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A pulse (Latin "puls", from Ancient Greek πόλτος poltos "porridge"), sometimes called a "grain legume", is an annual leguminous crop yielding from one to twelve seeds of variable size, shape, and color within a pod. Pulses are used for food for humans and other animals. Included in the pulses are: dry beans like pinto beans, kidney beans and navy beans; dry peas; lentils; and others.
Like many leguminous crops, pulses play a key role in crop rotation due to their ability to fix nitrogen. To support the awareness on this matter, the United Nations declared 2016 the UN International Year of Pulses.
Just like words such as "bean" and "lentil", the word "pulse" may refer to just the seed, or the entire plant.
The term "pulse", as used by the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), is reserved for crops harvested solely for the dry seed. This excludes green beans and green peas, which are considered vegetable crops. Also excluded are crops that are mainly grown for oil extraction (oilseeds like soybeans and peanuts), and crops which are used exclusively for sowing (clovers, alfalfa). However, in common use, these distinctions are not clearly made, and many of the varieties so classified and given below are also used as vegetables, with their beans in pods while young; cooked in whole cuisines; and sold for the purpose; for example, black eyed beans, lima beans and Toor or pigeon peas are thus eaten as fresh green beans, or cooked as part of a meal.
Archaeologists have discovered traces of pulse production around Ravi River (Punjab), the seat of the Indus Valley civilization, dating circa 3300 BC. Meanwhile, evidence of lentil cultivation has also been found in Egyptian pyramids and dry pea seeds have been discovered in a Swiss village that are believed to date back to the Stone Age. Archaeological evidence suggests that these peas must have been grown in the eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia regions at least 5,000 years ago and in Britain as early as the 11th century.
India is the world's largest producer and the largest consumer of pulses. Pakistan, Canada, Burma, Australia and the United States, in that order, are significant exporters and are India's most significant suppliers. Canada now accounts for approximately 35% of global pulse trade each year. The global pulse market is estimated at 60 million tonnes.
FAO recognizes 11 primary pulses.
- Dry beans (Phaseolus spp. including several species now in Vigna)
- Kidney bean, haricot bean, pinto bean, navy bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
- Lima bean, butter bean (Phaseolus lunatus)
- Azuki bean, adzuki bean (Vigna angularis)
- Mung bean, golden gram, green gram (Vigna radiata)
- Black gram, urad (Vigna mungo)
- Scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus)
- Ricebean (Vigna umbellata)
- Moth bean (Vigna aconitifolia)
- Tepary bean (Phaseolus acutifolius)
- Dry broad beans (Vicia faba)
- Dry peas (Pisum spp.)
- Garden pea (Pisum sativum var. sativum)
- Protein pea (Pisum sativum var. arvense)
- Chickpea, garbanzo, Bengal gram (Cicer arietinum)
- Dry cowpea, black-eyed pea, blackeye bean (Vigna unguiculata )
- Pigeon pea, Arhar /Toor, cajan pea, Congo bean, gandules (Cajanus cajan)
- Lentil (Lens culinaris)
- Bambara groundnut, earth pea (Vigna subterranea)
- Vetch, common vetch (Vicia sativa)
- Lupins (Lupinus spp.)
- Minor pulses, including:
Pulses provide protein, complex carbohydrates, and several vitamins and minerals. Like other plant-based foods, they contain no cholesterol and little fat or sodium. Pulses also provide iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and other minerals, which play a variety of roles in maintaining good health.
Pulses are 20 to 25% protein by weight, which is double the protein content of wheat and three times that of rice. While pulses are generally high in protein, and the digestibility of that protein is also high, they are often relatively poor in the essential amino acid methionine. Grains (which are themselves deficient in lysine) are commonly consumed along with pulses to form a complete diet of protein. Indian cuisine also includes sesame seeds, which contain high levels of methionine.
Pulses have significant nutritional and health advantages for consumers. They are the most important dietary predictor of survival in older people of different ethnicities, and in the Seven Countries Study, legume consumption was highly correlated with a reduced mortality from coronary heart disease.
There is some evidence a high proportion of pulses in a diet may help lower blood pressure, though there is concern with the quality of the supporting data.
- puls, Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary, on Perseus Digital Library
- poltos, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
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- Grain legumes portal / AEP – European-based network of scientists and end-users concerned with grain legumes.
- Pulse Canada – Industry association that represents growers, processors and traders of pulse crops in Canada.
- Canadian Special Crops Association – National trade association that represents companies involved in the merchandising of Canadian pulse and special crops.
-  – International Pulses Trade & Industry Confederation representing companies and entities involved in pulses production, consumption and promotion.