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Legumes and Pulses: Fresh and Dried Beans and Peas

Updated on February 16, 2012
Pulses are dried legumes, and are found in many colors and shapes.
Pulses are dried legumes, and are found in many colors and shapes. | Source

Legumes are the pod fruits of leguminous plants and dried legumes are called ‘pulses’. Both are a great addition to a healthy diet. Legumes are rich in protein and fiber, and are good sources of potassium and iron. They can be fresh, used as a crop for livestock, or dried for storage and later eating. Pulse is a term for legumes that are dried and reserved for consumption. Fresh beans such as green beans and young soybeans are a legume, but only dried soybeans are considered a pulse.

Most dried beans or peas (pulses) are best prepared with a soaking before they are cooked to increase digestibility, and also decrease stomach or intestinal upset. Lentils and split peas can omit this step in most cases, but other beans such as dried kidney, navy, soybean and others need to be soaked. For those short on time, legumes are also found in the canned foods aisle, ready to use: simply drain, rinse and add.

How to Soak Dried Beans

There are two basic ways to soak dried beans: the quick soak method and the overnight soak method.

  • Quick soak method: With this method, bring the beans and a large amount of water (1 cup beans to about 3 to 4 cups water) to a full boil, remove the pan from heat and let them soak for about an hour. Drain, rinse and use.
  • Overnight soak method: When you have time, another way to soak them is letting them set for several hours to overnight in water. Simply add water to the beans and let set for about 8 hours (or overnight). Drain, rinse and use.

Popular Varieties of Dried Legumes

Black Beans

Often called turtle beans, these are smaller beans with a black color to them. The are great cooked then ground up for making fried patties, and go well with spices such as cumin, peppers and coriander.

Black Eyed Peas

These dried peas have a distinctive flavor and are popular in Southern Cuisine. They are distinguished by their white/creamy overall color and a black spot with a dot of white in the middle.

Great Northern Beans

These beans are white in color and have a very neutral flavor. They are most often used in soups, but can be cooked and used in salads, or seasoned and served alone.

Kidney Beans

Red colored beans in the shape of a kidney. These have a slightly sweet, meaty taste to them and are a popular legume for cold salads and an accompaniment to rice.


Lentils come in many different colors, and can be large to small in size. What makes them easy to spot when dried is that they have a round disk shape. The flavors range from mild to bold. Lentils are an important legume in Indian cuisine.

Lima Beans

Also called butter beans, lima beans can be very large in size to very small, but they all have a flat kidney shape to them. They have a soft texture when cooked and are often served on their own.

Navy Beans

Similar to Great Northern beans in flavor and usage. Navy beans are a popular bean for soups.

Pinto Beans

An important legume in Mexican cooking, Pintos have a great flavor. They can be served on their own, whole or mashed up. These beans are a favorite in bean dips.

Split Peas

These are found in different colors, and are good in soups. For soups they may be left whole for texture, or cooked and pureed for use as a natural thickener.


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