Grains vs. Legumes

Learn the difference between legumes, grains, pulses and more.

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Not only are legumes and grains both wonderful options for vegetarian and vegan fare, they contain important nutrients, minerals and carbohydrates. 

LEGUMES

A legume is any plant in which the fruit grows in pods. A pulse is a subgroup of the legume family, and refers to the dry edible seed within the pod. In short, pulses are the part of the legume that can be eaten. Legumes add texture and flavour to a meal and they are a great, heart-healthy source of protein, as well as fiber and minerals like iron and zinc. Due to their high amount of protein, legumes are a common choice for vegans and vegetarians. 

Legumes can be found in dried or canned form. Dried legumes are cheaper but, with the exception of lentils and split peas, they’ll need to be soaked for several hours before you can use them. Not only does soaking dried legumes shorten their cooking time significantly, it breaks down their complex sugars, making them easier for your body to digest. In general, legumes make a great addition to casseroles, soups, salads and even curries. Besides their low cost, a main benefit of dried legumes is that they will stay fresh for over a year, so long as they are kept sealed at room temperature.  

Not only does soaking dried legumes shorten their cooking time significantly, it breaks down their complex sugars, making them easier for your body to digest.

Due to their high amount of protein, legumes are a common choice for vegans and vegetarians.

There are many different varieties of legumes, or pulses, all of which vary in size and appearance. Popular kinds include split peas, lentils, and garbanzo beans, which are also known as chickpeas. Chickpeas are a popular ingredient used to make hummus and falafel. Though falafel is eaten in many Arab and Mediterranean countries, you can find it all over the world, often sold as street food. How it is prepared will depend on where you have it. In the middle-east, it is eaten inside pita bread, with tahini. In Israel and most all Arab countries, it’s likely to include french fries and pickled red cabbage in the pita as well. 

GRAINS

Grains are the edible seeds of grasses such as wheat, oats, rice, and corn. Commonly referred to as ‘cereals,’ important types include quinoa, rye, and barley. Grains are a staple food found around the world and make up a large percentage of the human diet. 

Economical and packed with carbohydrates and protein, grains are composed of three parts: the bran (the outer layer), the germ (embryo) and the endosperm. Grains typically fall into two categories; whole (unrefined) or refined. Whole grains are grains that have been minimally processed and still contain the bran, germ, and endosperm, whereas refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ, leaving only the endosperm. Milling gives grains a finer texture and lengthens their shelf life, but it also strips them of fiber, minerals and vitamins.

Grains make a wonderful side dish, the most common of which is probably rice. Other popular types used in cuisine are quinoa, couscous, barley and farro. What’s more, they’re easy to cook, requiring only a pot and some water, and you can jazz them up afterwards, by tossing them in good olive oil or butter and adding fresh herbs and your favorite vegetables. Peas, chopped broccoli and pomegranate seeds all make delightful additions. 

Grains typically fall into two categories: whole (unrefined) or refined.

Quinoa, mentioned earlier, is a whole grain that the Dollop team loves to incorporate in a variety of dishes. A member of the amaranth family, quinoa is high in fiber, magnesium and iron. Pronounced keen-wah, it has a nutty flavor and fluffy consistency that lends itself well to stuffed peppers, bowls and salads. When cooking quinoa, be very careful not to overcook it or it will become gummy in texture. 

Grains will typically last between 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator and about 2 months in the freezer, so it’s a great idea to cook them in large batches. It’s not like it’s hard to double the recipe and you’ll love the time you save by having something already prepared to serve as a side dish or as the base for a salad bowl.