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Highly nutritious and protein-dense, chickpeas are a staple in many diets around the world.
They are the second most widely grown pulses on Earth after soybeans.
Intensive selection and breeding over their 10,000-year history has stripped the chickpea of its genetic diversity, meaning they are more susceptible to the impact of climate change.
Kew scientists are working to collect and protect the wild cousins of the chickpea, to ensure a future for this store cupboard staple.
The earliest remains of chickpea seeds were found in Syria and Turkey, dating back to around 7000BC.
Slender, erect annual that can grow up to 100cm tall. The simple or branched stems produce feathery leaves and white, lilac, or violet flowers. The hairy seedpods can grow up to 3cm long and 1.5cm wide, and contain up to two seeds.
Food and drink
Chickpeas are an excellent source of protein and a key part of cuisines around the world.
They are consumed fresh, boiled or roasted, salted as snacks, blended to make hummus or processed to make chickpea flour which is a staple in many South Asian dishes and can be used to make gluten-free breads.
The thick liquid (aquafaba) found in cans of cooked legumes, like chickpeas, can be used as a vegan egg replacement.
Ground chickpeas have been used as a coffee substitute since the 18th century, and are still used as a caffeine-free alternative today.
The stems, leaves and seedpods of chickpeas produce fluids that contain malic and oxalic acid. These sour fluids have been used to treat many ailments, from bronchitis to sunstroke.
In Chile, a cooked mixture of chickpeas and milk is used to alleviate diarrhoea in infants.
Materials and fuels
Chickpeas can be used to make an adhesive that is suitable for plywood.
They produce starch that is used for textile sizing and gives a light finish to silk, wool and cotton cloth.
Chickpea leaves are said to produce an indigo-like dye.
Did you know?
Two types of chickpeas are mainly eaten and grown: Desi and Kabuli. The first have small, dark, angular seeds and blue-violet flowers; the second have larger, lighter-coloured, smoother seeds and white flowers.
Chickpeas are nitrogen fixing, meaning they can harvest nitrogen from the air and use it to produce protein. They can fix up to 140kg of nitrogen per hectare per growing season (around four months) from the air.
Chickpeas are one of the main plants susceptible to infestation by the insect pest cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera).
India is the top producer of chickpeas worldwide, producing nearly ten million metric tons of the popular plant in 2019.
Where in the world?
Tropical, subtropical and warm temperate zones.
Find it in our gardens
A botanic garden in southwest London with the world’s most diverse living plant collection.
LocationView map of Kew Gardens
Best time to see
Chickpeas are reliant on water; crop yield can reduce by 50% under drought conditions.
So, it is crucial for our future food security that we investigate how chickpeas can become drought resilient, especially in the face of climate change.
Kew partners at ICARDA are researching the possibility that wild cousins of cultivated chickpeas in Morocco have a drought-tolerating gene.
These wild relatives can be crossed with cultivated chickpeas, allowing plant breeders to produce new varieties that are more resilient to climate change.
During the Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change project, we worked with partners in 25 countries from 2011 to 2021 to collect and protect the wild relatives of the chickpea alongside other important crops.
Over 13,000 individual chickpea crop wild relative seeds were collected by our partners in Lebanon and Pakistan and added to international crop breeding programmes in an effort to create more resilient crops.
We are also looking into whether chickpeas can be grown successfully in the UK climate, and experimenting with this idea on a small plot in our Kitchen Garden.