Where are chickpeas from?
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History of Chickpeas

Chickpeas
Chickpeas

Chickpeas are a kind of bean that probably evolved in West Asia, in what is now eastern Turkey, around the same time as other flowering plants, about 100 million years ago. Chickpeas have lots of protein and fiber, so they fill you up, and they are very easy to dry and store for a long time, plus they are delicious, so people probably started munching quantities of chickpeas as soon as they reached West Asia, about 50,000 BC.

Chickpea stew
Chickpea stew

Chickpeas were one of the first plants that people started farming, in what is now Turkish Kurdistan about 10,000 BC - around the same time as lentils and figs. But when people began to farm chickpeas, they quickly made an important change in the way chickpeas grew. Wild chickpeas get ripe in the winter, when there's plenty of rain. But because it's wet, they often get moldy. Sometimes the whole crop might be ruined. So early West Asian farmers chose chickpea seeds that would ripen in the summer instead. You had to water these chickpeas by hand, but they wouldn't get moldy on you.

West Asian people boiled chickpeas for stew or to eat cold in salads, or roasted chickpeas until they were crispy, like potato chips. Or, they boiled chickpeas and then mashed them with garlic and olive oil to make hummus.

Chickpea farming soon spread north to the Indo-Europeans, and east across Central Asia to Afghanistan and western China. By about 4000 BC, traders also spread chickpeas westward to the Mediterranean. By the time of Neolithic Greece, people were farming chickpeas at Dimini and Lerna.

Once people were growing these warm-weather chickpeas, it also turned out that you could grow warm-weather chickpeas further south than the winter chickpeas would grow. So by about 2500 BC (and perhaps earlier), people were farming chickpeas in Egypt, India and East Africa as well as in West Asia. In India, people ground up chickpeas to make chickpea flour, and baked the flour into flat bread-pancakes called chapatis. Indian people also boiled and mashed chickpeas to make a thick sauce called dal.

By the time of Julius Caesar, about 50 BC, the growth of the Roman Empire had brought chickpeas even to northern Europe. Sometime later - maybe as late as the early Middle Ages - people in Egypt began to soak and then grind raw dried chickpeas, mix them with water and spices and fry balls of the batter in oil to make falafel. Falafel balls make a good substitute for meat, and soon people were cooking falafel all over West Asia.

Learn by doing - projects with chickpeas
How to make your own falafel from scratch

Bibliography and further reading about chickpeas:

Falafel Recipe
Hummus Recipe
More about West Asian food
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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