Nutritional quality and health benefits of chickpea
(Cicer arietinum L.): a review
A. K. Jukanti1, P. M. Gaur1*, C. L. L. Gowda1 and R. N. Chibbar2
1 International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Patancheru, AP 502 324, India
2 Department of Plant Sciences, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada S7N 5A8
British Journal of Nutrition
Vol. 108, S1, Pages S11-S26, August 2012
This is author version post print archived in the official Institutional Repository of
Full Title: Nutritional quality and health benefits of chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.): A
Article type: Review
Authors: AK Jukanti1, PM Gaur1*, CLL Gowda1 and RN Chibbar2
Affiliation: 1International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics
(ICRISAT), Patancheru, Andhra Pradesh-502324, India.
2Deptartment of Plant Sciences, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan,
S7N 5A8, Canada.
* Corresponding author: PM Gaur, Principal Scientist (Chickpea Breeding), ICRISAT,
Patancheru, Andhra Pradesh-502324, India. Email: email@example.com
E-mail addresses of authors: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com;
Key words Chickpea: Quality: Nutrition: Health
Running Head: Chickpea: Nutritional Properties and Its Benefits
Nutritional Quality and Health Benefits of chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.): A Review
Abstract Chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.) is an important pulse crop grown and consumed
all over the world, especially in the Afro-Asian countries. It is a good source of
carbohydrates and protein, and the protein quality is considered to be better than other
pulses. Chickpea has significant amounts of all the essential amino acids except sulfur
containing types, which can be complemented by adding cereals to daily diet. Starch is
the major storage carbohydrate followed by dietary fibre, oligosaccharides and simple
sugars like glucose and sucrose. Lipids are present in low amounts but chickpea is rich in
nutritionally important unsaturated fatty acids like linoleic and oleic acid. β-sitosterol,
campesterol and stigmasterol are important sterols present in chickpea oil. Calcium,
magnesium, phosphorus and especially potassium are also present in chickpea seeds.
Chickpea is a good source of important vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin, thiamin,
folate and the vitamin A precursor, β-carotene. Like other pulses, chickpea seeds also
contain anti-nutritional factors which can be reduced or eliminated by different cooking
techniques. Chickpea has several potential health benefits and, in combination with other
pulses and cereals, it could have beneficial effects on some of the important human
diseases like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, digestive diseases and some cancers.
Overall, chickpea is an important pulse crop with a diverse array of potential nutritional
and health benefits.
Chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.), also called garbanzo bean or Bengal gram, is an Old
World pulse and one of the seven Neolithic founder crops in the Fertile Crescent of the
Near East(1). Currently, chickpea is grown in over 50 countries across the Indian
subcontinent, North Africa, the Middle East, southern Europe, the Americas and
Australia. Globally, chickpea is the third most important pulse crop in production, next to
dry beans and field pea(2). During 2006-09, the global chickpea production area was
about 11.3 million ha, with production of 9.6 million metric tonnes (mmt) and average
yield of 849 kg ha-1(2). India is the largest chickpea producing country with an average
production of 6.38 million MT during 2006-09, accounting for 66% of global chickpea
production(2). The other major chickpea producing countries include Pakistan, Turkey,
Australia, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Iran, Mexico, Canada and USA.
There are two distinct types of cultivated chickpea, Desi and Kabuli. Desi (microsperma)
types have pink flowers, anthocyanin pigmentation on stems, and a colored and thick
seed coat. The kabuli (macrosperma) types have white flowers, lack anthocyanin
pigmentation on stem, white or beige-colored seeds with a ram’s head shape, thin seed
coat and smooth seed surface(3). In addition an intermediate type with pea shaped seeds of
local importance is recognized in India. The seed weight generally ranges from 0.1 to
0.3g and 0.2 to 0.6g in desi and kabuli types respectively(4). The desi types account for
about 80-85% of the total chickpea area and are mostly grown in Asia and Africa(5). The
kabuli types are largely grown in West Asia, North Africa, North America and Europe.
There is a growing demand for chickpea due to its nutritional value. In the semi-arid
tropics chickpea is an important component of the diets of those individuals who cannot
afford animal proteins or those who are vegetarian by choice. Chickpea is a good source
of carbohydrates and protein, together constituting about 80% of the total dry seed
mass(6,7) in comparison to other pulses. Chickpea is cholesterol free and is a good source
of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals(8,9).
Globally, chickpea is mostly consumed as a seed food in several different forms and
preparations are determined by ethnic and regional factors(10,11). In the Indian
subcontinent, chickpea is split (cotyledons) as dhal and ground to make flour (besan) that
is used to prepare different snacks(12,13). In other parts of the world, especially in Asia and
Africa chickpea is used in stews, soups/salads and consumed in roasted, boiled, salted
and fermented forms(14). These different forms of consumption provide consumers with
valuable nutrition and potential health benefits.
Despite chickpea being a member of the “founder crop package”(15) with potential
nutritional/medicinal qualities, it has not received due attention for research like other
founder crops (e.g. wheat or barley). Chickpea has been and is being consumed by
humans since ancient times owing to its good nutritional properties. Furthermore,
chickpea is of interest as a functional food with potential beneficial effects on human
health. Although other publications have described the physicochemical and nutritional
characteristics of chickpea, there is limited information relating its nutritional
components to health benefits. This review attempts to bridge this void and review the
literature regarding the nutritional value of chickpeas and their potential health benefits.
Chickpea Grain Composition
Classification of Carbohydrates
Different carbohydrates are classified into (i) available (mono and disaccharides), which
are enzymatically digested in the small intestine and (ii) unavailable (oligosaccharides,
resistant starch, non-cellulosic polysaccharides, pectins, hemicelluloses and cellulose),
which are not digested in the small intestine(16). The total carbohydrate content in
chickpea is higher than pulses (Table 2). Chickpea has: (i) monosaccharides- ribose,
glucose, galactose and fructose (ii) disaccharides-sucrose, maltose and (iii)
oligosaccharides- stachyose, ciceritol, raffinose and verbascose(20). The amount of these
fractions varies though not significantly, between desi and kabuli genotypes (Table 1).
Mono-, Di-, and Oligosaccharides
Sanchez-Mata et al.(17) reported chickpea monosaccharide concentration for galactose
(0.05 g 100-g), ribose (0.11 g 100-g), fructose (0.25 g 100-g) and glucose (0.7 g 100-g).
Maltose (0.6%) and sucrose (1-2%) have been reported to be the most abundant free
disaccharides in chickpea(9). Pulse seeds contain some of the highest concentrations of
oligosaccharides among all the crops. Oligosaccharides are not absorbed or hydrolyzed
by human digestive system but fermented by colonic bacteria to release gases or
flatulence(18). α-Galactosides are the second most abundant carbohydrates in the plant
kingdom after sucrose(19,20) and in chickpea they account for ~62% of total sugar (mono-,
di-, and oligosaccharides) content(17). The two important groups of α-galactosides present
in chickpea are: (i) raffinose family of oligosaccharides (RFOs) - raffinose
(trisaccharide), stachyose [tetrasaccharide], and verbascose [pentasaccharide](20) and (ii)
galactosyl cyclitols - including ciceritol (Table 1)(21). Ciceritol was isolated for the first
time from chickpea seeds by Quemener and Brillouet(22) and later confirmed by Bernabé
et al.(21). Ciceritol and stachyose, two important galactosides in chickpea constitutes 36-
43% and 25% respectively of total sugars (mono-, di-, and oligosaccharides) in chickpea
α-Galactosides are neither absorbed nor hydrolyzed in the upper gastro-intestinal tract of
humans, accumulating in the large intestine of the human digestive system. Humans lack
α-galactosidase, the enzyme responsible for degrading these oligosaccharides(20).
Therefore, α-galactosides undergo microbial fermentation by colonic bacteria resulting in
the production of hydrogen, methane and carbon dioxide, major components of flatulent
gases(24). The expulsion of these gases is responsible for abdominal discomfort. Gas
production is higher in chickpea compared to other pulses, and this could be due to a
higher content of oligosaccharides in chickpea(25,26). Germination decreases raffinose,
stachyose and verbascose content(27). Chickpea has lower values for absolute flatulent α-
galactosides [1.56 g 100-g] compared to other pulses like white beans [2.46 g 100-g],
lentils [2.44 g 100-g] and pinto beans [2.30 g 100-g](17).
Polysaccharides are high molecular weight monosaccharide polymers present as storage
carbohydrate (e.g. starch) or as structural carbohydrates (e.g. cellulose) providing
structural support(9). Among the storage polysaccharides, chickpea is reported to
synthesize and store starch and not galactomannans(9). Starch is the major storage carbon
reserve in pulse seeds(6). Starch is made up of two large glucan polymers, amylose and
amylopectin, in which the glucose residues are linked by α-(1→4) bonds to form a linear
molecule and the linear molecule is branched by α-(1→6) linkages(6). The amylopectin
side chains are packed into different polymorphic forms in the lamellae of the starch
grains: ‘A’ type in cereals and ‘C’ type in pulses. The ‘C’ polymorph is considered to be
of intermediate type between ‘A’ polymorph in cereals and ‘B’ polymorph in tubers in
packing density and structure(6). The content of starch varies from 41-50% of the total
carbohydrates(28-30), with kabuli types having more soluble sugars (sucrose, glucose and
fructose) compared to the desi types(28). The total starch content of chickpea seeds is
reported to be ~ 525 g kg-1 dry matter, about 35% of total starch is considered to be
resistant starch (RS) and the remaining 65% as available starch(23,31). Cereals such as
wheat have higher amount of starch compared to chickpea(32), but the chickpea seeds
have higher amylose content [30-40% versus 25% in wheat](33,34). The in vitro starch
digestibility values (ISDV) of chickpea vary from 37-60%(35,36) are higher than other
pulses like black grams, lentils and kidney beans(37). However, the ISDV of pulses in
general are lower than cereals due to higher amylose content(38).
Dietary fibre (DF) is the indigestible part of plant food in the human small intestine. DF
is composed of poly/oligosaccharides, lignin and other plant-based substances(39). The
dietary fibres can be classified into soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre, is digested
slowly in the colon whereas the insoluble fibre is metabolically inert and aid in bowel
movement(40). The insoluble fibre undergoes fermentation aiding in the growth of the
colonic bacteria(40). Total dietary fibre content (DFC) in chickpea is 18-22 g 100-g of raw
chickpea seed(23,40) and it has higher amount of DF among pulses (Table 2). Soluble and
insoluble DFC is about 4-8 and 10-18 g 100-g of raw chickpea seed respectively(29,41). The
fibre content of chickpea hulls on a dry weight basis is lower [75%] compared to lentils
[87%] and peas [89%](29). The lower DFC in chickpea hulls can be attributed to difficulty
in separating the hull from cotyledon during milling.
The DFC of chickpea seed is equal to or higher than other pulses like lentils [Lens
culinaris] and dry peas [Pisum sativum](40). The desi types have higher total DFC and
insoluble DFC compared to the kabuli types. This could be due to thicker hulls and seed
coat in desi (11.5 % of total seed weight) compared to the kabuli types (only 4.3-4.4 % of
total seed weight)(41). Further, Wood et al.(42) have reported that the thinner seed coat in
kabuli types is due to thinner palisade and parenchyma layers with fewer
polysaccharides. Usually no significant differences are found in soluble DFC between
kabuli and desi types due to similar proportion of hemicelluloses which constitute large
part (~ 55%) of the total seed dietary fibre in kabuli and desi(43). The hemicellulosic sugar
arabinose/rhamnose is present in appreciable amounts in hull and insoluble fibre fractions
of chickpea(29). Glucose is present in large amounts in hull and soluble fibre fractions of
chickpea. Xylose is the major constituent of soluble fibre fractions in chickpea(29).
Protein calorie malnutrition is observed in infants and young children in developing
countries and includes a range of pathological conditions arising due to lack of protein
and calories in the diet(44). Malnutrition affects about 170 million people especially
preschool children and nursing mothers of developing countries in Asia and Africa(45).
Pulses provide a major share of protein and calories in Afro-Asian diet. Among the
different pulses, chickpea is reported to have higher protein bioavailability(46,47).
The protein content in chickpea significantly varies as percentage of the total dry seed
mass before (17-22%) and after (25.3-28.9%) dehulling(13,48). The differences in crude
protein concentration of kabuli [K] and desi [D] types are inconsistent showing
significant differences at times [241 g kg-1 in ‘K’ vs 217 g kg-1 in ‘D’](49) and showing no
differences at other times [217 g kg-1 in ‘K’ vs 215 g kg-1in ‘D’](41). The seed protein
content of eight annual wild species of genus Cicer, ranged from 168 g kg-1 in Cicer
cuneatum to 268 g kg-1 in Cicer pinnatifidum with an average of 207 g kg-1 over the eight
wild species(50). Chickpea protein quality is better than some pulse crops such as black
gram [Vigna mungo L.], green gram [Vigna radiata L.] and red gram [Cajanus cajan
L.](51). Additionally, there is no significant difference in protein concentration of raw
chickpea seed compared to some pulses such as black gram, lentils, red kidney bean and
white kidney bean(37).
The in vitro protein digestibility (IVPD) of raw chickpea seeds varies from 34-
76%(36,52,53). Chitra et al.(54) found higher IVPD values for chickpea genotypes [65.3-
79.4%] compared to those of pigeon pea [Cajanus cajan; 60.4 to 74.4%], mung bean
[Vigna radiata; 67.2 to 72.2%], urd bean [Vigna mungo; 55.7 to 63.3%] and soybean
[Glycine max; 62.7 to 71.6%]. The digestibility of protein from kabuli type is higher than
the protein from desi types(47,55).
Amino Acid Profile
The amino acid profiles of chickpea seed are presented in Table 3. There are some minor
variations in the quantity of a few amino acids such as lysine, tyrosine, glutamic acid,
histidine and the two combined aromatic amino acids (Table 3)(45). Generally the sulfur-
rich amino acids (methionine and cystine) are limiting in pulses. Commonly consumed
food pulses such as chickpea, field pea, green pea, lentil and common bean have ~ 1.10 g
16-g N of methionine and cystine(56), the exceptions being cowpea which has ~ 2.20 g 16-g
N of methionine and green pea which has, ~1.80 g 16-g N of cystine(45). There are no
significant differences in the amino acid profiles of kabuli and desi type chickpea(56,57).
The amino acid deficiencies in chickpea (or other pulses) could be complemented by
consuming cereals, which are rich in sulphur-containing amino acids(35). Pulses are
usually consumed along with cereals, especially in Asian countries, thereby allowing the
daily dietary amino acid requirements to be met.
Fat Content and Fatty Acid Profile
Total fat content in raw chickpea seeds varies from 2.70-6.48 %(51,58). Shad et al.(59)
reported lower values (~ 2.05 g 100-g) for crude fat content in desi chickpea varieties. Fat
content of 3.40-8.83% and 2.90-7.42% in kabuli and desi type chickpea seeds
respectively was reported by Wood and Grusak(9). Further, even higher levels (3.80-
10.20%) of fat content in chickpea was reported(24). The fat content in chickpea (6.04 g
100-g) is higher than the other pulses like lentil (1.06 g 100-g), red kidney bean (1.06 g
100-g), mungbean (1.15 g 100-g) and pigeonpea (1.64 g 100-g) and also cereals like
wheat (1.70 g 100-g) and rice (~0.60 g 100-g)(32). Chickpea is composed of
polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA; ~ 66%), monounsaturated fatty acids (~19%) and ~
15% saturated fatty acids (Table 4). On average oleic acid was higher in the kabuli types
and linoleic acid was higher in the desi types (Table 4). Chickpea is relatively a good
source of nutritionally important PUFA, linoleic acid (51.2 %; LA) and monounsaturated
oleic acid (32.6%; OA). Chickpea has higher amounts of linoleic and oleic acid compared
to other edible pulses like lentils (44.4% LA; 20.9 OA), pea (45.6 LA; 23.2 OA) and bean
46.7% LA; 28.1% OA)(56). Linoleic acid is the dominant fatty acid in chickpea followed
by oleic and palmitic acids (Table 4).
Chickpea cannot be considered an oilseed crop since its oil content is relatively low [3.8-
10%](24,60) in comparison to other important oilseed pulses like soybean or groundnut.
However, chickpea oil has medicinal and nutritionally important tocopherols, sterols and
tocotrienols(61). The content of different sterols and tocopherols in chickpea is presented
in Table 5. Sitosterol (72.52-76.10%; Table 5) was the dominant sterol in chickpea oil
followed by campesterol. The α-tocopherol content reported by USDA(35) is lower than
other reported values in Table 5. But, α-tocopherol content in chickpea is relatively
higher (8.2 mg 100-g) than other pulses like lentil (4.9 mg 100-g), green pea (1.3 mg 100-
g), red kidney bean (2.1 mg 100-g) and mungbean (5.1 mg 100-g )(32). The α-tocopherol
content, coupled with concentration of δ-tocopherol, which is a potent antioxidant
property(62), makes chickpea oil oxidatively stable and contributes to better shelf life
during storage(63). Triacylglycerol is the predominant neutral lipid in desi chickpea oil
and phospholipids are also found in oil(61).
The physicochemical characteristics of chickpea oil are summarized in Table 6. The
relative index values of chickpea (1.49) are higher than those of soybean (1.46) and
groundnut (1.47), the two important oil-bearing pulses(64). The iodine values (IV) of
chickpea oil (111.87-113.69, Wijs method) were also higher than the IV of groundnut
(80-106, Wijs method) and Phaseolus vulgaris (80.5-92.3, Wijs method)(61,65). Higher
refractive index and iodine values indicate a substantial unsaturation in chickpea oil and
this is demonstrated by the dominance of linoleic acid content(61) (Table 4). The lower
acid values observed for chickpea (Table 6) makes its oil refining easier(66). The peroxide
value for chickpea oils (3.97-6.37 mequiv/kg; Table 6) was within the maximum limit of
Codex recommendation (10 mequiv/kg) for edible oils(64).
Chickpea, like other pulses, not only brings variety to the cereal-based daily diet of
millions of people in Asia and Africa, but also provides essential vitamins and
minerals(67,68). The different minerals present in chickpea seed are presented in Table 7.
Raw chickpea seed (100 g) on an average provides about 5.0 mg 100-g of iron, 4.1 mg
100-g of zinc, 138 mg 100-g of magnesium and 160 mg 100-g of calcium. About 100g of
chickpea seed can meet daily dietary requirements of iron (1.05 mg/day in males and 1.46
mg/day in females) and zinc (4.2mg/day and 3.0 mg/day) and 200g can meet that of
magnesium (260 mg/day and 220 mg/day)(69). There were no significant differences
between the kabuli and desi genotypes except for calcium, with desi types having a
higher content than kabuli types(56,70). The amount of total iron present in chickpea is
lower (5.45 mg 100-g) compared to other pulse crops like lentils (8.60 mg 100-g) and
beans (7.48 mg 100-g)(71). The data on other minerals present in chickpea is very limited.
Selenium, a nutritionally important essential trace element is also found in chickpea seed
[8.2 μg 100-g](32,67). Chickpea is reported to have other trace elements including
aluminum [10.2 μg /g], chromium [0.12 μg/g], nickel [0.26 μg/g], lead [0.48 μg/g], and
cadmium [0.01 μg/g](32,67). The quantities reported here for aluminum, nickel, lead and
cadmium do not pose any toxicological risk.
Vitamins are required in tiny quantities; this requirement is met through a well-balanced
daily diet of cereals, pulses, vegetable, fruits, meat and dairy products. Pulses are a good
source of vitamins. As shown in Table 8, chickpea can complement the vitamin
requirement of an individual when consumed with other foods. Chickpea is a relatively
inexpensive and good source of folic acid and tocopherols [both γ and α; Table 8](72). It is
a relatively good source of folic acid coupled with more modest amounts of water soluble
vitamins like riboflavin (B2), panthothenic acid (B5) and pyridoxine (B6), and these
levels are similar or higher than that observed in other pulses [Table 9](73). However,
the niacin concentration in chickpea is lower compared to pigeonpea and lentil [Table
Plant carotenoids are lipid soluble antioxidants/pigments responsible for bright colors
(usually red, yellow and orange) of different plant tissues(75). Carotenoids are classified
into (i) oxygenated – referred to as xanthophylls, which-includes lutein, violaxanthin, and
neoxanthin and (ii) non-oxygenated – referred to as carotenes which-includes β-carotene
and lycopene(76). The important carotenoids present in chickpea include β-carotene (Table
8), lutein, zeaxanthin, β-cryptoxanthin, lycopene and α-carotene. The average
concentration of carotenoids (except lycopene) is higher in wild accessions of chickpea
than in cultivated varieties or landraces [cv. Hadas](77). β-carotene is the most important
and widely distributed carotenoid in plants and is converted to vitamin A more efficiently
than the other carotenoids(77). On a dry seed weight basis chickpea has higher amount of
β-carotene than “golden rice” endosperm(77,78) or red colored wheats(32).
Chickpea contains several phenolic compounds in the seed(9). Two important phenolic
compounds found in the chickpea are the isoflavones, biochanin A [5, 7-dihydroxy-4'-
methoxyisoflavone] and formononetin [7-hydroxy-4'-methoxyisoflavone](9). The other
phenolics detected in chickpea oil are daidzein, genistein, matairesinol, and
secoisolariciresinol(79,80). The concentration of biochanin A is higher in kabuli seeds
[1420-3080 μg/100g] compared to the desi type seeds [838μg/100g](81). The amount of
formononetin in kabuli and desi seeds is 215μg/100g and 94-126 μg/100g respectively(81).
Anti-nutritional Factors (ANFs)
Despite the potential nutritional and health-promoting value of ANFs, their presence in
chickpea limits its biological value and usage as food. Anti-nutritional factors interfere
with digestion and also make the seed unpalatable when consumed in raw form by
monogastric animal species(82). ANFs can be divided into protein and non-protein
ANFs(83). Non-protein ANFs include alkaloids, tannins, phytic acid, saponins, and
phenolics while protein ANFs include trypsin inhibitors, chymotrypsin inhibitors,
lectins and antifungal peptides [Table 10](84,85). Chickpea protease inhibitors are of two
types: (i) Kunitz type – single chain polypeptides of about 20 kDa with two disulphide
bridges which inhibit the enzyme activity of only trypsin but not chymotrypsin(86); and
(ii) Bowman-Birk Inhibitors (BBI) – which are also single chain polypeptides of about 8
kDa in size with seven disulphide bridges which inhibit the enzyme activity of both
trypsin and chymotrypsin(87,88). Protease inhibitors interfere with digestion by irreversibly
binding with trypsin and chymotrypsin in the human digestive tract. They are resistant to
the digestive enzyme pepsin and the stomach’s acidic pH(84). They negatively affect
certain necessary enzymatic modifications required during food processing like water
retaining capacity, gel-forming and foaming ability of different products(89).
Phytic acid can bind to several important divalent cations (e.g. iron, zinc, calcium and
magnesium) forming insoluble complexes and making them unavailable for absorption
and utilization in the small intestine(90-92). Tannins inhibit enzymes, reducing the
digestibility and making chickpea astringent. Saponins are commonly found in several
pulses including chickpea [Table 10](93) giving the pulses a bitter taste and making them
less preferable for consumption by humans and animals(94). Saponin content in chickpea
(56 g kg-1) is higher than other pulses like green gram (16 g kg-1), lentil (3.7-4.6 g kg-1),
fababean (4.3 g kg-1) and broadbean (3.5 g kg-1)(95).
Though the ANFs act as limiting factors in chickpea consumption, they can be reduced or
eliminated by soaking, cooking, boiling and autoclaving(58). ANFs also have beneficial
effects and these are discussed below.
Although pulses have been consumed for thousands of years for their nutritional
qualities(96), it is only during the past two to three decades that the interest in pulses as
food and their potential impact on human health been revived. Chickpea consumption is
reported to have some physiologic benefits that may reduce the risk of chronic diseases
and optimize health (discussed in detail in the following paragraphs). Therefore,
chickpeas could potentially be considered as a ‘functional food’ in addition to their
accepted role of providing proteins and fibre. Different definitions are proposed
describing the functional foods: (i) “one encompassing healthful products including,
modified food or ingredient that may provide health benefits beyond traditional
ingredients”(97) (ii) “foods that, by virtue of the presence of physiologically-active
components, provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition”(98). As discussed above,
chickpea is a relatively inexpensive source of different vitamins, minerals(9,99,100) and
several bioactive compounds (phytates, phenolic compounds, oligosaccharides, enzyme
inhibitors etc.) that could aid in potentially lowering the risk of chronic diseases. Due to
its potential nutritional value chickpea is gaining consumer acceptance as a functional
food. Recent reports of the importance of chickpea consumption in relation to health are
Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) and Cholesterol
In general, increased consumption of soluble fibre from foods results in reduced serum
total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C) and has an inverse
correlation with coronary heart disease mortality(101-106). Usually pulses and cereals have
a comparable ratio of soluble to insoluble fibres per 100g serving [~ 1:3](107). Chickpea
seeds are a relatively cheap source of dietary fibre and bioactive compounds (e.g.
phytosterols, saponins and oligosaccharides); coupled with its low glycemic index,
chickpea may be useful for lowering the risk of CVD(108). Chickpea has higher total
dietary fibre content [~18-22g](40) compared to wheat [~ 12.7g](109) and higher amount of
fat compared to most other pulses or cereals(33,110). However, two polyunsaturated fatty
acids [PUFAs], linoleic and oleic constitute almost ~ 50-60% of chickpea fat. Intake of
PUFAs such as linoleic acid (the dominant fatty acid in chickpea; Table 4) has been
shown to have a beneficial effect on serum lipids, insulin sensitivity and hemostatic
factors, thereby it could be helpful in lowering the risk of coronary heart disease(111,112).
Isoflavones are diphenolic secondary metabolites that may lower the incidence of heart
disease due to (i) inhibition of LDL-C oxidation(113,114) (ii) inhibition of proliferation of
aortic smooth muscle cells(115) (iii) maintenance of physical properties of arterial
walls(116). Ferulic and p-coumaric acids are polyphenols that are found in chickpea seeds
at low concentrations and these have been shown to reduce blood lipid levels in
rats(117,118). β-carotene, the most studied carotenoid, is also present in chickpea seeds.
Some cross-sectional and prospective studies have shown an inverse relation between the
incidence of CVD and plasma levels of antioxidants like β-carotene and vitamin E(119).
However, a large scale randomized controlled trial (RCT) involving 22,071 healthy
individuals demonstrated no benefit or harm of β-carotene supplementation (50 mg on
alternate days) on CVD, although this study concluded that β-carotene supplementation
could have some apparent benefits on subsequent vascular events(120). These neutral
results have also been supported by several other intervention and prevention trials as
reviewed by Stanner et al.(121). Therefore, despite the evidence supporting increased
occurrence of CVD with low intake of antioxidants or low levels of antioxidants in
plasma there is at present no evidence from intervention trials to support the beneficial
effect of β-carotene on CVD or CHD. The role of β-carotene, along with other vitamins
or nutrients in helping to reduce the incidence of CVD needs to be further investigated.
Foods rich in saponins are reported to reduce plasma cholesterol by 16-24 %(122). The
mechanism of cholesterol reduction is by binding to dietary cholesterol(123) or bile acids,
thereby increasing their excretion through faeces(124,125). β-sitosterol (dominant
phytosterol in chickpea) is helpful in decreasing serum cholesterol levels and incidence of
coronary heart disease(126-128). Higher intake of folic acid helps in reducing the serum
homocysteine concentrations, a risk factor for CHD(129). Folic acid supplementation was
shown to reduce the homocysteine levels by 13.4-51.7%(130-132). However, although a
meta-analysis has shown an association between elevated levels of homocysteine and risk
of CHD and stroke(133), there are no RCTs that indicate a benefit of folic acid
supplementation on the risk of CVD, CHD or stroke.
Fibre-rich chickpea-based pulse (non-soybean) diet has been shown to reduce the total
plasma cholesterol levels in obese subjects(134). The study was conducted on thirty obese
subjects (body mass index [BMI] of 32.0 ± 5.3 kg/m2) with mean age group of 36 ± 8 yrs.
The subjects were divided into two groups of fifteen each and fed with hypocaloric diet
consisting of chickpea-based pulse diet (LD) and a control diet (CD; no pulses) for a
period of eight weeks (4 days/week). After eight weeks the total cholesterol levels in the
LD fed group decreased from 215 mg/dl to 182 mg/dl whereas a smaller decrease (181
mg/dl to 173mg/dl) was observed for CD fed group(134). The proposed mechanism for
this hypocholesterolemic effect is the inhibition of fatty acid synthesis in the liver by
fibre fermentation products like propionate, butyrate and acetate(134). Short-chain fatty
acids (ex. propionate) were shown to inhibit both cholesterol and fatty acid biosynthesis
by inhibiting the acetate (provides acetyl co-A) utilization(135). Feeding a chickpea diet to
rats also resulted in a favorable plasma lipid profile(136). Thirty healthy male ‘Sprague-
Dawley’ rats were fed three different diets for eight months: normal fat diet (NFD; 5 g
fat, 22 g protein and 1381 kJ/100 g), high fat diet (HFD; lard, 20 % w/w; sugar, 4 %,
w/w; milk powder 2 %, w/w; and cholesterol [1 %, w/w] into the standard laboratory
chow, which contained 25·71 g fat, 19·54 g protein and and 1987 kJ/100 g diet) and high
fat plus chickpea diet (HFD+CP; same as HFD, but 10% crushed chickpea seed replaced
the standard chow; it contained 25·11 g fat, 19·36 g protein and 1965 kJ/100 g). Several
pro-atherogenic factors, including triacylglycerol (TAG), LDL-C, and LDL-C:HDL-C,
decreased with consuming chickpea based diet(136). Eighty four healthy ‘Sprague-
Dawley’ rats divided into fourteen groups of six each fed diets containing chickpea (49-
65.4% of diet) and peas (46-62% of diet) for thirty five days recorded lower levels of
plasma cholesterol(137). The decrease in cholesterol levels varied with the processing
method used; extrusion and boiling had similar effects for chickpeas whereas extrusion
was most effective in peas. Phytosterols present in chickpea along with other factors (e.g.
isoflavones, oligosaccharides) reduces the LDL-C levels in blood by inhibiting the
intestinal absorption of cholesterol due to the similarity in their chemical structure with
cholesterol thereby potentially reducing the risk of CHD(9,109).
Diabetes and Blood Pressure
Pulses like chickpea has a higher amount of resistant starch and amylose(109). Amylose
has a higher degree of polymerization (1667 glucose vs 540) rendering the starch in
chickpea more resistant to digestion in the small intestine ultimately resulting in lower
availability of glucose (109,138). The lower bioavailability of glucose results in slower entry
of glucose into the blood stream thus reducing the demand for insulin, resulting in
lowering the glycemic index (GI) and insulinemic postprandial response(139,140). Lowering
GI is an important aspect in reducing both the incidence and severity of type II
diabetes(141). Further, increased consumption of resistant starch is related to improved
glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity(102,142,143). Linoleic acid, a PUFA is
biologically important due to its involvement in production of prostaglandins.
Prostaglandins are involved in lowering of blood pressure and smooth muscle
constriction(144). Also, linoleic and linolenic acids are required for growth and performing
different physiological functions(145). Additionally, phytosterols like β-sitosterol, is
helpful in reducing blood pressure(126-128). Linoleic acid and β-sitosterol are the major
PUFA and phytosterol in chickpea seeds respectively, therefore chickpea seeds could be
incorporated as a part of regular diet that may help to reduce blood pressure.
Inclusion of chickpea in high-fat rodent feed reduced the deposition of visceral and
ecotopic fats resulting in hypolipidaemia and insulin-sensitizing effects in the rats(136).
Incorporation of chickpeas in a human study also led to improvements in fasting insulin
and total cholesterol content(146). Total cholesterol and fasting insulin were reduced by
7.7mg/dL and 0.75 µIU/mL respectively. In this study forty five healthy individuals were
fed with a minimum of 104 g of chickpeas per day for twelve weeks as a part of their
Butyrate is a principal SCFA (~ 18% of total volatile fatty acids) produced from
consumption of chickpea diet (200g day-1) in healthy adults(147). Butyrate is reported to
suppress cell proliferation(148) and induce apoptosis(149), which may reduce the risk of
colorectal cancer. Butyrate inhibits histone deacetylase, which prevents DNA compaction
and induces gene expression. It is also suggested that butyrate shunts the cells along the
irreversible pathway of maturation leading to cell death(149). Inclusion of β-sitosterol (the
major phytosterol in chickpea; Table 7) in rat diet reduced N-methyl-N-nitrosourea
(carcinogen)-induced colonic tumors(150). Saponin-rich food have been shown to inhibit
pre-neoplastic lesions caused by azoxymethane in the rat colon(151). Protease inhibitors
are also known to suppress carcinogenesis by different mechanisms, but their precise
targets are still unknown(83,152,153).
Lycopene, an oxygenated carotenoid present in chickpea seeds, may reduce the risk of
prostate cancer(154). Though there are association studies suggesting a role for lycopene in
protection against prostate cancer, the results from very few RCTs conducted are not
sufficient either to support or refute the role of lycopene in cancer prevention(155,156).
Ziegler(157) reported that lower levels of carotenoids either in the diet or body can enhance
the risk of certain types of cancers. Studies have shown a direct positive correlation
between carotenoid-rich diet and decreased incidence of lung and other forms of
cancer(158). The cancer prevention ability of carotenoids could be due to their antioxidant
properties(159), but the exact mode of action needs to be identified.
Biochanin A, a chickpea isoflavone, inhibits the growth of stomach cancer cells in vitro
and reduced tumor growth when the same cells were transferred to mice(79,160). Further,
chickpea isoflavone extract specifically inhibited epithelial tumour growth and had no
effect on healthy cells(161). Murillo et al.(162) have shown a 64% suppression of
azoxymethane-induced aberrant cryptic foci in rats fed with 10% chickpea flour and
indicated that saponins could be one of the factors for the reduction of lesions. N-
nitrosodiethylamine (NDEA), a nitrosoamine, is reported to cause carcinogenesis through
DNA mutation(163). Inclusion of chickpea seed-coat fibre in the diet was shown to reduce
the toxic effects of NDEA on lipid peroxidation (LPO) and anti-oxidant potential(163).
The average percentage decrease in LPO in: liver and lungs was ~21%, spleen and kidney
was ~ 15.50% and heart ~12.46%. Eighteen rats divided into three groups of six each
were fed hypercholesterolemic diet for four weeks; group I was fed the control
hypercholesterolemic diet (starch [63%], oil [10%], casein [15%], cellulose [5%], salt
mixture [5%], yeast powder [1%] and cholesterol [1%]), group II (hypercholesterolemic
diet plus NDEA [100mg/kg] and group III (group II diet + 5% chickpea seed coat fibre).
Weight Loss / Obesity
Intake of foods which are rich in dietary fibre is associated with lower body mass index
[BMI](164,165). Eating of foods with high fibre content helps in reaching satiety faster
(fullness post-meal) and this satiating effect lasts longer since fibre-rich foods require
longer time to chew and digest in the intestinal system(103,166). Additionally, consumption
of low GI foods results in increase of cholecystokinin (a gastrointestinal peptide and
hunger suppressant) and increased satiety(167-169). Diets with low GI foods resulted in
reduced insulin levels and higher weight loss compared to those with higher GI(170). Since
chickpea is considered to be a low GI food, it may help in weight loss and obesity
Chickpea supplementation in the diet prevented increased body weight and weight of
epididymal adipose tissues in rats(136). At the end of the eight month experimental period
the rats fed on high fat diet (HFD) weighed 654 g versus those fed with HFD plus
chickpea (HFD+CP; 562 g). The epididymal fat pad weight to total body weight ratio was
higher in rats fed on HFD (0·032 g/g) compared to those fed on HFD+CP (0·023 g/g;
details of this experiment are explained under CVD)(136). Therefore, chickpea being a low
GI food could be an effective choice in weight loss programs. Chickpea is reported to
decrease fat accumulation in obese subjects. This aids in improving fat metabolism and
could be helpful in correcting obesity-related disorders(136). Chickpea supplementation in
the diet resulted in increased satiation and fullness(171). Forty two participants consumed
chickpea supplemented diet (average 104g/day) for twelve weeks; this was preceded and
succeeded by their habitual diet for 4 weeks each.
Gut Health and Laxation
A significant increase (18%) in DF intake was recorded when 140g/day chickpea and
chickpea flour were consumed by nineteen healthy individuals for six weeks(172).
Similarly, Murty et al.(171) reported a 15% increase in DF intake in forty two volunteers
(were 52.17± 6.30 years old). These studies revealed an overall improvement in bowel
health accompanied by increased frequency of defecation, ease of defecation and softer
stool consistency while on chickpea diet compared to the habitual diet. The DF fibres
promote laxation/bowel function by aiding in the movement of material through the
Other Health Benefits
Chickpea seed oil contains different sterols, tocopherols and tocotrienols(173-175). These
phytosterols are reported to exhibit anti-ulcerative, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-
tumoric and anti-inflammatory properties coupled with a lowering effect on cholesterol
levels(171,176). Δ7-Avenasterol and Δ5-avenasterol, phytosterols present in chickpea oil
have antioxidant properties even at frying temperatures(177). Carotenoids like lutein and
zeaxanthin, the major carotenoids in chickpea seeds, are speculated to play a role in
senile or age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Though there are some
epidemiological and association studies suggesting a beneficial effect of lutein and
zeaxanthin on AMD, evidence from RCTs on the effect of carotenoids on AMD is not
presently available(178). Carotenoids are reported to increase natural killer cell activity(179).
Vitamin A, a derivative of β-carotene is important in several developmental processes in
humans like bone growth, cell division/differentiation and most importantly vision. It is
reported that at least three million children develop xerophthalmia (damage to cornea)
and about 250,000-500,000 children become blind due to Vitamin A deficiency(180).
Chickpea is reported to have higher levels of carotenoids (explained above) than “golden
rice” and it could be potentially be used as a source of dietary carotenoids.
Chickpea seeds have been used in traditional medicine as tonics, stimulants and
aphrodisiacs(181). Further, they are used to expel parasitic worms from the body
(anthelmintic property), as appetizers, for thirst quenching and reducing burning
sensation in the stomach(35). In the Ayurvedic system of medicine chickpea preparations
are used to treat a variety of ailments like throat problems, blood disorders, bronchitis,
skin diseases and liver or gall bladder related problems [biliousness](182). In addition to
these applications, the chickpea seeds are also used for blood enrichment, treating skin
ailments, ear infections, and liver and spleen disorders(183). Uygur people of China have
used chickpea in herbal medicine for treating hypertension and diabetes for over 2500
The information presented here shows the potential nutritional importance of chickpea
and its role in improved nutrition and health. It is an affordable source of protein,
carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins, dietary fibre, folate, β-carotene and health
promoting fatty acids. Scientific studies provide some evidence to support the potential
beneficial effects of chickpea components in lowering the risk for various chronic
diseases, although information pertaining to the role of individual chickpea components
in disease prevention and the mechanisms of action are limited to date. This is due to the
complex nature of disease etiology and various factors impacting their occurrence. It is
imperative the scientific community continues to unravel the mechanisms involved in
disease prevention and determine how food bio-actives from such foods as chickpea can
influence human health. Further research, especially well conducted RCTs, needs to be
performed to provide compelling evidence for the direct health benefits of chickpea
We would like to acknowledge the help provided by the ICRISAT library staff and other
researchers who provided us with copies of important publications used in writing this
review. The authors have no conflict of interests to declare. AKJ acquired the necessary
material and wrote most of the sections. PMG and RNC contributed to writing the
nutritional aspects of the paper. PMG also corresponded with other authors. CLLG
helped us with the introduction.
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Table 1. Different carbohydrate fractions in chickpea seeds
Wang & Daun(56)
et al.(23) (§)
K-Kabuli; D-Desi; *- in percentage of the dry weight of raw seed; †-in g 100-g dry weight; ‡-in mg g-1; §-in
g kg-1; -not measured; *and §-the type of chickpea is not specified.
Table 2. Nutrient composition of different legumes in g 100-g(32)
Chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.)
Pigeonpea (Cajanus cajan L.)
Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.)
Mung bean (Vigna radiata L.)
Peas (Pisum sativum L.)
Faba bean (Vicia faba L.)
Table 3. Amino acid content in chickpea seeds
Wang & Daun(56)
Wang et al.
K-Kabuli; D-Desi; N/D not determined; *-in mg g-1 protein; †-in g 16-g N; ‡-in g 100-g ; * & †- chickpea
type is not specified.
Table 4. Fatty acid profiles of chickpea seeds
Baker et al.(188)
Wang & Daun (56)(†)
K-Kabuli; D-Desi; *-data in wt-% of total elute; †-in % oil; ‡-in g 100-g; numbers in paranthesis indicate
range; ND-measured but not detected; -not measured; *- chickpea type is not specified.
Table 5. Important sterols and tocopherols in oil from chickpea seeds
Gopala Krishna et al.(174)
Zia-Ul-Haq et al.(63)
(mg/100g of oil)
33.94 ± 1.43
1.87 ± 0.17
186.17 ± 11.80
8.36 ± 1.40
3.67 ± 0.19
D-desi chickpea; *- the chickpea type is not specified.
Table 6. Chickpea seed oil: physical and chemical characteristics
Zai-Ul-Haq et al.(61)
Shad et al.(59)
Total oil (%)
Acid values (mg KOH/g)
Iodine values (Wijs method )
Saponification values(mg KOH/g)
Unsaponifiable matter (% w/w)
Relative density (400C; g/cm3)
Refractive index (400C)
Monoacylglycerols (MAG; %)
Diacylglycerols (DAG; %)
Triacylglycerols (TAG; %)
Calorific value (kca/100g sample)
Table 7. Mineral constituents of chickpea seed in mg 100-g
Ibáñez et al.(70)
Wang & Daun(56)
*-in μg g-1; †-chickpea type is not specified.
Table 8. Vitamins in chickpea seed
Chavan et al.
Wang & Daun(56)
Ciftci et al.
Panthothenic acid (B5)
α-tocopherol (Vit E)
(In μg 100-g)
Vitamin A, RAE
K-Kabuli; D-Desi; *- in mg 100-g; ‡-in μg 100-g ; *&‡-chickpea type is not specified.
Table 9. Vitamin content in different legumes in mg 100-g (56)
(γ + α)
Vit -Vitamin; Vitamin A & B12 not detected in these legumes; *- adopted from(32); †- in μg 100-g.
Table 10. Anti-nutritional factors in chickpea
Alajaji & El-
Trypsin Inhibitor *
Chymotrypsin Inhibitor *
Amylase Inhibitor †
Haemagglutinin activity ‡
3.03 (1.55-6.10) ¶
*-Units mg-1 protein; †-in units g-1; ‡-in units mg-1 sample; §-in mg 100-g; ¶-in mg g-1; **- in units g-1; ††- in
mg 100-g; others in g 100-g dry weight of sample; Note: chickpea type is not specified in any of the citations