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The humble chickpea is having a moment – here’s why they’re here to stay
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The humble chickpea is having a moment – here’s why they’re here to stay

“Chickpeas are flying off the shelves, so our priority is making sure they’re always available when customers want them,” says Ashley Wainaina, Tesco’s canned pulses buyer. “We’ve even changed our stocking system to make it more efficient, so we can keep up with demand.”

As the UK’s largest food retailer, Tesco is helping customers make better choices when they shop by highlighting better foods, such as snacks containing under 100 calories or foods that are high in fibre or low in sugar, through its Better Baskets campaign. Chickpeas are loaded with protein and fibre, they’re filling, a third of a tin counts as one of your five a day, and they can be cooked in a plethora of different ways. They’ve been eaten for millennia across the Middle East, India and the Mediterranean, and their popularity has soared here recently, too.

Tesco’s tinned chickpeas are all UK-manufactured, and they’re even lower in price than they used to be: to support customers, the retailer dropped its price from 65p per tin to 49p. “Since the cost of living crisis struck and people’s budgets have become tighter, sales of chickpeas have increased by 20%,” says Wainaina. “Canned goods have a better shelf life, they’re convenient, and they’re excellent value. We’ve found that people tried chickpeas as an alternative source of protein, loved them and have continued to buy them in vast quantities.”

Food influencers, such as Christina Soteriou, are at the forefront of getting the nation to embrace this plant-based protein. As Soteriou’s more than 350,000 Instagram followers can attest, it’s her ability as a chef to use everyday ingredients in totally different ways that makes her stand out. A qualified holistic nutrition coach, she specialises in mouthwatering vegan recipes that pack a serious nutritional punch – and chickpeas are a staple feature.

Chickpea saladView image in fullscreen

“When I’m developing a recipe, accessibility is the first thing I consider – is an ingredient available to everyone?” she says. “I also love ingredients that come in packaging that can be recycled, and chickpeas tick both those boxes. It’s so easy to throw a can of them into a vegetable curry or salad to give you that protein, but they can also be used in lots of ways people wouldn’t necessarily think of.”

One of her favourite ways is to blend them and use the resulting creamy paste to add richness to dishes, without the need for dairy. “A few tablespoons are lovely in a soup, adding protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, making it thicker and heartier, and also giving it a creamy texture,” she says. “Or you could thin down the paste with some lemon juice and olive oil to make a lovely creamy salad dressing.”

She also turns to chickpeas when she has friends coming over and wants a quick, easy but delicious snack to serve with drinks. “I’ll toss chickpeas with a little coconut oil and some smoked paprika or taco seasoning and put them in the oven on a low temperature,” she says. “They make the best crispy, moreish nibbles, and if you put them on the table for your guests, they’ll be gone before you know it.”

Soteriou is always looking for ways to reduce food waste, which will resonate with anyone trying to cut costs and make their grocery shopping go further. She often uses the liquid left over from a can of chickpeas, called aquafaba, in her cooking, as an alternative to egg.

“Whip it and add a little bit of melted chocolate and you get a really light chocolate mousse,” she says. “You can also use it as a binder instead of egg in cake, or make meringues with it by whisking it with some fine sugar and cream of tartar. The liquid freezes brilliantly if you’re not planning to use it immediately.”

Charlotte Stirling-Reed also often reaches for a can of chickpeas when she’s looking for a quick, easy way to feed her family, including her children, Raffy, six, and Ada, three. “I absolutely love chickpeas,” says the child nutritionist and author of How to Feed Your Family: Your One-stop Guide to Creating Healthy Meals Everyone Will Enjoy, whose Instagram page has become an indispensable resource for parents looking for advice on everything from weaning to overcoming fussy eating.

“When we think about protein, we usually think of meat, fish and eggs, but research shows the importance of getting protein from a variety of sources, including plants – and chickpeas are brilliant,” she says. “Unlike meat, they’re a great source of fibre, which adults and children alike need, and they contain other nutrients including folate, iron and zinc.”

Chickpea Stew and Humus compView image in fullscreen

Some of Stirling-Reed’s most popular recipes incorporate chickpeas, from her creamy mushroom and chickpea stroganoff to her easy veggie stew. She often uses chickpeas as the base for dips, “which kids love, and are a great way of getting some extra nutrients into them”.

They’re also an ideal, nutrient-dense food for weaning babies. “Just give the chickpeas a little squash with the back of a fork before offering them to prevent them being a choking hazard,” she advises. Choline, found in chickpeas, is recognised as a “brain building” nutrient for young children.

“Chickpeas are cheap, easy, and go with everything, which is why they’re so versatile,” she says. “For families looking to increase their intake of plant protein, they’re a perfect choice.”

Find out more about how Tesco is working to improve the health of the nation at tesco.com/better-baskets

Source: theguardian.com