The Fabaceae or Leguminosae (commonly known as the legume, pea, or bean) family is the third largest family of flowering plants, consisting of over 20,000 species. Legumes are a nutritious staple of diets around the world. They are an inexpensive source of protein, vitamins, complex carbohydrates, and fiber.
Although used interchangeably, the terms “legumes,” “pulses,” and “beans” have distinct meanings. A legume refers to any plant from the Fabaceae family that would include its leaves, stems, and pods. A pulse is the edible seed from a legume plant. Pulses include beans, lentils, and peas. For example, a pea pod is a legume, but the pea inside the pod is the pulse. The entire legume plant is often used in agricultural applications (as cover crops or in livestock feed or fertilizers), while the seeds or pulses are what typically end up on our dinner plates. Beans in their various forms (kidney, black, pinto, navy, chickpeas, etc.) are just one type of pulse.
Legumes are emphasized by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines (about 3 cups a week) and the DASH Eating Plan of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (4-5 half-cup servings a week). The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations declared the International Year of Pulses in 2016, focusing on the contribution of pulses in food production and nutritional diversity to help eradicate hunger and malnutrition.