You may have seen the term legumes in information on information about food, nutrition, and health. Although the term is sometimes used in culinary circles, it is actually a botanical term. What a botanist would call a legume we would call a bean, pea, or lentil.
Legumes are plants in the family Leguminosae, otherwise known as the pea family. However, the term also refers to the seeds they produce.
In fact, the family gets its name from the pods the plants produce. The elongated pod, also known as the fruit-legume, has a seam or sutureby which they dehisce, or open up so that the seeds inside the pods can be discharged. The seeds themselves also open up when sprouting, forming two halves that attach at the lower edge.
Most of the time, when the word legume is used, it refers to the peas, beans, or lentils produced by these plants. These are also commonly known as pulses, especially when dried. These peas or beans may be green, yellow, white, or have irregular patches or streaks.
Most of the time, we only eat the seeds, but sometimes, the pod itself is edible. Green beans and sugar snap peas are two examples of legumes with edible pods.
Legumes or pulses rank as one of the most important human foods all over the world, next to cereal grains. They have been eaten by humans since almost the beginning of agriculture, at least 5000 years ago. In fact, most cultures tend to pair legumes with grains which, when combined, tend to provide all the essential amino acids needed for human health when more complete protein sources are not readily available.
Peanuts, despite their name, are also legumes. The peanut plant forms its seeds under the soil.