Pulses are defined by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as annual leguminous crops yielding from one to twelve grains or seeds of variable size, shape and color within a pod. Pulses are used for food and animal feed.
The term pulses, as used by the FAO, is reserved for crops harvested solely for the dry grain. This therefore excludes green beans and green peas, which are considered vegetable crops. Also excluded are crops which are mainly grown for oil extraction (oilseeds like soybeans and peanuts), and crops which are used exclusively for sowing (clovers, alfalfa).
Pulses are important food crops due to their high protein and essential amino acid content.
FAO recognizes 11 primary pulses.
- Dry beans (Phaseolus spp. including several species now in Vigna)
- Kidney bean, haricot bean, pinto bean, navy bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
- Lima bean, butter bean (Vigna lunatus)
- Azuki bean, adzuki bean (Vigna angularis)
- Mung bean, golden gram, green gram (Vigna radiata)
- Black gram, Urad (Vigna mungo)
- Scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus)
- Rice bean (Vigna umbellata)
- Moth bean (Vigna acontifolia)
- Tepary bean (Phaseolus acutifolius)
- Horse bean (Vicia faba equina)
- Broad bean (Vicia faba)
- Field bean (Vicia faba)
- Garden pea (Pisum sativum var. sativum)
- Protein pea (Pisum sativun var. arvense)
- Lablab, hyacinth bean (Lablab purpureus)
- Jack bean (Canavalia ensiformis), sword bean (Canavalia gladiata)
- Winged bean (Psophocarpus teragonolobus)
- Velvet bean, cowitch (Mucuna pruriens var. utilis)
- Yam bean (Pachyrrizus erosus)
Pulses contain 20 to 25% of proteins, which is double of that found in wheat and three times that found in rice.
Pulses are sometimes called “poor man’s meat”.
Pulse protein is equivalent in quality to soy protein which has been shown by the World Health Organization to be the equal of meat, milk and egg proteins.
While pulses are generally high in protein and the digestibility of that protein is also high, they often are relatively poor in the essential amino acid methionine. Grains, among other foods, can make up for this shortfall.