks.
These little beans are like superheroes in disguise—despite their humdrum appearance, the vitamins and minerals hiding beneath the surface are seriously powerful.
It’s not an essential dietary nutrient—in fact, fiber isn’t even absorbed by the body. Instead, it passes through the body relatively undigested, from the stomach, to the small intestine, through the colon, encouraging movement in the digestive system. Basically, fiber (especially the insoluble kind found in veggies and legumes) helps you poop.
But other than keeping you regular, fiber has some long-term health benefits. First, it keeps the colon healthy, which helps prevent colon cancer and diverticulitis. It also lowers overall cholesterol levels—studies show that the soluble fiber found in legumes (like chickpeas) lowers total blood cholesterol levels by reducing bad LDL cholesterol. Eating high-fiber foods has also been shown to reduce blood pressure and inflammation, in turn promoting heart health.
The Mayo Clinic recommends consuming 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day; one cup of chickpeas has a whopping 35 grams, of which about 70 percent is the digestion-boosting insoluble kind. Another bonus that comes with eating more fiber? It keeps you fuller for longer, perfect for those who are trying to watch their weight.
High-protein diets—from the infamous Atkins to the popular Paleo—are having a serious moment in pop culture. And getting a hearty helping of this essential micronutrient forms the basis of many weight-loss plans. We’ve always associated it with muscle growth, but it turns out that getting enough protein might be the key to a faster metabolism and a leaner body, without counting calories.
A 2007 study from the Netherlands proved a direct correlation between lower-body fat and increased protein consumption, and according to research reported in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a meal high in protein is far more satiating than one higher in fat or carbohydrates. And yet another study proved how important protein is for those trying to stay slim: Women who simply increased their intake to about 30 percent of their daily calories lost 11 pounds in 12 weeks.
So, bottom line, it’s important. But it can be challenging to get enough on a daily basis—60 grams a day for women, 80 for men—especially if you’re not a big meat eater. And although there are some great vegan sources of protein out there (soy products, nuts and seeds, legumes, and some grains like quinoa) not all are created equal.
This is where chickpeas stand out from comparable vegan proteins. They actually contain small amounts of essential amino acids—the type that can’t be produced by our bodies but are usually found in animal meat.
Chickpeas also happen to be loaded with an impressive amount of micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They’ve got nearly a third of the daily value recommended for copper, phosphorus, and iron, and 20 percent of the suggested intake of magnesium.
Plus, chickpeas pack a powerful punch of the phytochemicals kaempferol and quercetin—both have anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce free-radical damage.
How to cook with chickpeas
It’s easy to pass chickpeas off as just another ingredient wedged between the pickles and the sprouts at the salad bar. But these pulses are way more versatile than you think—whether as an appetizer or a satisfying main, they seriously upgrade any recipe.
Chickpeas come in two forms: canned and dried. The main differences? The canned variety come pre-cooked and packaged in water—which usually turns into a starchy liquid after a few weeks in the can that you can discard—meaning they’re ready to throw into a recipe as fast as you can crack it open.
Dried chickpeas require a little more prep time. Most chefs prefer to soak them overnight, which cuts down the overall cooking time and results in a creamier end result. The soaking process can also reduce the oligosaccharides, a type of sugar found on the outside of some legumes that can cause indigestion and gas for those with sensitive stomachs. It’s easy: Put beans in a large bowl and cover with water. Put a lid on it, and store in the fridge. After eight to 12 hours, drain and rinse the beans, and add to a large saucepan—use a ratio of 1 cup chickpeas to 3 cups water. Boil until tender (it usually takes about an hour). Then they’re ready to add to any recipe.