Cicerchia, a little-used legume but full of potential: benefits, uses

Cicerchia are legumes that are still not very consumed but can offer various health benefits. Discover the properties and use of the cicerchia.

It is a type of legume that has been forgotten for a long time, but more recently is making a comeback. Cicerchia are typical legumes of the central-southern part of our peninsula and we can taste different varieties depending on the region in which we find ourselves (the most famous are those of the Marche, Abruzzo, Campania, Puglia and Lazio regions).

Their Latin name is Lathyrus sativus, but they are also known as “Indian pea”, to remember the fact that this legume is also widely cultivated in Asia and Africa with the aim of fighting malnutrition thanks to the ability of the cicerchia to bear good drought. The peas are also used for the production of fodder, but most of the product is used for food purposes.

Cicerchia: calories and nutritional properties

Now that we have seen what grass peas are, let’s try to clarify their nutritional properties. As we have anticipated, it is a type of legume: like all legumes, peas are rich in carbohydrates and proteins and low in fat. Their nutritional values, in fact, are very similar to those of peas and broad beans.

One of the greatest advantages of legumes is the high quantity of fiber they contain. In addition, grass peas contain a good amount of stearic acid, which has been shown to be useful in lowering blood cholesterol values. In addition, like all legumes, peas also contain an excellent content of phenolic compounds with antioxidant activity.

The calories of grass peas are between 300 and 350 Kcal per 100 g: they may seem like a lot, but this value refers to dry grass peas and 100 g can hardly represent a portion of food! In fact, a portion of dried legumes is about 50 gr, while for fresh or canned legumes the portion is about 150 gr. For more detail, we report below a table with the nutritional values ​​of the grass peas, considering 100 g of dry product.

Nutritional values ​​per 100g of cicerchia:

  • Fat: 1.5 g
  • salt: 0.14 g
  • Calories: 334 kcal
  • Carbohydrates: 47.2 g
  • Fibers: 8.2 g
  • Proteins: 28.8 g

Cicerchia: the health benefits

The benefits of cicerchia on human health are many and have been known for several years now. Their use is useful not only as animal feed, but above all for the human diet.

✓ Malnutrition

First of all, it is important to underline that the percentage of proteins in grass peas is higher than that of other legumes such as peas, broad beans and lupins. For this reason, this food is useful to ward off protein malnutrition, especially in the poorest countries of our world.

✓ Cardiovascular pathologies

Cicerchia appears to be a useful food in the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular diseases. In this sense, the properties of grass peas are linked to the presence of an amino acid, homoarginine, which appears beneficial in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases.

Furthermore, the good presence of fibers that characterizes legumes, and therefore also grass peas, combined with the presence of stearic acid, helps to lower blood cholesterol values, thus favoring the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.

✓ Antioxidant property

As we have previously anticipated, the grass peas contain a modest quantity of phenolic compounds, in particular of tannins, with antioxidant properties.

✓ Beneficial for the intestine

The grass peas, as we have seen, contain good amounts of fiber and this makes them good allies for intestinal health, promoting regularity. Furthermore, the fibers always contribute to increasing the satiating power of these legumes, which are also useful for being consumed in slimming diets.

✓ Useful in case of diabetes

The presence of fiber, combined with the reduced glycemic index of the food, makes cicerchia (and more generally of all legumes) a potential ally in the diet of the diabetic patient or in case you want to follow a low glycemic index diet.

How many peas to eat

A portion of cicerchia corresponds, like other legumes, to about 50 g of dried cicerchia or to about 150 g of cooked cicerchia (or in a jar). Our guidelines recommend that you generally consume legumes a minimum of 3 or 4 times a week, for example in combination with whole grains. We suggest, where you liked them, to include the cicerchia also every week, but to remember to alternate them also with other legumes, in order to benefit from all their properties.

What taste do the cicerchia have?

Cicerchia have a very delicate taste: they are in fact less sweet than peas and at the same time less intense than chickpeas. Precisely for this reason their taste can satisfy everyone’s palate!

Cicerchia: how to use them in the kitchen

Let’s find out now together how to use peas in the kitchen. First of all, before cooking the cicerchia we advise you to soak them for at least 24 hours, taking care to change the water for at least 3 or 4 times during the soaking process.

To cook the cicerchia we advise you to cook them in abundant boiling salted water, with the addition of a few leaves or a piece of kombu seaweed, for about 2 hours (in any case, for the exact cooking times, rely on than reported on the purchased package). They can also be cooked in the pressure cooker, in this case it should take about 30 minutes from the whistle.

Once you have cooked them, you can use them in the kitchen for the preparation of different dishes. One of the most popular recipes is certainly the cicerchia soup: there is both a Marche version and an Umbrian version. In both cases the cicerchia are added to the tomato sauce and to the aromas. The Marche soup also includes part of the whole and boiled cicerchia and part of the pureed cicerchia, for a double consistency that is particularly pleasant!

The cicerchia are also present in many fish recipes, with which they go perfectly. An example? A very tasty soup of clams and cicerchia or a dish of puree of cicerchia with creamed cod. Cicerchia can also be eaten simply as a main course, seasoned with olive oil, salt and chilli, perhaps accompanied by a source of carbohydrates and fresh seasonal vegetables.

Recall that on the market there are also ready-to-eat canned cicerchia, which can prove to be a valid help for those who have little time. In this case it is advisable to rinse them well before consuming them.

Alternatively, it is possible to find cicerchia flour which can be used for the preparation of a “polenta” of cicerchia, to be combined in this case too with fish or abundant vegetables. Another well-known and very tasty recipe is the Abruzzo Franchiate: a polenta prepared with chickpea and chickpea flour accompanied by anchovies and chilli! Finally, cicerchia flour can also be added, in small quantities, to traditional flour for the preparation of baked goods.

The possible contraindications of the cicerchia

For some time the grass peas have not been used in common diets due to their content in β-N-Oxalyl-L-α, β-diaminopropionic acid (or Oxalyldiaminopropionic acid, ODAP ), which – when consumed in large quantities – can cause a disease known as neurolatyrism (or simply latirism) which involves spastic paraparesis of the lower limbs, muscle aches and urinary incontinence.

This disease now seems to have disappeared and the last case recorded dates back to the late 90s in Ethiopia, during the famine. It has in fact been noted that the disease occurs only in the case of high consumption of grass peas (more than 300-400 g per day) for a prolonged period of time (3-4 months), following a monotonous diet. Furthermore, the content of this neurotoxin has been reduced through genetic improvement and it has been seen that the long soaking and boiling are able to further reduce it.

Finally, we point out that an excessive consumption of grass peas can cause intestinal fermentation and the appearance of air in the belly. For this reason, in case of irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease, we recommend that you consult your specialist before taking grass peas.


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