By: Lindsey Scalera, Ecology Center
What is a Pulse, Anyway?
The term “pulse” refers to the dried seeds of legumes. The Global Pulse Confederation describes them as “... a group of 12 crops that includes dry beans, dry peas, chickpeas, and lentils.” Pulses play an important role in food and agriculture around the world. According to the United National Food & Agriculture Organization:
The agricultural production of beans, chickpeas & lentils dates back to 7000 - 8000 B.C.
The nitrogen-fixing properties of pulses can improve soil fertility, which improves and extends the productivity of farmland.
Intercropping with pulses increases farm biodiversity and creates a more diverse landscape for animals and insects.
Pulses can be stored for months without losing their high nutritional value, providing increased food availability between harvests
Pulses in Action at Bronson Battle Creek
Michigan is the second largest dry bean producer in the United States and the top producer of black beans, cranberry beans and small red beans. One Michigan hospital has taken the leap to make the move away from canned and processed beans, to exclusively dry beans, sourcing almost all of them from Michigan producers.
Chef John Fear got his start working at resorts and convention centers, but eventually made his way into hospital foodservice. John now serves as Director of Support Services/Executive Chef at Sodexo housed at Bronson Battle Creek Hospital. While attending a local food event, he met with producers, some located just 30 miles “right up the road” who were growing a wide variety of dry beans.
“I went to a food hub meeting in Battle Creek and met a couple of folks... I found out who their products were distributed through, got some pricing, talked to our cooks, and once we had some buy-in from our cooks, we decide that we were going to go ahead and make the change.
In order to ensure success, John knew he would have to address a number of challenges. The added time for preparation and cooking would have to work for the kitchen staff, the price had to be right, and they would have to address changes in storage. He took the process one step at a time, and things fell into place relatively quickly. “Once we got buy-in from our cooks, it only took me about four months to make the change,” says John.
Dry beans are a versatile ingredient for main dishes, sides, starters and snacks throughout the year. Institutions can use Michigan dry beans as a salad bar topping, in soups or chili, pureed into a hummus or bean dip, as a side vegetable, or as a meat alternative.
What should other food service directors take away from John’s example? John says, “first and foremost, they are going to save money. The trade off is you’ve got a little more production work to do, not very much, but the positives on your end is that you will have a more nutritious product and you are going to save money. The silver lining is, you are helping to support a Michigan farmer!”
John’s work with dry beans clearly shows the possibilities. He told us, “when we cook with dry beans, what can I say? It’s just a bean, there is nothing else. It’s not floating in a solution. There are no chemicals or salt added. So we end up with a really natural product, reduced sodium, good nutritional information and it tastes better.”
To learn more about this year’s celebration of pulses, visit http://www.iyp2016.org, where you'll find fact sheets, lesson plans, recipes and other resources!.