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Garbanzo Bonanza

As vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian and veggie-centric options have become the norm and not the exception on menus, chickpeas (AKA garbanzo beans) are filling more roles. Naf Naf Grill, Garbanzo, Roti and other fast casual chains dedicated to Eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food are helping to fuel this trend with falafel (chickpea fritters) at center plate.

As momentum builds, chickpeas are moving far beyond salad bars, hummus tubs and ethnic restaurants. Menu trend-watcher Nancy Kruse has observed that falafel is becoming a standard on better burger menus, where it is the go-to vegetarian patty option. Umami Burger, for example, menus a falafel burger with lettuce, tomato, tzatziki sauce, pickled red onion and crushed avocado. Falafel is also a hit at 1000 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria, where it’s a topping along with mozzarella, feta, tomatoes and arugula.

Chef Michael Holleman, chairman of the advisory board of the Whole Grains Council and director of culinary development at InHarvest, a Bemidji, Minn.-based provider of artisan grains, rice, legumes and blends, notes that for back-of-the-house considerations, chickpeas are a no-soak, quick-cook option for adding texture and nutrition to existing menu items, like grain salads and side dishes. He advises using the more familiar chickpeas in blends that introduce lesser-known pulses.

“We’ve seen this work with grains,” says Holleman. “Blending red and black quinoa gives people a taste of nutty and earthy notes along with the more neutral white version of the grain.” He notes that tri-color bean spreads could have similar appeal in salads and spreads.

Meanwhile, bakers are experimenting with chickpea flour for gluten-free flatbreads and crackers, and chefs are using chickpea flours and mashes for “fries,” balls, and better-for-you fried treats.

Some manufacturers are even incorporating chickpeas into dessert. Portland, Ore.-based Lilly’s makes a chocolate hummus, and Boston-based Delighted By offers a line of chickpea dips in four flavors: brownie batter, snickerdoodle, orange ginger, and chocolate chip.

Grocerant-Ready Ideas:

  • Falafel as an option on made-to-order sandwich menus
  • Chickpea fries and small fritters on the hot bar
  • Variety packs and family-size portions of hummus
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