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The Real Foods Guide to Pulses

2016 is the International Year of Pulses. If you’re wondering why, then look no further.

What are pulses?

Simply put, pulses are peas, beans and lentils that have been harvested to be dried and sold as food.. They’re also sometimes referred to as leguminous cereals. A portion is around 80 grams (roughly 3 tablespoons), and counts as one of your ‘five a day’, only one however, you’ll still need to eat plenty of fresh fruit and veg to stay healthy!

Why are pulses good for you?

Pulses are brilliant sources of protein, (meaning they are of particular use to people who don’t eat meat, fish or dairy), they’re also great for extending meals, throw in a handful to casseroles, stews and soups to provide extra nutrients and stretch the meal further.

Pulses are also excellent sources of iron, starch, complex carbohydrates and fibre in your diet. They are cheap, low fat and extremely tasty! Soluble fibre makes you feel full which may reduce your appetite, helpful if you are watching your weight. 

They can help to reduce cholesterol (reducing your chances of heart attacks and strokes), manage diabetes and lose weight. Pulses are useful reducing blood sugar spikes and lowering blood pressure, they are also a great source of folate (an incredibly useful B vitamin). People avoiding gluten or wheat can happily eat all pulses.

Breakdown of pulses and their cooking times





Uses in cooking


Aduki Bean 









No (if you do want to, 2 hours ought to do it)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

45 – 60 minutes if simmering from soaked.

Up to 2 hours if unsoaked.

Pressure cooker 14-20 mins

Pre-soaked -pressure cooker 5-9 mins


Popular in the Far East, especially Japan, Aduki Beans are a hard dark red bean, which are extensively used in macrobiotic cooking. They have a strong nutty flavour.

Prized for their health-giving properties, reportedly giving benefits to the liver and kidneys.

Easier to digest than other beans.


Widely used in sweet dishes in China and Japan often cooked, pureed and added to sugar to make a paste to use in sweets and desserts.

Many folk cook them with rice, their red colour lending the dish a lovely pink hue.

They are the main ingredient in Dim Sum fillings.


Very low in fat (even less than the other beans on this list), with a high protein count. Also known as the ‘weight loss bean’ as they are filling yet low in calories.

Macrobiotics consider Aduki beans to be ‘Yang’ or warming.



Borlotti Bean

Otherwise known as Cranberry Bean




Yes (minimum of 4 hours)





1 1/2  - 2 hours

Pressure cooker 20-25 mins

Pre-soaked -pressure cooker
20-25 mins

A beige coloured bean with red markings.Borlotti beans are also known as cranberry beans (from those red marks) or French horticultural beans. 

They have a nutty taste and a creamy texture.

Borlotti beans make an excellent salad bean.

Try cooking with garlic, peppercorns and drizzle with olive oil for a side dish.

They work well in soups and casseroles.

Borlotti beans provide a good balance of complex carbohydrates and proteins. They provide a slow, steady source of glucose making it a good food for diabetics. 

Black Turtle Bean




Yes (minimum of 4 hours soaking)




1 ½ hours

Pressure cooker 22- 30 mins

Pre-soaked - pressure cooker 4-6 mins


A small, shiny, black bean with a dense almost meaty texture. Some people liken their flavour to mushrooms.

They hold their shape well in cooking.

Widely used in Latin American, Cajun, Creole and Mexican recipes

Particularly popular for burritos, they are also great in soups.

Try adding to rice for a Latin American inspired starter or light lunch

The water they are cooked in is often kept to lend colour and seasoning to soups and casseroles.

Black Turtle Beans are brilliant for supporting digestive tract health - even better than lentils or chickpeas. In addition they are very high in phytonutrients (from their black colour).

Blackeye Bean


Pressure cooker 6-7 mins

Pre-soaked - pressure cooker 3-5 mins

Small creamy coloured bean with a distinctive black marking where they were attached to the pod (the eye).

Widely used in African and American cooking they are often referred to a Black Eyed Peas

Popular in 'rice and peas' they pick up flavours and seasoning easily. Traditionally served in the USA for Hogmanay to bring luck

A good source of insoluble fibre and high in protein. They are high in iron and phytonutrients.

Broad Beans

Known more specifically as Fava Bean in a dried state






Yes (at least 8 hours or overnight)

Bicarbonate of soda will help soften tough beans



45 mins -1 1/2 hours (depends on size and whether pre-shelled)

Pressure cook - around 4 mins

Pressure cooker 25-30 mins

Pre-soaked - pressure cooker 10-12 mins

A large, flat bean (you might even call it broad!) Almost a meaty bean, they are members of the pea family.

Split dried beans don't need soaking and cook quickly in under 30 minutes.

Essential ingredient for Egyptian Ful Medames (a spicy stew)

A simple way to prepare them is to toss with a little olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and fresh sage. Add salt and pepper to taste. For the best flavour, let stand about an hour to combine the flavours. Try adding them to pasta, rice dishes and soups.


They're a great source of protein and carbohydrates, as well as vitamins A, B1 and B2.




Butter Bean

Otherwise known as Lima Bean






(minimum of 8 hours or overnight)




1-1 ½ hours

Pressure cooker 12-15 mins

Pre-soaked - pressure cooker 5-7 mins



Large, white beans with a creamy texture that have a soft almost floury texture when cooked.

Originally from Peru (hence their other name the Lima Bean), they're usually called butter beans in the UK. Partly for their pale colour but mostly for their creamy texture when cooked.

Like haricot beans they pick up flavours and seasoning well and are useful in soups, casseroles or simply cooked with onion and garlic and dressed with lemon and parsley.

Great as a pate or dip and widely used in American and Italian recipes.

Like all the beans they are an excellent source of soluble fibre, protein, copper and manganese.

Also high in B vitamins.



Calypso Bean





Yes (4 hours minimum)

1 - 1 1/2 hours

Pressure cooker  12-15 mins

Pre-soaked - pressure cooker 5-7 mins


A rare heirloom bean, half-white and half-black (which is why it's sometimes called a yin yang or Dalmatian bean.) When cooked the markings fade somewhat but the beans double in size.

A firm texture with a similar flavour to potato.

A creamy, rich texture and brilliant in salads, stews and soups. Combined with rice they are great for stuffing veg.

Popular in chowders and great with quinoa for a salad. 



Cannellini Bean 

Otherwise known as White Kidney Bean


Yes (minimum of 4 hours soaking)



Boil for a minimum of 10 minutes to remove toxins.

Simmer for 1-2 hours depending on their size.

Pressure cooker 25-30 mins

Pre-soaked - pressure cooker 6-8 mins

Cannellini Beans are a white kidney bean widely used in Italian cuisine. They're a basic ingedient in minestrone soup.

When cooked they have a nutty, mild flavour and creamy almost fluffy texture. 

Ideal for soups, casseroles and salads. Particularly good in mixed bean dishes.

Try mashing into a puree with garlic, olive oil and seasoning.

Make your own baked beans, adding your favourite spices, onions, tomatoes and a little brown sugar.

White beans like Cannellini are the most abundant plant-based source of phosphatidylserine (PS). PS helps to improve the performance of athletes, reduce endocrine stress and may be beneficial for kids with ADHD.


Otherwise known as Garbanzo Bean or Gram (hence Gram Flour)



Yes (minimum 8 hours or overnight)




1-2 hours simmering

Pressure cooker 35-40 mins

Pre-soaked - pressure cooker 13-15 mins


Small, fawn coloured bean eaten for millennia across the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

When ground and crushed the resultant flour is known as Gram Flour or Chana Dahl.


Used in hummus, falafel and even cakes!

They are excellent in stews and curries and are a popular crunchy snack when baked with seasoning.


High protein count, rich in nutrients and can help reduce blood cholesterol. 

Flageolet Bean




Yes (minimum of 4 hours soaking)



1 1/2-2 hours simmering

Pressure cooker 18-20 mins

Pre-soaked - pressure cooker 6-8 mins


Actually a haricot bean, but harvested and dried before they are fully ripened.

Light green, small kidney shaped beans that originated in France. They have a tender skin and a delicate flavour.

Great in mixed bean salads or tossed with a little oil or butter as a side dish.

Great as a pate or puree as they take flavours well.

Flageolet beans are high in energy because they contain all of the reserves necessary to the future plant during its germination. It is rich in carbohydrates, fibre and vitamin B9.

Haricot Bean

Also known as a Navy Bean or Great Northern Bean



Yes (minimum 4 hours soaking)





1 1/2 - 2 hours

Pressure cooker  18-20 mins

Pre-soaked - pressure cooker 6-8 mins



Small, oval and creamy-white., with a mild flavour and smooth almost buttery texture.

Often called a Navy Bean due to being a staple food of the US Navy in the 20th century.



The classic ingredient in baked beans, they have little flavour of their own but are brilliant at absorbing flavours and seasoning making them perfect for slow cooked dishes like cassoulet or bean soups.

Of all the beans these have the richest source of ferulic acid (an antioxidant) and p-coumaric acid (another antioxidant and possibly reduces the risk of stomach cancer).

Kidney Bean






Yes (minimum 4 hours)






Must boil for a minimum fo 10 minutes to destroy the toxin.

Then simmer for 45-60 mins. May need an extra half hour if large and tough

Pressure cooker 22-24 mins

Pre-soaked - pressure cooker 5-8 mins

Looks like a kidney, brownish-red bean with a distinctive 'kidney' shape.

Widely used in chilli and the staple ingredient of beans and rice.

Soft, creamy flesh with a reddish-brown skin.



Kidney beans contain a natural toxin called lectin. The toxin is destroyed by proper cooking.

Great in mixed bean salads and stews like chilli.

Often used to replace meat in spicy dishes.


 They are a very good source of molybdenum, folate, dietary fibre, and copper and are a good source of manganese, phosphorus, protein, vitamin B1, and iron. 


Black Lentils

Otherwise known as Urad Beans




Simmer for 35-45 mins

Pressure cooker 10-12 mins

Black skins cover a creamy white interior. Strong earthy flavour and widely used in curries.

Usually used to make daal in Indian cooking and also popular in Bangladeshi cuisine.

Lentils are an excellent source of molybdenum and folate. They are a very good source of dietary fibre, copper, phosphorus, and manganese. 

Brown Lentils




Simmer for 35-45 mins

Pressure cooker 10-12 mins

The most commonly used lentil features a mildly earthly flavour profile and smooth texture.

Use in soups (they have a mushy texture when cooked) and casserole dishes.

Lentils are a good source of iron, protein, vitamin B1, pantothenic acid, zinc, potassium, and vitamin B6.

Green Lentils


Simmer for  35-45 mins

Pressure cooker 10-12 mins

Firm and flavourful, green lentils don’t break down easily with stirring or mixing, making them ideal for salads and pilafs.

Can be used in salads as well as curries, soups and dhal.

Some soluble fibre and excellent levels of insoluble fibre helping maintain gut health and reduce LDL levels.

Puy Lentils












Simmer for 20 -25 mins.

Pressure cooker 8-10 mins



Puy lentils have a protected designation of origin if not from Le Puy in France they are referred to as Puy-Style.

These little green and blue marbled lentils retain their shape on cooking (although not as much of their colour) and have a delicious flavour.

For cold salads, try mixing Puy Lentils with sundried tomatoes, fresh herbs, olive oil and whatever else you like. Or use just cooked Puy lentils with thyme and roasted garlic. Stir in chunks of goat cheese and serve with wedges of roasted butternut squash. 

High in protein, folate and iron like all the lentils.

Red Split Lentils









Simmer for 15-20 mins.

Pressure cooker

4-6 min


A light red to orange color, red lentils are actually a split and hulled version of the yellow lentil, with the shortest cooking time of all varieties.


Add twice as much carrots to lentils, cook for 20 minutes, blitz and add seasoning for perfect lentil soup.

Use them for soups and spicy Indian dhals.

High in dietary fibre, protein and are also low fat. Help to give you a satiated feeling.

Mung Bean











1 hour - 1 1/2 hours


Pressure cooker 6-8mins



A small, yellowish-green bean (although occasionally they are completely yellow), they are tiny, tender and slightly sweet.

Hulled and split mung beans are called Mung Dahl.

Used in soups, salads, casseroles and curries. They are also often used in sprouting and are very popular as a source of bean-sprouts.

Particularly easy to digest and take on seasonings well.

A brilliant source of potassium with good levels of B vitamins and magnesium. Like all legumes they are high in fibre and protein also.


Marrowfat Peas





Yes - ideally 12 - 16 hours (sometimes with a bicarb tablet to help soften them and retain the colour)

Simmer for 20-30 minutes

Pressure cooker 16-18 mins

Pre-soaked - pressure cooker 8-10 mins

Peas that have been dried out in the field naturally rather than being harvested when fresh and young.




Used to make mushy peas, they are also often used for snacks, for example coated in wasabi.




Marrowfat Peas are packed with nutrients including Vitamin A, C, B1, Iron and Phosphorous and are rich in protein, carbohydrate and fibre.

Green Split Peas


No (If you want to you can soak for around 6 hours and it will reduce cooking time by half an hour roughly.)

Simmer for up to an hour

If soaked 45 mins ought to do it

Pressure cooker 1 minute

Cook the split peas for 20 minutes if you want them to be relatively crisp for salads; 30-40 minutes if they will be added to a main dish; and 40 minutes to an hour if you are making soup or intend to puree them.

Most popular for using in split pea soup.  

Dried peas are an excellent source of molybdenum. 

Yellow Split Peas





No (if you do want to soak them don't use baking soda to soak split peas it will turn them into a watery purée!)



Simmer for up to an hour

If soaked, 45 minutes ought to do it.

Pressure cooker 1 minute

Slightly more delicate flavour than their green counterparts. Apart from that they can basically be treated the same (see above) 

Used in dahls, soups, pease pudding and dips as they break down fairly quickly and rarely retain any shape. Also used in Fava ( a popular Greek dish) simply cook down with water and a little salt and drizzle olive oil and sprinkle some raw chopped onions over before serving.

Dried peas are also a very good source of dietary fibre and a good source of manganese, copper, protein, folate, vitamin B1, phosphorus, vitamin B5, and potassium.

Pinto Beans










1 1/2 -2 hours

Pressure cooker  22-24 mins

Pre-soaked - pressure cooker 4-6mins





An orangey-pink bean with reddish specks (pinto comes from the Spanish word for painted, as that's what they look like!)

A variety of kidney bean.

Often used in Mexican cooking for refried beans and burritos.

Pintos go beautifully pink when cooked.

Often cooked with rice so that the water turns the rice a great shade of pink.

Use as a side dish or add to salads and burritos.

Good levels of folate, magnesium and potassium. A good choice to help prevent high blood pressure and protect against atherosclerosis.

Soya Beans

Edamame are the young green soya beans







Yes (minimum of 12 hours recommended by NHS - 7-9 hours recommended for best results making soya milk* paper here from research gate)








3-4 hours 

Must boil for an hour then simmer for the next 2-3 hours  to destroy all toxins ajnd ensure they are fully cooked

Pressure cooker 35-40 mins

Pre-soaked - pressure cooker 20-22 mins

A small, pale yellow bean. Widely grown and subject to some controversy due to GMO and animal feed uses








Used to make fermented foods in Japan and Asian countries, soy milk, tempeh and soybean oil is also created from them.

Often used in curries and popular roasted with spices for a crunchy snack. Try in a beanburger.



A high antioxidant food. Contains isoflavones that may reduce cancer risks. Also high in phenolic acids (another antioxidant phytonutrient). May help support bone health through its good amounts of vitamin K. Contains all 8 essential amino acids.


Do you always have to soak dried pulses before cooking?

Nope. Lentils, Aduki, Blackeye and Mung Beans can be cooked from scratch without soaking, however they may well still benefit from soaking (it stops the shell from cracking and removes any impurities). In addition, soaking reduces cooking time. Lentils do not need to be soaked but it will reduce their cooking time by around half.

A little extra care is required for Soya and Kidney Beans as if they are improperly treated they will release a toxin! Nothing that soaking and cooking properly won't easily prevent, but be aware they do need to treated correctly or used from tins (where they are pre-cooked).

If you cook them too long they'll form a paste (handy if you're trying to make a dip, but less so if you want the actual texture of the bean!) Cooking times vary depending on the freshness of the bean, the size and the heat. Checking regularly is the only way you'll find out what works for you.

Are there any benefits to using dried beans over pre-cooked in a can?

You'll get more of the nutrition, sometimes the tinned or canned beans can contain additional salt or brine which dried ones won't.

You'll also save a lot of money. Like-for-like dried and canned beans are roughly similar in price, however being as most beans will swell up to around 2.5 times their original size, that's how much you'll be saving. E.g. A tin of chickpeas is around 350 - 400g and anything from 70 pence to £1.50. To get that from dried you'll need around 100 - 150g of  chickpeas, anything from 50 to 70 pence. At Real Foods the more you buy - the bigger the discount, so if you're going through a fair few tins of beans it's well worth looking at our buying dried beans. Having said that, storing a couple of tins in the cupboard is always a useful addition to extend meals or throw a quick dip together.

Tips on preparing pulses and beans

  • Sort and rinse the beans. This means spreading them out and checking any debris has been removed then rising in a sieve or colander under cold running water.
  • Soak the beans. Beans will cook in less time and more evenly  if they are soaked first. Not all beans must be soaked. Lentils, Aduki, Black Eye, and Mung beans can all be cooked from scratch. This doesn’t mean they won’t benefit from soaking! Just that they don’t need to be.
  • Most beans will need a minimum of 4 to 12 hours of soaking in fresh, cool water. Discard the soaking water. Or try a ‘quick-soak’ method.
  • Quick-soak - Simply cover with a few inches of water and boil for 2 minutes, remove from the heat,  leave for an hour and then drain.
  • Drain and rinse well. Cover beans and leave an inch or so of fresh water, you'll need 3-4 cups of water for each cup of beans or pulses. Each cup of dried beans should yield around 2-3 cups of cooked beans.
  • Cover, bring to the boil and simmer with the lid still loosely covering (it stops the water evaporating too much.) Basically the length of time it takes depends on how fresh the beans are, their size and the pan and heat you're using. The best idea is to test them often. You'll soon see what works.
  • Skim if necessary.
  • Consider using a pressure cooker if you have one. They dramatically reduce cooking times. Use high pressure for all dried pulses.
  • Add seasonings such as bay leaves, onion, garlic or bouillon as you start cooking, but leave the acidic ones until near the end as they can impair the tenderness. Acidic foods include tomatoes, vinegar and lemon juice.

What's the difference between beans, peas and pulses?

Basically, not much! All beans, peas and pulses belong to the legume family, known as Fabaceae or Leguminosae. This is a family of flowering plants with often edible seeds. Peas are often from the Piser genus, Beans are usually from the Phaseolus or Vigna genera, all of which are members of the legume family. Just to be confusing Chickpeas aren't a pea, they're a bean. Whilst Broad Beans? You've guessed it they're really a pea!

Liquorice, alfalfa, peanuts and carob are also all members of the legume family (so it does make sense to say many beans have a 'nutty' taste!) Pulses is the name often used to refer to the dried seed of these plants (or indeed the plants themselves).

By Kim Betney



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