There has been a lot of talk about beans this year — well, pulses, really, a category including dried beans, lentils and peas — no doubt propelled by the United Nations’ declaration of 2016 as the International Year of Pulses. But more than just talk, there has been action, too, with a new crop of innovative bean-based foods hitting the marketplace. Bean products were one of the biggest trends I spotted at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo in Boston last month, where I sampled several exciting new varieties, and I have also been watching the category grow exponentially at the grocery store in the past year.
There is good reason to be pro-pulse. They are a powerfully nutritious food, packed with protein, essential minerals, fiber and antioxidants. They are sustainable to grow, requiring considerably less water than other protein sources and little or no fertilizer. They store easily — dried beans will retain their optimal quality in a cool, dry place in an airtight container for at least a year, and canned at least two years. On top of that, they are globally appealing — just about every culture in the world uses beans in its cuisine. One downside is that most dried beans need hours of soaking before they are cooked, which requires forethought with meal planning, but there are many, such as lentils, that don’t need to be soaked at all and can be ready in less than 30 minutes. And, of course, canned beans allow you to have cooked beans effortlessly on demand.