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Several varieties of chickpea are cultivated throughout the world. Bengal gram or ‘Desi chana’ is probably the earliest variety because it closely resembles both seeds found on archaeological sites and the wild plant ancestor of domesticated chickpeas, Cicer reticulatum, which only grows in southeast Turkey, where chickpeas are believed to have originated. ‘Desi chana’ has small, darker seeds and a rough coat. It is grown mostly in India and other parts of the Indian subcontinent, as well as in Ethiopia, Mexico, and Iran. Desi means ‘country’ or ‘local’ in Hindustani; its other names include kala chana (“black chickpea” in both Hindi and Urdu) or chholaa boot. This variety is hulled and split to make chana dal. A closely related variety is the Bombay chickpea (‘Bambai chana’), which is also dark but slightly larger than ‘Desi’.

Types of Chickpeas

Black chickpeas (Bengal gram): These chickpeas come from India where they are sun-dried until they turn a deep rust color. Like regular chickpeas, they have a deep, earthy aroma and a nutty flavor. Black chickpeas can be found in Indian markets and specialty food shops.

Chana dal: These small split desi chickpeas are sold in Indian stores and look very much like yellow split peas. Chana dal have a sweet, nutty taste. In India, chana dal are used to make chickpea flour, while in the United States, the larger kabuli chick-peas are used for flour. Chana dal can be found in Indian stores and some specialty food shops.

Chickpea flour: Chickpea flour has a rich culinary tradition in Indian cuisine, where it is known as besan or chana and is used in pancakes, stews, and curries. It is popular as well in Italian cuisine where farina di ceci(chickpea flour) is used to make pasta and a polenta-like dish. Chickpeas are also used in some blended flours, such as garfava flour, a combination of chickpeas and fava beans, and dhokra flour, a combination of rice, lentils, and chickpeas.

Green chickpeas: Fresh and sweet, like green peas, these are young, tender, fresh chickpeas. They are predominantly found in local farmers’ markets.