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Chickpea Flour — Versatile, Gluten-Free & High-Protein

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Chickpea flour - Dr. Axe

If your only contact with chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans) has been adding them to a salads or occasionally eating hummus, then you’re missing out on some of the serious benefits of chickpea flour. This type of flour has all the same benefits of chickpea nutrition, since it’s simply made using one ingredient: roasted (or sometimes raw) ground chickpeas.

Garbanzo beans were one of the first cultivated crops by humans and are still one of the most popular legumes around the world today, so it’s not surprising that some cultures have used chickpeas to make a grain-free, versatile flour for centuries.

What is chickpea flour good for? Compared to wheat flour, it has a higher proportion of fiber, no gluten and a higher percentage of protein too. Whether you can tolerate eating grains or not, you’ll likely love the dense, filling quality of chickpea flour and be surprised just how many ways you can easily begin to use it.

What Is Chickpea Flour?

What is chickpea flour made of? It’s made from ground garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas).

Garbanzo beans belong to the class of high-fiber foods called legumes or pulses, which also includes beans, lentils and green peas.

Chickpea flour — which is also called gram flour, garbanzo bean flour or traditionally besan — is popular in many countries, especially in Asia and the Middle East. For example, it’s considered a staple ingredient in Indian, Pakistani, Nepali and Bangladeshi cuisines.

The health benefits of legume consumption have received rising interest from researchers, and their consumption and production extend worldwide. Among European countries, higher legume consumption is observed around the Mediterranean, (with per capita daily consumption between eight and 23 grams, compared to just five grams in Northern Europe and the U.S.), which has led researchers to believe that higher levels of fiber and phytonutrients from beans might be one reason why these populations have historically experienced great health.

Chickpeas have been a part of certain traditional diets for over 7,500 years! They’re still one of the most widely grown and consumed legumes worldwide and, over the years, have often been linked with longevity, heart health and better weight management.

While it’s less popular in North America and somewhat common across Europe, luckily chickpea flour is becoming easier to find in the U.S.

Nutrition

Eating more legumes is a great way to increase your intake of fiber. Because they’re such a high source of fiber, many studies show that eating more chickpeas, and pretty much all types of beans/legumes, can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and even some types of cancer.

Garbanzo beans also offer a good array of vitamins and minerals and even some antioxidants, including phenolic compounds. They’re thought to have calcium and magnesium in an ideal ratio, a very high amount of folate — which is essential for a healthy pregnancy — a good dose of energizing B vitamins, like vitamin B6, and a decent amount of heart-healthy potassium.

They even contain some of the powerful antioxidant mineral selenium, as well as iron and plenty of plant-based protein. Gluten-free diets are also becoming more popular, so you’ll love the addition of this flour to your pantry if you’ve recently decided to go gluten-free.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one half-cup serving of chickpea flour (or besan) contains about:

  • 178 calories
  • 26.6 grams carbohydrates
  • 10.3 grams protein
  • 3.1 grams fat
  • 5 grams fiber
  • 101 milligrams folate (50 percent DV)
  • 0.75 milligrams manganese (37 percent DV)
  • 0.4 milligrams copper (21 percent DV)
  • 76 milligrams magnesium (19 percent DV)
  • 146 milligrams phosphorus (15 percent DV)
  • 0.2 milligrams thiamine (15 percent DV)
  • 2 milligrams iron (12 percent DV)
  • 0.25 milligrams vitamin B6 (12 percent DV)
  • 778 milligrams potassium (11 percent DV)
  • 3 milligrams zinc (9 percent DV)
  • 7 milligrams selenium (6 percent DV)

Benefits

1. Great Source of Fiber

As mentioned above, garbanzos are rich in dietary fiber. This makes chickpea flour an equally good source, especially when you use it in place of refined flours that have been stripped of nutrients and are very low in fiber.

Virtually every study that has looked at high-fiber diets has found some measure of health benefits, sometimes even striking ones. Some studies show that those who eat the most fiber have a lower risk of developing diabetes and colon cancer and are less likely to be obese and struggle with weight gain.

Chickpeas are rich in total and soluble fiber as well as in resistant starch, all of which contribute to the low glycemic index of this flour. The fiber in beans also makes them a heavyweight in terms of helping with digestion, preventing constipation and even aiding in weight loss since they fill you up.

2. Helps Improve Heart Health

Legumes/beans are known to help balance unhealthy cholesterol levels, reduce hypertension and protect against heart disease.

Beans can help keep arteries clear from dangerous plaque buildup, maintain healthy blood pressure levels, and decrease the chances of having a heart attack or stroke. This is why studies have found an inverse association between insoluble fiber intake and systolic and diastolic blood pressure, total cholesterol and triglycerides.

Chickpeas provide ample amounts of polyphenols, many of which are potent antioxidants that fight inflammation and oxidative stress. Intervention and prospective research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that diets that include beans lower cholesterol naturally, favorably affect risk factors for metabolic syndrome, and reduce risk of ischemic heart disease and diabetes.

According to a 2021 study published in Nutrients, eating garbanzos has been shown to lower risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including excess body weight, poor gut microbiome environment and low-grade inflammation.

Other studies show that having just one daily serving (about 3/4 cup cooked) of beans of any kind can help decrease chances of a heart attack and help balance cholesterol. This happens because beans’ fiber works to create a gel-like substance in the digestive system that binds with fatty acids.

Both soluble fiber and insoluble fiber have been shown to be important in helping control and manage hypertension — plus high-fiber foods might also help prevent overeating and the accumulation of dangerous fat, especially around the vital organs, including the heart.

3. Stabilizes Blood Sugar and May Help Prevent Diabetes

Fiber, particularly soluble fiber, not only lowers blood cholesterol levels, but it also helps slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. This is hugely important both for people with diabetes and for anyone else with blood sugar challenges or metabolic syndrome.

Chickpea flour has a form of complex carbohydrate called starch that the body is able to slowly digest and use for energy over time in a much more beneficial way than consuming refined carbohydrates.

There’s a lot of evidence pointing to the fact that high-fiber diets are a much more effective type 2 diabetes natural remedy than diets low in fiber. Legumes in general cause less of a rise in blood glucose than foods like potatoes or almost any sort of wheat-based flour food.

While refined flours can quickly raise blood sugar levels and lead to “spikes and dips” in energy, chickpea flour is a slower-burning carbohydrate that doesn’t impact glucose levels as substantially, which means it has a lower glycemic load. Eating more low-glycemic foods is a way to naturally treat diabetes, have more energy and prevent sugar cravings.

4. Can Help with Weight Loss

Beans are often recommended for weight loss because they are low in calories, yet they expand in your intestines, which turns off your body’s hunger signals. In essence, foods rich in fiber have a high volume and nutrient density, yet they’re low in calories — especially when you consider the fact that your body can’t digest carbs from fiber.

Chickpea flour is also a good source oof protein, which helps make you feel full and often curbs food cravings. That can make losing weight fast in a healthy way a realistic goal.

A 2020 study that appears in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism states that “beans and other legumes seem to have dietary qualities that may be beneficial in the battle against obesity.” In fact, many studies show that an increase in either soluble or insoluble fiber is correlated with an increase in post-meal satiety and decreases subsequent hunger, which is beneficial for maintaining a lower, healthier body weight.

Studies published in Nutrition Reviews indicate that consumption of an additional 14 grams of fiber a day for more than two days of the week is associated with a 10 percent decrease in energy intake and average body weight loss of over four pounds over a 3.8-month period.

Generally, foods with lots of fiber normally require more chewing, giving your body extra time to register the fact that you’re no longer hungry. This means you’re less likely to overeat.

After eating foods like chickpea flour that are high in both protein and fiber, you’ll probably notice you feel fuller for longer. This is due to the blood sugar-stabilizing effects of fibrous foods.

One way to take advantage of these benefits? Try having chickpea flour as part of a high-protein snack that can prevent overeating at the next meal.

5. Lowers Inflammation and Improves Immune Function

Chickpea flour is also a terrific anti-inflammatory food, as consuming beans has been shown to have anti-inflammatory abilities and protective benefits against cancer — in particular cancer within the digestive tract, including colon, stomach and kidney cancer. This is due to the high-fiber content in beans and legumes that can draw toxins out of the digestive tract, keeping cells protected, preventing inflammation and fighting free radical damage.

Chickpeas can also benefit the digestive system and improve immunity by counteracting acidity from a poor diet, which balances the body’s pH level. In a more alkaline state, the body is better able to remain in homeostasis, fight inflammation and stop cancer cells from proliferating.

Although chickpeas contain antinutrients that can impact the body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients, cooking practices like sprouting beans, soaking and discarding the soaking water before cooking can reduce oligosaccharide antinutrient content and make the beans even more beneficial.

6. Free of Gluten and Beneficial for Digestion

Because chickpea flour has zero wheat, barley, rye or cross-contaminated oats, it’s totally free from gluten and all grains. Whether or not someone has a true gluten sensitivity or allergy, most people can benefit from avoiding gluten due to its negative effects on the gut, digestion and immune responses.

For gluten-free baking, most cooks recommend using garbanzo bean flour to replace up to 25 percent of the regular wheat or gluten-free flour in order to increase protein and fiber without compromising taste or texture.

If you know it’s time to go gluten-free, use chickpea flour in place of regular wheat or other gluten-free flours in dishes like:

  • falafel
  • hummus
  • socca
  • farina
  • pancakes
  • empanadas
  • pizza crusts
  • crackers

It works well in cakes or quick breads, and although it’s easily disguised by other ingredients, it’s pretty much undetectable when combined with strong flavors like herbs, cheese, chocolate and pumpkin.

How to Make Chickpea Flour

It’s easy to learn how to make chickpea flour (aka gram flour or besan) at home as long as you have a food processor or even a strong coffee grinder.

Start by purchasing dried garbanzo beans. It’s preferable to purchase organic chickpeas since this ensures they won’t contain chemicals that can lurk on them if you don’t rinse them well before processing them.

Chickpea flour can be made from either dried, raw chickpeas or roasted chickpeas. The roasted variety is considered to be more flavorful, while the raw variety has a slightly bitter taste.

Here are directions for making chickpea flour at home using soaked and then dehydrated beans, which helps make them more digestible:

  1. First start by soaking the beans overnight for a minimum of eight hours and up to 24 hours. Cover with enough water so they are covered by a few inches of liquid.
  2. After soaking, dry/dehydrate the beans on a large tray or using a dehydrator. Put the beans in a single layer so they are all exposed to air. Let them sit somewhere warm for about 12 hours, or dehydrate them at 50 degrees C for 12 hours. Make sure they are totally dry before grinding them.
  3. Grind and process them either in a good processor or with a coffee grinder. Sieve the flour to remove any lumps, then grind again to get a fine texture.
  4. Store your chickpea flour in an airtight container for up to two months.

How to Use (Recipes)

Where can I buy gram flour?

Look for chickpea flour at health food stores, some bigger grocery stores, and in specialty Asian and Middle Eastern markets. You can also look for some online if you’re unable to find it in stores.

Most of the bigger brands selling chickpea flour — for example, Bob’s Red Mill — sell the kind made with roasted chickpea, which is more mild and blends well in many recipes.

How is it normally used?

Today, gram flour/besan is still widely used in South Asia and the Middle East in the same way it has been for generations. Some traditional uses in Asia for chickpea flour include using it in curries, making it into cakes called Senagapindi Kura or having it in a type of breakfast porridge.

Chila, a pancake made with chickpea flour batter, is also a popular street food in India, and in parts of Italy, gram flour is used to make a thin flatbread called farinata. The Spanish also sometimes use besan to make tortillas in place in corn.

Another popular ways to use chickpea flour is to make a flatbread recipe called socca, which is similar to a hearty pancake or thin bread, although it’s completely free from all grains. Traditionally, it’s simply made with chickpea flour, olive oil and spices and baked in the oven into a sort of pancake-like flatbread. This makes a great alternative to processed, store-bought breads that are worse than you think in most cases in terms of lacking nutrients and containing additives.

Can you use chickpea flour for baking?

Most people new to chickpea flour think it’s surprisingly tasty, with a sweet and rich flavor somewhat similar to coconut flour.

Because chickpeas are known to be one the creamiest and versatile legumes there is (probably the reason they’re used to make hummus), they also make a great-tasting flour in baked goods. However, you need to combine it with another gluten-free flour when baking (like rice or potato flour) in order to help the mixture rise. It can also be used alone or just in combination with eggs in certain recipes.

You can also use chickpea flour in place of coconut flour or other gluten-free flours in many recipes. For example, grain-free muffins, baked mini omelet muffins, protein bars and brownies can all benefit from having some chickpea flour added for extra density, protein and fiber.

In any coconut flour recipe, chickpea flour can usually be substituted since both are high in fiber and tend to absorb about the same amount of liquid.

Can I substitute chickpea flour for all-purpose flour?

Chickpea flour can be used in many ways and especially makes a good substitute for wheat-based flours that contain gluten.

Another clever use for chickpea flour? When mixed with an equal proportion of water, it can be used as an egg replacer just like chia seeds and flaxseeds can. This makes it a great addition to recipes in vegan cooking or for anyone with an allergy to eggs.

You can also use some to thicken soups, stews and sauces without the need for cream, cornstarch or wheat flour.

How should I store the flour?

When not using chickpea flour, store it either in the refrigerator or tightly sealed in a sealable plastic bag. It’s also possible to freeze it in order to prolong its freshness.

What types of spices and flavors can you combine with chickpea flour in recipes?

Chickpea flour goes great with both sweet and savory ingredients. Try pairing it with ingredients like finely diced garlic; toasted cumin seeds; herbs like oregano, parsley and thyme; or a bit of your favorite raw cheese, raw honey, fruit or coconut.

Which recipes should I try?

Here are a few ways you can swap chickpea flour in for other common flours:

Risks and Side Effects

Just like with eating whole chickpeas or any legumes, some people experience digestive discomfort when increasing fiber rapidly.

If your diet is generally low in starch and fiber and you aren’t accustomed to eating high amounts beans, gradually introduce chickpea flour into diet instead of consuming a large amount all at once.

Also consume plenty of water when eating fiber. This helps ease digestion and avoid unwanted symptoms like bloating, cramps and gas.

It’s also possible for someone to have trouble generally eating beans, bean-based products like chickpea flour or even all grains due to certain antinutrients and enzymes they contain. The majority of legumes contain bioactive compounds, including enzyme inhibitors like lectins, phytoestrogens, oligosaccharides, saponins and phenolic compounds, that can disrupt digestion and nutrient absorption.

If this happens to you, first try having beans that have been made from scratch (dried form) and that were soaked and sprouted. While it’s not easy to find sprouted chickpea flour, it might be an option if regular roasted chickpeas aggravate your stomach and cause digestive problems, including gas and bloating.

If this doesn’t help, try having coconut flour, which might be easier to digest and doesn’t contain antinutrients or enzymes found in beans, or almond flour as another gluten-free option instead.

Conclusion

  • Chickpea flour is made from ground garbanzo beans. It’s also called besan or gram flour, and it’s popular in places such as the Middle East and parts of India and Africa.
  • Gram flour is high in protein, fiber, folate, manganese, copper, magnesium and more. It can support digestive and heart health and is filling.
  • It’s easy to learn to make homemade chickpea flour as long as you have a food processor. Soak, dehydrate/dry and then grind the beans to form this gluten-free flour that can be used in baking, soups and as a sub for regular flour.
  • It has a naturally sweet and rich flavor somewhat similar to coconut flour. Try it in pizza crusts, breads, muffins and cookies.

More Nutrition