Pulses: a nutritious, healthy and sustainable super food

Rue Swabey
April 12, 2022

Pulses are a top superfood. They tick every box: they benefit both you and the environment, they are economical and tasty and they have an 18 month shelf-life cementing their position as an essential part of the food security equation. Recently pulses have made a foray into a new market as an important meat substitute. 

There are thousands of varieties, all with unique tastes and preparation methods. Global pulse consumption hit 92 million tons in 2020 with annual growth of 3% over the previous decade. Over the same period the global pulse trade grew from 13 million to 17 million tons. The OECD-FAO expects consumption to increase to 114 million tons by 2030 with global trade forecast to exceed 20 million tons by 2030.

Pulses are the edible dry seeds of legumes including, but not limited to, lentils, chickpeas, cowpeas, dried beans like kidney beans, turtle beans, broad beans and butter beans. The edible seeds of the lupin plant also fall into the pulse category. 

Pulses are an affordable source of protein and essential minerals and are thus critical for food security. Pulses have a protein content of between 20% and 25% which is double that of wheat and triple that of rice. They contain high levels of fibre which is proven to reduce cholesterol thereby decreasing the risk of heart disease. Importantly the carbohydrates in pulses are absorbed slowly (as opposed to wheat) which helps in the control of diabetes and obesity. As a result, governments around the world are promoting the regular consumption of pulses.  

From an environmental perspective, legumes are seriously good news. Legumes can grow on dry land with minimal water and fertilizer as compared with other crops.  Legumes have a beneficial impact on the soil as they help fix nitrogen instead of depleting it and they feed soil microbes which benefits soil health. Legumes are often used in good soil management practices as part of rotational crop programmes.  The production and trade of pulses has the potential to grow exponentially, as it mitigates the impact of climate change thanks to reduced greenhouse gas emissions and increased carbon sequestration fulfilling Sustainable Development Goals. 

By-products from the pulses supply chain provide animal feed which indirectly contributes to food security. Reducing the amount of cereals and soybeans consumed by livestock has economic and environmental benefits.

Pulses are a mainstay of diets in India, many African nations, the Middle East, India, parts of SE Asia,  Latin American and the Caribbean. India leads per capita consumption at 13 kilos per year. In fact, India’s consumption outstrips its production. Hispanic communities have a longstanding  culinary relationship with pulses, introducing beans to tables across the United States. 

The production, consumption and the global trade of pulses is on an upward trajectory with the largest producers of pulses being India, Canada, Myanmar, China, Brazil and Australia. India’s lead in global imports is followed by Bangladesh and China. The top exporters are Myanmar, Australia and Canada. 

DCX Pulses is a digital marketplace for the global trade of more than 40 varieties of pulses. Users on the platform connect with vetted counterparties, agree contract terms and book services including inspection and shipping.