The chickpea, whose scientific name is "cicer arietinum", is a herbaceous plant belonging to the Fabaceae family. Its seeds are chickpeas, protein-rich legumes widely used in cooking.
The chickpea plant is between 20 and 50 centimeters high, the stem is hairy, the leaves are small and toothed, the flowers are white or, in some cases, red or pink. Its roots are very long, they can even reach 2 meters deep in the ground, so the chickpea can survive even with very little water.
The chickpea has ancient origins, it is among the oldest legumes known, in fact there is evidence of its presence found in Iraq dating back to the Bronze Age. It was also certainly known by the Roman Empire, the ancient Greeks and the Egyptians, considering that in Egypt there are some writings that testify to the existence of the chickpea in the Nile Valley in the period between 1580 and 1100 a.c ...
The cultivated chickpea derives from two spontaneous species, the "cece echinospermum" and the "cece reticulatum" and has its origins probably in Turkey, from which it later spread to India, Europe and Africa.
The name "cicer" comes from the Latin, referring to Marco Tullio Cicerone, the famous orator who seems to have a particular chickpea-shaped wart on his nose. Instead the name "arietinum" refers to the fact that the shape of the seed resembles the profile of a ram's head.
Among the various stories and legends that gravitate around this legume, it is said that in 1284, during the bloody battle of the Meloria, the Pisans were captured by the Genoese and kept for a long time prisoners in the holds of ships. They would have died of starvation if it were not for the fact that in those holds, just below them, many chickpea sacks had been piled up which, despite being soaked with sea water, formed the food for the prisoners and saved their lives. This is why the typical dish of Pisa based on chickpeas, called the "cecina", cooked with water, salt, oil and chickpea flour in the wood oven, is also called "the gold of Pisa", in honor of the ancient rescue.
The chickpea is the third most important legume in the world after the pea and the bean, in fact the world surface cultivated with chickpea is 11 million hectares.
The area cultivated with chickpeas in Italy is about 4,000 hectares, located mainly in the regions of the Center-South (Tuscany, Abruzzo, Lazio, Campania, Calabria, Sicily) and also in Liguria.
The chickpea is an annual plant, with a very deep root that makes it particularly resistant to drought. The seeds are roundish, in some cases smooth, in other cases wrinkled. The color is generally yellow, but there are also red or brown chickpeas.
The size of the seeds varies according to the type of chickpea. For example, in North Africa, Spain and Italy the chickpea variety is found on the market, while in other areas, such as the Middle East, India and Iran, there are more varieties of chickpea with small seed, which is mainly used ground.
Among the various types of local chickpeas, we remember the Black Chickpea of the Murgia, the Cece della Merella, the Cece pizzuto, the Cece of Cicerale.
In northern and central Italy, chickpeas are sown in spring and harvesting takes place in July and August, while in southern areas and on the islands, sowing takes place in the fall to anticipate harvesting.
The chickpea has a remarkable nutritional capacity and is one of the most precious legumes for our body.
It has a high protein content (19.3%), is also rich in dietary fiber (17.5%), contains 10.6% water. 6% of carbohydrates and fats, 2% of ashes.
The minerals present are magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, copper, selenium and manganese. In a slightly smaller quantity the aminoaids, which are lysine, leucine, arginine, phenylalanine, valine, serine and isoleucine.
The presence of various vitamins is also important, including vitamin B9, very useful for cell renewal.
Chickpea: Property and benefits
From a recent research it seems that the main properties of chickpeas are to lower the level of "bad" cholesterol in the blood and therefore to carry out a protective action towards the heart. This can be explained by the presence in chickpeas of a considerable percentage of magnesium and folate. Folate has the ability to lower the level of homocysteine, an amino acid that, when it is present in the blood in excessive amounts, increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
There is also a large amount of magnesium in the chickpea, which has a beneficial effect on blood circulation, since it is known that the low presence of magnesium can contribute to increasing the possibility of heart attacks.
Furthermore, unsaturated fatty acids, commonly called Omega 3, contained in abundance in chickpeas, can prevent depressive states, have the ability to lower the level of triglycerides and help the heart rhythm, thus avoiding the onset of arrhythmias.
Another important property of chickpeas is to regulate intestinal functions, being also rich in dietary fiber, and at the same time maintaining a balanced level of glucose in the blood.
Finally, the chickpea, which has always belonged to the Italian gastronomic tradition, is a good and healthy legume all year round: excellent both in hot winter dishes, in broth or soup, and in mixed salads that are used to prepare in the summer.