Baking with the musical fruit

We know that legumes like beans and lentils are good for us (and delicious on toast!), but did you know they can be used in baking? From chickpea pie crusts to black bean brownies, we’re spilling the beans (sorry) on why and how to incorporate these small-but-mighty morsels into products.

Legume, bean, pulse or lentil?

All beans are considered a legume, but not all legumes are considered beans. Confused? Beans are seeds collected from plants and legumes are plants that bear their fruit inside a pod.

It helps to think of this food family as a hierarchy, with legumes at the top. Legumes are the umbrella that all beans, peas (including fresh) and pulses fall under. Pulses are the dried seeds of legume plants and include dry beans, chickpeas, lentils (smaller, flatter beans) and dry peas, and beans fall into both categories of pulses and legumes.

Aussies aren’t eating enough

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend eating 100g (around ½ a cup) of legumes two to three times a week as part of a healthy diet, however according to surveys conducted by the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council, we are actually eating less than one third of a serving of legumes a week.

Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart

BAKING WITH THE MUSICAL FRUITAs well as providing carbohydrates, dietary fibre, minerals and vitamins, legumes are an economical source of good quality protein (more than most other plant foods), are generally low in fat (virtually free of saturated fat) and low GI.

Let’s circle back to fibre: we all know it’s important, but you may not know that there are three recognised forms of dietary fibre—soluble fibre, insoluble fibre and resistant starch.

Soluble fibre is gel-like, attracting water to form a thick gel which slows digestion, helping to control blood glucose levels after eating and lowering “bad” cholesterol.

Insoluble fibre is a ‘bulking’ agent, to put it politely. These fibres promote regular, healthy bowel movements.

The third type of fibre, resistant starch, helps promote digestive health by allowing the “good” bugs in your colon to thrive.

Legumes are an excellent source of all three forms of dietary fibre, with between three and six grams of fibre per 75 grams of cooked legumes.

Beans, what are they good for?

Everything, it would seem. A versatile and cheap product, legumes can count as a serving of vegetables or can be used as a meat replacement, being high in protein.

When it comes to baking, their versatility really shines through—historically, beans and peas were used to replace, or partially dilute flour to make it stretch further, and around the world flour made from beans, peas and lentils is still used in various doughs. Combined with regular flours, beans can be used to make soft breads, crackers, pastry, cookies and cakes, and it can be used alone to make gluten-free foods.

And flour isn’t the only thing beans replaced in baking. According to food scientists, pureed white beans can replace up to 75 per cent of the butter in cookie recipes, reducing the saturated fat content and ensuring you can have your cookie and eat it too!

How do you prepare them?

For dried beans and peas, it’s best to soak them overnight. The longer the soak, the less cooking time you’ll need. Once soaked, legumes will double in volume, so take this into account when working out how much you’ll need. After soaking, rinse the beans in a colander and then boil in a large pot with plenty of water. Add salt and simmer, covered, according to package instructions until they’re soft but not mushy.

Which beans, peas or lentils should you use?

There are plenty of choices when it comes to legumes, and different varieties suit different dishes better than others. Let’s look at a few of the more common varieties.

Kidney and Adzuki beans

Both red beans, the kidney bean and Adzuki bean work really well in dark breads and sweets like brownies and banana bread.

Mung beans

These little green beans are best kept whole, so they best suit seeded loaves, crispbread/crackers and health bars.

 

Black Beans: We’re all very familiar with a super-savoury black bean sauce, but these are excellent in chocolatey treats like brownies and cookies.

White Beans: White beans like butter and cannellini beans are very versatile in recipes that call for flour because they can replace some or all of the flour content without changing the colour or taste.

 

Soybeans: Soybeans are really high in protein and work well in most breads, cakes, slices and cookies. With their protein content, they’re ideal for making health bars or a post-workout treat.

Chickpeas: Chickpeas also suit many breads, pie crusts, cakes and other sweets, but they also have another incredible talent: they—or the liquid from the can—can be used to make meringue! This liquid, known as aquafaba, contains the right amounts of protein and starch to make it act similarly to egg white.

Yellow split peas: They’re not just for soup! With their mildly-sweet flavour, they can be used in bread or can even be used to make a healthy pancake mix.

Red lentils: Red lentils work best soaked but not cooked. Use them in crackers, bars, granola and breads.

 

 

Green lentils: With a floury texture, green lentils lend themselves well to bread, either soaked and whole, or cooked and mushy.

Black lentils: Black lentils are excellent in granola and bars due to their tendency to retain their shape once cooked. When roasted, they’re nice and crunchy.


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