Playing with pulses: how beans and peas can bring something unusual to the plate

With recipes from around the world and a sustainability story, Hodmedod’s explains how to make pulses popular again.

28 March 2018

Ever heard of gog magog beans or kabuki marrowfat peas? No, we aren’t trying to apply some Harry Potter magic to make up the names of these pulses.

Not only are they real, but they are also grown in the UK.

Working with British farmers, Hodmedod’s sells unusual, locally grown pulses and grains– like black badger peas – but also more familiar crops like the fava bean (aka broad bean) that until recently had fallen out of favour with the public – despite being grown here since the Iron Age.

One of the founders, Josiah Meldrum, who helped start the company in 2012, tells Food Spark people need to be eating more beans, legumes and peas, as they are resilient crops, good for the environment, offer a sustainable diet and are extremely nutritious.

“There are no negatives to increasing pulse consumption and production, but we have largely stopped consuming pulses and grains, as they are stigmatised as poor people’s food and are being used as animal food,” he says.

“There are crops we just don’t eat, and we realised there are a whole host of other crops, things like quinoa and lentils, that weren’t grown here... So we are developing more diverse crop rotation, which is healthy, tastes good and brings more diversity into the diet, but is less of a burden on the soil and production.”

While quinoa and lentils are commonplace these days, here’s a look at some other home-grown pulses.

Red haricot beans

image credit: Hodmedod's

Treat them just like you would a kidney or cannellini bean, says Meldrum, but unlike a kidney bean they hold colour really well, so stay nice and red when cooked.

As a traditional bean, they are good in dishes like baked beans, refried beans,chillies, casseroles, burgers and salads.

Like most red beans, red haricots contain a natural toxin called lectin, so it’s necessary to cook them to ensure they are safe to eat.

Most of the beans of this sort are imported into the UK, as they are grown all over the world, including in the Americas, Canada and China. But Meldrum says there is big potential to grow more of the crop and import less.

“It supports farming, the diversity of crops are good for farmers and the higher income allows them to focus on other activities. We also want to encourage farmers to work sympathetically with nature,” he says.

Then there are the benefits of greater transparency in the supply chain, says Meldrum.

“Increasingly with imports from China and Canada, people are wondering where ingredients come from and how they are grown, and certainly with larger supply chains there is a lack of transparency.”

Camelina seeds

image credit: Hodmedod's

Also known as ‘gold of pleasure,’this ancient crop was domesticated in the Bronze Age.

While it is often produced to make oil, people can also eat the seeds, says Meldrum.

“They do that clever thing that chia and linseed or flaxseed do, so you can use it to form a gel, use it to stabilise a product. If you’re vegan you can use it as egg replacer, and it goes well with savoury baking, so on loaves, in loaves and muffins. It has this interesting almond, mustard flavour,” he notes.

In recent years, camelina has been replaced by rapeseed to make oil in the UK, resulting in a steep decline in production – despite the fact that it’s high in protein, a good source of omega 3 oils and rich in antioxidants such as vitamin E.

Gog magog beans

image credit: Hodmedod's

These can be cooked just like butterbeans and are superb in bean casseroles or spicy tapas dishes, featuring prominently in the Greek dish gigantes.

The tender morsels have a creamy, buttery taste, and can be eaten as a dry seed or like green runner beans.

Meldrum thinks there are lots of opportunities for the beans, but the variable weather in the UK does make it harder to grow. It is also grown in the central United States and Canada.

Black badger carlin peas

image credit: Hodmedod's

“These dark-coloured peas hold shape and can cook a bit like a chickpea. Out in the Midlands is where they are eaten as street food, but you don’t see them anymore, and they are absolutely fantastic. Latvia has a tradition of eating them, and we are in the process of reviving it in the UK,” says Meldrum.

The versatile peas are a cross between the lentil and chickpea and have a nutty, earthy flavour as well as a firm texture that works really well in vegetarian dishes. However, traditionally they are eaten, with small amounts of meat, cooked with stews or accompany cured meat.

There are also other exotic-sounding pea varieties like marrowfat, which pairs well with wasabi or horseradish; red fox carlin, a great alternative to the chickpea; rare whole yellow peas that are good in curries; and whole blue peas which offer plenty of bite.

“All around the world traditional dishes are made with peas like dhal, refried peas or even mushy peas.It’s a subsistence food that people used to live on and we have forgotten about it. We just see them as accompaniments to fish or something to put in a sandwich – something humble – but they are delicious,” enthuses Meldrum.

Exploring other cultures

But it’s not just the taste and versatility of these pulses that makes them a good sell. Most are high in proteinand have a good balance of carbohydrate, minerals and fibre – the latter in particular is lacking in the British diet.

So why else should chefs get in on the pulse parade?

“I think fundamentally because they taste brilliant, they are brilliant ingredients, and there are a whole host of recipes that aren’t particularly explored in UK that we could be looking at as they used around the world with various cultures,” Meldrum says.

“They are also nutritionally really interesting. They just bring something different to the story. Chefs are increasingly interested in provenance and where ingredients are from and if they can add something.”

With plant-based eating all the rage, pulses shouldn’t be a hard sell either. Pass the peas, please.

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