What are legumes?

They are fruits that from in pods such as peas, beans and lentils.

What are legumes? Have a look in the supermarket and you can find them in the vegetable section the canned food section, deli, and also in the frozen food section. They are the peas, beans, and lentils which we often call vegetables. However, they are a little special because the seeds form in a pod.

Examples of common legumes

You probably have legumes in the freezer.

Legumes and legumes are easily preserved.

Check your cupboard, fridge or freezer and you'll probably find a few of these pod bearing fruits. Mung beans, soybeans, snap peas and broad beans are all examples. No matter what part of the world you are from you probably ate these superfoods without even knowing what they were. Legumes or the dried beans (pulses) are a healthy source of protein and carbohydrates and they also happen to taste great.

What are legumes? Examples of legumes and pulses.

Examples of the legume family of plants

Legumes are part of the Fabaceae order of flowering plants which include: trees, shrubs, perennial and also flowering annuals. So the Fabaceae family covers all types of flowering plants. This family is one of the largest group of plants that consists of thousands of different species.

How are legumes used?

We eat the fresh pods and seeds of legumes. We also dry the seeds are rehydrate them before we cook them. We call dried legume seeds pulses. We also feed legumes to livestock and plant their seeds in our gardens for a stunning summer display of brightly colored flowers.

They are an important source of protein and carbohydrates in the developing world. They are so important that some cultures use legumes as their main source of protein or carbohydrates. Learn about these amazing plants and how to cook them on the site. You can also learn how to recognize these plants and what makes them different from other flowering plants. Once you have learned how to identify and why legumes are so important then discover popular peas and beans from around the world. When your ready head over to the full legume guide for individual information. It's one of the comprehensive lists of legumes on the internet.

What are Legumes? (infographic)

From agriculture to horticulture legumes play an important role in sustainability

Legumes are very important for several reasons. The main reason for growing legumes is for food. The fruits are eaten fresh and put in salads. Often the dried seeds are boiled or stewed. Dried peas and beans are commonly known pulses, store well and have been used in Europe, Asia Africa and the Middle East for thousands of years.

Legumes in ancient agricuture

Legumes are also fed to livestock

Alfalfa is widely grown for summer forage for livestock. It provides animals with a valuable source of protein and energy. Since the have a high energy source, farmers may feed these crops to fatten cattle and sheep before putting their animal to market. They are sometimes fed to dairy cows to increase milk production.

Another beneficial legume for pasture is clover. Clover can grow in tough soil conditions and often remains green while other grasses burn off. Clover also increases the soil fertility and a structure and reduces the need for fertilizers.

Clover added to pasture to feed livestock

Drought tolerance

In many parts of the world, the soil is often too dry for grass to grow. Especially in commercial farming operations which often require well-managed irrigation systems. Some legumes are drought-tolerant such as lablab and cowpeas, Often they are grown in places which have dry soils such as Africa and Australia.

Legumes gown in drought prone regions (graphic)

Crop rotation

Legumes are often used for crop rotation to rest the soil. Over cropping or monoculture can result in reduced yield and an increased in diseases and pests. So a farming practice that has been used for thousands of years is crop rotation and legumes make a perfect choice as they have nitrogen fixing bacteria on their roots.

Farmers growing a root crop such as potatoes may grow a leaf crop the following year. These crops are sold to consumers or fed to livestock, bailed into hay or made into silage. Many farmers and home gardeners dig legumes back into the soil to improve soil structure and add nutrients back into the soil.

In home gardens, lupins and mustard are often grown together in vegetable gardens to fallow the soil. The lupins and mustard are dug into the soil a few weeks before planting a crop of vegetables.

Home gardeners do this not only to increase the nitrogen but also to improve the soil structure. It also suppresses weed growth before planting.

Crop rotation infographic

Example of legumes popular around the world.

Many countries have used legumes for thousands of years. Since the variety is so numerous, cultures around the world use different legumes in their cuisine. Often plants grow naturally in the region they are used. Interestingly one legume or pulse may be used extensively in one country while another country the same legume may be rarely used if at all. For example, adzuki beans are popular in Japan, Korea and China. However, in European Adzuki bean are rarely eaten. While the common scarlet runner bean eaten in European see seldom seen in Asia.

  • Fresh beans: often eaten raw in salads or boiled.
  • Fresh peas: peas are eaten without the pod and boiled. In England, peas are sometimes mushed.
  • Lentils: although Lentils are less commonly eaten today. They played an important role in food security when food was in short supply and usually eaten in winter months.
  • Soybeans: widely used in Asian cuisine. Natto, Edamame, Tofu are just some examples.
  • Azuki beans or Adzuki beans: the beans are often sweetened and made into a jam or paste and used in traditional sweets.
  • Snap beans (Ingenmame) Is native to China and introduced to Japan in the 16th century.
  • Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans): introduced from the Middle East and first cultivated by the ancient Egyptians. They have also popular and used in many cultures for around 3500 years.
  • Common beans: beans can be harvested and used why dry. The common bean can be stored for a very long time if kept dry so bean is a very important bean indy seasons and when food is scarce.
  • Cowpeas: are also known as black-eyed peas and are native to West Africa. They are drought resistant and can grow on poor sandy soils. Cowpeas are mainly grown for their seeds which are high in protein.
  • Navy beans or haricot beans: are the beans used in the classic dish of baked beans.
  • Soybeans: Is one of Americas biggest agricultural crops and an important export earner.
  • Pinto beans: is native to the region and is commonly used in Mexican cuisine such as refried beans.

Are legumes vegetables?

Legumes are technically fruits and not vegetables. Although legumes in our kitchens are often green, non-sweet and we usually cook them. This is what we associate with vegetables but like tomatoes and pumpkins, the legume pods are in fact fruits. This includes greens peas, beans such as kidney beans and Lima beans.

Are legumes vegetables?