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Leaflet No. 16 - 1991 - Legumes

Exciting new foods
Improve your land
Cheap body-building food
Good sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre

Agdex 245/G76 - ISSN 1018-0966

Exciting new foods

One of the most nutritious and valuable groups of food plants available in the Pacific consists of legumes or pulses. They are not only grown for food but also help to improve the nutrition of the soil.

Legumes can be grown to produce mature seeds for food. The seeds can be dried, cooked and eaten alone or with other foods or dried and stored for later use. The leaves, flowers and tubers of some legumes can also be eaten as a vegetable. Legumes commonly found and eaten in the Pacific include beans, peas, peanuts, dhal, lentils and winged beans. They provide a very important food resource for all the family. In other parts of the world, legumes were regarded as a poor man's food. They were mostly prepared as a side-dish to add extra flavour and texture to the commonly eaten starchy staples. In more recent years, different edible varieties of legumes have been found to be of high food value, and are helping to provide an answer to some of the food-and health-related problems of the world.

Improve your land

Legumes belong to the family of plants known as Fabaceae, formerly known as Leguminosae (no'ei). These include peas, lentils and beans.

They can grow on most soil types, depending whether they are grown for food or for improving the soil. Some varieties, such as cowpeas, need deep, rich soil with enough moisture. Others, such as long beans, generally require well-drained soil with an open texture. Some beans can even be grown successfully under dry conditions (e.g. winged beans). Planting and harvesting of legumes does not require much work. Legumes are usually grown together with other crops or rotated regularly with other vegetables because of their ability to add nutrients to the soil.

For each of the legume crops, several improved varieties with different characteristics are available. Characteristics include dwarfness or tall growth habit, early maturity, and disease and pest resistance. Seek the advice of agricultural officers in choosing the variety to suit your needs and situation.

Some legumes available in the Pacific

Common names (fill in your own local names)

Scientific name


Food value, uses and preparation

1. Cowpea, black eyed bean, black eyed pea, marble pea

Vigna sinensis
V. unguiculata

Climbing or dwarf plant with three-lobed leaves with twining seeds.

Good source of protein, young nods used as vegetables and in salads, mature seeds cooked, eaten as vegetables or added to soups and stews.

2. French haricot, kidney or string bean

Phaseolus vulgaris

Dwarf bushy plant; climbing varieties.

Immature pods can be used in salads; maturer pods steamed and eaten as a vegetable; dried seeds cooked and eaten as a vegetable or added to soups and stews.

3. Green pea, blue pea, sugar pea, edible-podded pea

Pisum sativum

Vines with many creeping varieties; round green seeds.

Good source of protein and fibre; immature pods eaten fresh; maturer pods shelled and cooked.

4. Hyacinth or lablab bean

Dolichos sp.
Lablab niger

Short, twining plant with pale yellow pods, white flowers and seeds.

Good source of protein and fibre; young pods eaten as a vegetable; mature pods soaked in water and dried.

5. Long bean, snake bean, asparagus bean, yardlong bean.

Vigna sesquipedalis

Climbing plant with three - lobed leaves and long narrow pods.

Good source of protein; pods steamed or boiled and eaten as a vegetable.

6. Mung bean, green gram, golden gram

Phaseolus aureus

Erect or spreading plant bearing large, three-lobed leaves, yellow flowers; hairy pods.

Green pods eaten as vegetable; ripe seeds boiled, eaten whole, or split as dhal; can be roasted, ground into flour and made into porridge, biscuits, bread etc.

7. Mung bean, black gram

Phaseolus mungo

Trailing plant with green stem bearing yellow or pale yellow flowers; seeds are in various shades of green and black.

Immature green pods used as vegetable; ground into flour, which can be used in biscuits; combined with rice flour to make a fermented batter.

8. Peanut, groundnut

Arachis hypogaea

Low-growing small plant, bearing seed pods underground.

Very good source of protein and B vitamins; roasted and eaten as a snack; used in soups and stews; ground and added to cakes and desserts; excellent snack for children.

9. Pigeon pea, yellow dhal, red gram.

Cajanus cajan

Plant can grow from 2 to 8 feet in height; has tiny, light yellow - red seeds.

Good source of protein; when young can be eaten as vegetable; mature seeds soaked before cooking, boiled or steamed, then pounded into paste, mixed with seasoning, served as a sauce.

10. Soya bean, soybean

Glycine max

Low, upright, small plant, producing small hard oval seeds.

Good source of protein, oil, B vitamins, minerals and fibre; seeds need to be soaked, then boiled for about 2 hours to become tender; used in soups or stews, used to make flour, soy sauce, soybean milk, soyabean curd (tofu) and soy paste (tempeh).

11. Winged beans

Psophocarpus tetragonolobus

Strong-growing perennial; a four-angled bean with wings; white flowers.

Pods eaten at all stages of maturity; dried seeds soaked, then boiled, roasted or curried.

* No photo shown

Cheap body-building food

Legumes belong to the body-building food group. They are good sources of protein.

The body needs protein to grow and stay healthy. People who do not eat meat or fish should include legumes in their daily meals.

Using legumes in daily meals, in stews, soups or as a main dish, when very little meat is available, is almost as good as eating meat or fish. The bar graphs show that split peas or dhal have as much protein as fish or beef steak. However, it is best always to combine the legumes with a cereal in a meal such as dhal and rice or baked beans and bread. This will ensure that the types of protein found in legumes will combine with the different types of protein found in cereals to form a good quality protein. Eaten together, a legume plus a cereal will make protein that is of equal value to that found in meat or fish.

Good sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre

Legumes are also very good sources of the B-Complex group of vitamins, with the exception of Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin). Vitamin B-complex not only helps protect the body from diseases but also to release from food the energy that the body needs to be healthy and strong.

A good way of obtaining Vitamin C, another important vitamin, from legumes is to sprout or germinate the seeds. The Vitamin C content of sprouted beans, peas and lentils has been found to be almost as high as that in lemon and orange juice. Vitamin C is very important because it helps to keep the body tissues strong, assists the healing of wounds and helps the body use iron properly.

In areas where fresh vegetables and fruits are scarce, particularly in atolls sprouted beans or peas can provide a valuable source of Vitamin C.

Legumes also contain useful amounts of minerals, particularly iron, zinc and calcium. Iron helps to make the blood strong. Zinc is needed for growth and wound-healing and calcium helps to make strong bones and teeth.

Legumes and sprouted legumes are also good sources of fibre. Fibre helps the intestines or bowels to work properly.

Percentage of daily needs of an adult woman filled by 100g (about ¾ cup) split peas (dhal) whole seeds dried.

Percentage of daily needs of an adult woman filled by 100g (about 1 piece) of steak.

Percentage of daily needs of an adult woman filled by 100g (about 1 piece) of fish fillet.


Some legumes, such as peas and winged beans, can be cooked and eaten with their pods (seed cover), if picked when still very young. Most legume seeds are eaten after removal from their pods. Peas can be eaten raw, while most other legumes should be cooked and eaten as a vegetable. Soya beans, dhal, lentils, mung beans, kidney beans and winged beans should be left to mature, dried and stored for food. The winged bean can also be a major food source, particularly in areas where other foods are in low supply. The tuber (root), leaves and flowers of the winged bean can all be eaten, as well as the seeds and young pods.


Dried leguminous seeds to be used in family meals need to be soaked for some time before cooking. Dried legumes have a very hard covering around them. By soaking, the covering can be easily removed. The seeds can be boiled whole or dried and ground into flour.


Germinating or sprouting the seeds is also a very nutritious way of preparing legumes. For example, this can be done with mung bean and pigeon pea by soaking the dried seeds for approximately 24 hours, rinsing thoroughly and then spreading them out on a damp cloth or dish for another 48 hours to grow. Try to keep the sprouts in a cool place and away from flies and insects. Another way is to use an empty jar or shallow container. Soak the dried seeds, then cover the jar with a thin cloth so that the water can be rinsed out regularly. This method will ensure that flies and other insects will not get into the sprouts. Most sprouts will grow to approximately two and half centimetres (one inch) in length.

Care in preparation

Some types of legumes naturally contain harmful substances. Most of these harmful substances are present in the mature seeds. It is therefore best that seeds be soaked before being cooked.


Leguminous seeds can be added to salads, curries, stews and soups. They make an excellent meal or snack for all the family.

A very nutritious snack for children can also be made by grinding the seeds into flour. Mix the flour with water to make a dough or paste, cook with vegetables and spices.

Sprouted beans or peas can be eaten raw or with other vegetables. Sprouts can be lightly fried in oil and served as a vegetable with meat and root crops.

Dhal soup

Two servings:

1/2 cup of split peas (dhal)
2 tablespoons oil
1 small onion
1 clove of garlic
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
2 cups water

1. Soak dhal for a few hours or overnight and then boil until soft.
2. Heat oil in a pan and then add onion and garlic.
3. Add the cooked dhal and mix well.
4. Add water and turmeric and boil for a further 10 - 15 minutes.
5. Serve hot with rice or root crops.

Note: Spices or a little curry powder (¼ teaspoon) can be added with the onion and garlic to give a spicy flavour.

Vegetable hot pot

Four servings:

4 medium-sized sweet potatoes
1/2 cup dried beans
1 cup green leaves
2 tablespoons oil
2 small onions
2 tomatoes

1. Put beans into a pot and cover with water. Leave to soak for at least one hour or overnight.
2. Wash and peel the sweet potatoes and cut into pieces.
3. Chop onions and tomatoes and fry with oil until soft.
4. Add beans and sweet potatoes, plus one to two cups of water.
5. Boil for approximately 30 minutes or until beans are soft.
6. Add the green leaves and cook for 10 minutes more.
7. Serve hot.

Bean cake pudding

4 servings:

1 cup dried beans
2 cups diluted coconut cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup cassava flour
Softened banana leaves

1. Soak beans overnight.

2. Pour off water, then boil with coconut cream and sugar until soft.

3. Mash and remove skins.

4. Add cassava flour and mix to a smooth paste or a soft dough.

5. Wrap in banana leaves and steam in a moderate oven (350°F or 180°C) or an earth oven for 1 hour.

6. When cooked, cut into portion sizes and serve hot or cold with fresh coconut cream.

Note: You can use foil paper or a clean tin or coconut shell instead of banana leaves.

Bean curry

Two servings:

4 cups green beans, chopped
2 tablespoons oil
1 clove garlic
2 small onions, chopped
1/2 teaspoon lemon Juice (optional)
1 tablespoon curry powder

1. Heat oil in shallow pan.
2. Fry garlic and onions.
3. Add curry powder and stir fry for 1 minute.
4. Add beans and mix well.
5. Cook for 7 - 10 minutes until beans are crisp and bright green in colour.
6. Remove from heat and serve hot with rice.
7. Sprinkle lemon juice on top.

Pacific chow mein

Four servings:

1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 egg white beaten with 1 teaspoon of sugar
1 cup chicken meat (cut into thin strips)
6 tablespoons oil
1 onion
1 clove of garlic
1 cup mung bean sprouts
1 cup sliced carrots
2 cups sliced beans (long or string beans)
1 cup Chinese cabbage
1 teaspoon cornflour
1 cup water or stock

1. Mix soy sauce, sugar and beaten egg white and then marinate with the meat.
2. Stir-fry the chicken, using 4 tablespoons of oil until it is half done.
3. Remove from pan and then fry the onion and garlic with the rest of the oil for 1 minute.
4. Add carrots, sliced beans and Chinese cabbage.
5. Add the half-cooked chicken to the vegetables and toss-fry until vegetables are crispy.
6. Add the bean sprouts and cook for a further minute.
7. Mix cornflour and water or stock with the remaining soy sauce to a smooth paste, and then pour over vegetables. Stir for a few minutes until cornflour mixture is cooked.
8. Mix well and then serve with root crops or rice.

Note: Chicken can be replaced by fresh fish or other fresh man'

High-fibre scones

Six servings:

2 cups wholemeal flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 cup bean sprouts
2 tablespoons grated cheese
1/2 cup milk

1. Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl.

2. Cut butter into small pieces and rub into flour mixture.

3. Stir in bean sprouts and cheese.

4. Gradually add milk, mix slowly, using a round-bladed knife, until the dough is soft.

5. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead lightly.

6. Cut into squares or rounds, place on a greased baking tray and bake in a hot oven (425°F or 220°C) for 12 - 15 minutes.

7. Leave to stand for 5 minutes.

8. Serve hot.

French beans au gratin

Four servings:

4 cups French beans
3 1/2 cups mushrooms (sliced)
6 tomatoes (sliced)
2 tablespoons grated

1. String the beans and cut into halves.

2. Place them in a baking dish.

3. Sprinkle on the sliced mushrooms, season with salt and pepper.

4. Add the tomatoes, cover with a lid and bake in a moderate oven (180° or 350°F) for about 20 minutes.

5. Remove the lid, sprinkle with cheese and cook for a further five minutes without the lid.

6. Serve hot.

Bean stew

Four servings:

8 sweet potatoes
1/2 cup dried beans
1 cup green leaves
4 tablespoons of dripping
4 spring onions
4 tomatoes

1. Wash and peel the sweet potatoes. Cut into pieces.
2. Put the beans into a pot and cover with boiling water. Leave to soak for at least one hour.
3. Remove the skins from the beans.
4. Wash the spring onions and tomatoes. Chop into small pieces.
5. Put the dripping in a pot over the fire. Fry the onions and tomatoes until soft.
6. Add the beans, salt and sweet potatoes. Add 1 or 2 cups of water.
7. Boil until the beans are soft (about 30 minutes).
8. Add the green leaves and cook for 10 minutes more.
9. Serve and eat hot or cold.

This leaflet is the sixteenth of a series devoted to the uses of local Pacific foods. Other leaflets available in this series are:

Leaflet 1 - Taro
Leaflet 2 - Pawpaw
Leaflet 3 - Mango
Leaflet 4 - Guava
Leaflet 5 - Cassava
Leaflet 6 - Green leaves
Leaflet 7 - Banana
Leaflet 8 - Coconut
Leaflet 9 - Breadfruit
Leaflet 10 - Pineapple
Leaflet 11 - Citrus fruits
Leaflet 12 - Pumpkin
Leaflet 13 - Sweet potato
Leaflet 14 - Yam
Leaflet 15 - Nuts and seeds
Leaflet 17 - Fish
Leaflet 18 - Seafoods

Published by the South Pacific Commission and printed by Stredder Print Limited, Auckland, New Zealand.

© Copyright South Pacific Commission 1991.

Original text: English.

Reprinted 1995. Reprinted in 1998 with financial assistance from the Territory of New Caledonia.

South Pacific Commission Cataloguing-in-publication data

Legumes: exciting new foods (South Pacific foods leaflet; 16)

1. Legumes as food
I. South Pacific Commission. Community Health Services. II. Series

641.6565 - AACR2 - ISBN 982-203-440-7

Copies of this and other leaflets in this series can be obtained from:

Community Health Services
(Nutrition Programme)
South Pacific Commission
B.P. D5
98848 Noumea Cedex
New Caledonia

or from:

Agriculture Library South
Pacific Commission
Private Mail Bag

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