What are Pigeon Peas?
If you have ever eaten a delicious Indian dahl, you will be familiar with pigeon peas. They are low in fat, very high in protein and dietary fiber and can be added to a number of tasty dishes. Pigeon peas may not be among the most popular of legumes in the West but they come packed with lots of great nutrition and can benefit your health in a number of impressive ways.
Pigeon peas go by plenty of other names including Angelo pea, Congo-pea, No eye pea, Puerto Rico pea, Red gram and Yellow dahl. Known scientifically as Cajanus cajan, the plant belongs to the legume family and are an important crop in many subtropical and tropical regions.
The pigeon pea plant was first cultivated in India over 3000 years ago before making its way to East Africa, other parts of Asia and America. These days, the plant from which the legume is harvested is widely cultivated in tropical regions of the world.
The plants are easy to grow on land with little nutritional content, they are drought resistant and require very little water to cultivate. Over 80% of pigeon pea crops are still grown in India where the plant was first cultivated and harvested. Pigeon peas remain an important ingredient in Indian cuisine. You may not even have heard of pigeon peas but if you enjoy Indian food, chances are that you have eaten them in Indian dahl meals.
Pigeon peas are very high in protein and dietary fiber and offer up plenty of nutrition. A 100 gram serving of pigeon peas contains:
- 343 calories
- 21 grams of protein
- 15 grams of fiber
- 62 grams of carbohydrates
- I.48 grams of fat
As well as being a good source of fiber and protein, pigeon peas contain various other healthy nutrients. They contain vitamin C and several member of the B vitamin family including folate and thiamin. They also come with a number of essential minerals including iron, manganese, potassium, and phosphorus.
The Health Benefits of Eating Pigeon Peas
Being low in fat and cholesterol while high in fiber and certain minerals makes pigeon peas a healthy choice of food especially for people on a calorie controlled diet or vegetarians looking for a good source of protein. Pigeon peas have an excellent nutritional profile and many of the vitamins and minerals found in these delicious peas play an important role in your overall health.
1) To Aid Growth and Body Development
One of the main reasons that pigeon peas are such a valuable part of the diet in so many countries all round the world is that they are so densely packed with protein. Just a single serving of these peas will provide you with up to 15 grams of energy boosting protein.
Protein is absolutely vital for the body’s growth and normal development. It helps to build muscle mass and is essential to the strength of bones, tissues and cells. If you do not get sufficient protein into your diet, it can have a devastating effect on your body and this applies even more in children whose bodies are developing.
As well as helping the body to get strong and healthy, protein is also important when it comes to the regeneration and healing of the cells throughout the entire body.
2) For Heart Health
Eating healthy legumes like pigeon peas can help improve your heart’s health in a variety of ways.
First of all, the potassium found in these peas can help keep your blood pressure in check. Potassium has vasodilatory actions meaning that it helps the blood vessels and capillaries expand, enabling better circulation and blood flow and relieving the strain on your arteries. This can help reduce blood pressure which is a major risk factor in heart disease and strokes.
Pigeon peas are also low on cholesterol and high in fiber making them an excellent choice to maintain or improve heart health. High cholesterol levels are linked to major heart conditions including heart attacks and atherosclerosis. And that is not all – pigeon peas are also unusually high in folate and folate deficiency is linked to many diseases including stroke, heart disease and anemia.
3) Folate Content and Anemia Prevention
Another reason that pigeon peas are so popular in some parts of the world is their folate content. The typical diet in India, Afghanistan and other parts of the area is deficient in folate which is a risk factor linked to various illnesses including anemia, birth defects and heart disease.
A 100 gram serving of pigeon peas actually provides you with more than 100% or your recommended daily allowance of folate which can hep prevent anemia.
It is also essential for pregnant women to get plenty of folate into their diets to reduce the risk of serious birth defects and a serving of pigeon peas can help them to achieve this goal. In fact, a serving of these peas provides a pregnant woman with as much as 76% of their recommended daily value.
4) To Improve Digestive Health
Good digestive health is key to achieving overall good health and getting more dietary fiber into your diet is one of the most important things that you can do to ensure your digestive system is functioning as well as it should.
Increasing your intake of dietary fiber can help relieve many digestive complaints including bloating, gas, stomach cramps, dyspepsia and constipation. By adding bulk to your stools it can help the passage of waste from the body help to ease diarrhea.
There is also some evidence that a high fiber diet can help you control weight by filling you up and satiating the appetite meaning you are less likely to snack on junk through the day.
5) For Weight Control
Now, I am not going to tell you that just by adding pigeon peas to your diet that the weight will start falling off you. However, they do represent a healthy option as part of an overall diet plan.
For such a nutrient packed food, they are relatively low in calories and extremely low in cholesterol, sodium and saturated fats. Being so high in dietary fibers, they can also help you to feel full and should help to satiate your appetite. They can also give you the boost of energy that you need to get up off your feet and involved in healthy exercise while the bulk of the nutrients found in peas are used immediately as energy.
Pigeon peas make a great alternative to higher fat meat dishes so play around with some recipes and give them a try. In the long run, you may find yourself shedding a few pounds.
6) To Boost your Energy
The high levels of protein found in pigeon peas can give you a boost of energy but the presence of the various B vitamins also contribute. These nutrients promote the body’s metabolism and help convert the food into usable energy rather than allowing it to be stored by the body as fat.
How to Add Pigeon peas to Your Diet
- Pigeon peas are usually available in dried form and keep very well for around a year as long as you store them in properly in a cool, dry area.
- Canned pigeon peas which are ready to cook are also becoming more readily available.
- When you buy your pigeon peas, make sure that they are free of stones, grit and pebbles.
- You may be able to find fresh pigeon peas in their pods if you live near an Indian or Asian market. The pods should have a strong color with plump peas. If the pods are pale or yellow, they are poor quality. When you buy the peas in their pods, do not remove them from the pod until you are ready to use them. You can boil the pods for a few minutes to make them easier to shell.
- Dried pigeon peas must be soaked for a minimum of six hours before cooking. Soak one cup of peas in 2 or 3 cups of water.
- Soaked peas take around 30 minutes to cook fully but will still be quite firm. Cooking for longer does not make a great deal of difference to the texture. Pigeon peas are supposed to be firm.
- You can sprout your pigeon peas in the same way you would sprout any bean or pea. Sprouting increases their absorption rate and is the way they are traditionally eaten in India. They are ready for cooking when the tail is around half an inch long and a leaf has begun to emerge.
There are so many ways that you can use pigeon peas in your cooking. Have a look at some of the recipes available online and experiment with them. They make an excellent meat substitute in curries, stews and soups. They can also be added to salads and pasta dishes to give some extra texture.
If you have a favorite pigeon pea recipe that you would like to tell us about, please let us know and we can add it to this article. We would love to hear from you.