They’re delicious, nutritious, sustainable and affordable. Yes, pulses really are chameleons, adaptable to suit any dish or cuisine, and the super food of the future, as food writer Jenny Chandler told guests at last night’s UK launch of the International Year of Pulses (IYP) at SRA Member and Three Star Food Made Good Rated The Gate Restaurant in Islington.

Yes, that’s right, the United Nations has designated 2016 as the International Year of Pulses to, in its own words: “heighten public awareness of the nutritional benefits of pulses as part of sustainable food production aimed towards food security and nutrition.” Or, as one of last night’s speakers, Milan Shah, put it more poetically, “pulses are the golden thread woven through the fabric of the more balanced and sustainable world we all wish to see”.

If it’s stats and facts you’re after to convince you of the benefits of these amazing, nutritionally dense legumes (chickpeas, lentils, dry peas and beans), then here we go:

  • Lentils deliver double the protein per serving of quinoa
  • It takes 43 gallons of water to produce 1 lb. of pulses
  • It takes roughly 800-1,800 gallons of water to produce 1 lb. of meat

And if you’re after one final argument to pop the chickpea on top of the cake – then how about the cost – a serving of lentils costs about 7p – compared with £1 for beef.

So, sustainability and affordability covered. What about the health benefits?

Pulses are packed with nutrients and are a fantastic source of protein. They are made up of about 20-25 percent of protein by weight, which is double the protein content of wheat and triple that of rice.

Pulses have a low fat content and contain zero cholesterol. They are a significant source of dietary fibre – packing in four times more than brown rice. Since they don’t contain gluten, they are an ideal food for coeliacs. Additionally, pulses are rich in minerals and B-vitamins, all of which play a vital role in health.

And at the launch celebration at The Gate (one of 141 Pulse Feasts celebrated on all six continents), guests were treated to a fabulous array of delicious dishes demonstrating pulses’ huge flexibility.

Egyptian Faba bean and chickpea falafel, American red kidney bean burgers, Chinese crispy won ton baskets with sprouted mung beans, Aduki bean koftas, Chocolate Brownies (made with pea and lentil flour) – these were just some of the extraordinary variety of platters and bowls your correspondent enjoyed. And that’s not to mention the Jalapeno Margaritas with tequila infused Pinto beans. Did you know you could use pulses for cocktails?

Is this the most versatile food type?

With increasing numbers of people driven by environmental, health and economic factors to look for an alternative protein source – here it is staring us all in the face. All you need to do is get creative, start building them into your menu and awaken your customers to the delicious joys of pulses. The humble chick pea alone can be turned into dozens of dishes, from hummus to dahls to hearty stews and soups. Or just try swapping half the meat with lentils in dozens of different meat dishes, or substitute cream with blended beans for delicious soups.

So, it’s time to show that you #LovePulses (that’s the official hashtag, along with #IYP2016). Last night pulses were trending on Twitter with global social media reach of over 20 million! Since the International Year of Quinoa in 2013, sales of that ancient grain have risen by 160%. So all the signs are that this will be the year to have your finger on the pulse! Take a look at this really useful factsheet for loads more tips on getting the most out of pulses: IYP US brochure 151113

Sue Dibb, co-ordinator of Eating Better Alliance, told guests at the launch party that we need to dispel the myth that animal protein is superior. Too often, she added, we’re being told about having to give something up, whereas in this case, we’re encouraging people to take up something positive. This point was echoed by Jenny Chandler, author of cookbook Pulse, who neatly articulated our message to consumers to eat less meat but better quality, when she said: “We need to get carnivores into pulses, because by using affordable pulses for a number of meals they can then afford to buy really good quality meat.” If restaurants can offer their customers dishes that look good, taste good and are good for their customers and the planet, then everyone’s a winner.

We’ve partnered with the IYP organisers in the UK and together we’ll be promoting restaurants serving pulses and their recipes. Please do take this opportunity to send us your favourite recipes – as simple or elaborate as you like. They will be featured on the global Pulses website.

To help encourage more people to discover the joy of pulses the IYP organisers are also looking for prizes. They will cover the cost price of any meals for four and market it widely through all of their available channels including regional media coverage.

Please contact Tom Tanner here at the SRA for more details on 020 7479 4235 and send him your recipes and meal offers to tom@thesra.org.

You can find out more about International Year of Pulses here  and here.

It’s time to #LovePulses.