How chickpeas have become so popular in America

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Once hummus became a staple in grocery stores, users at all levels of the US food industry realized that the legume was versatile. In the Middle East, South Asia, Africa and the Mediterranean, chickpeas have been a common ingredient in everyday cooking for thousands of years. "The reason why chickpea is grown and consumed as extensively in these areas is its nutritional value," says Douglas Cook, director of the chickpea research laboratory at the University of California at Davis. "It's an imported species and we're a little late for the party." One of the biggest sellers of chickpeas to modern American consumers is its protein and fiber content. Like Greek yogurt, another familiar yet foreign food that has taken off at about the same time, the high protein content of chickpea – 15 grams per cooked cup – is considered proof of its superior nutritional value in a dietary culture obsessed with proteins. Indeed, Patodia says that one of Biena's two largest consumer demographics is not characterized by a particular location or income level, but by a common goal. "They struggle or aspire to eat healthier, but they struggle to do it," she says. "That's the initial problem I was trying to solve myself." For people with allergies or dietary restrictions, chickpeas are a utility. It tends to trigger fewer reactions than wheat or soy, while providing similar stability of flours, extracts and non-animal protein sources. In addition, twice as many Americans think they have food allergies as they do today, so allergic ingredient status can propel it to higher popularity than people with diagnosable problems. Bouzari sees this as an important motivator for his customers who develop new products. "Chickpea is one of five or ten ingredients universally suitable for everyone," he says. For vegetarians, vegans or omnivores who want to eat less meat, beans are convenient and transferable. "It's available in every kitchen, so it's very easy to adapt to people's diets," says Alicia Kennedy, a vegan food writer and magazine host. Without meat Podcast. "It contains so many flavors that it is part of the world of beans." Chickpeas are common in Indian, Turkish, Ethiopian, Middle Eastern, Greek, Italian and Spanish dishes, for example. to name a few, so it's an easy starting point for American cooks. "Chickpeas are just not an intimidating bean," Kennedy said. The rate of Americans who avoid meat or animal products has remained pretty much stable over the last few decades, but the amount of meat consumed by Americans has declined overall: between 2005 and 2014, Red meat consumption in America fell by almost a fifth. The health and environmental concerns that led to this fall have only intensified over the past five years. Chickpeas are inexpensive and widely available, and the cuisines of the world in which they appear are generally those that downplay the importance of meat in a way that Americans start to consider more valuable. The Americans are not trying anything new. Instead, they regress to the global average after generations of abusive meat consumption that many now consider unwise.