Are chickpeas the answer to a more environmentally friendly pasta?

16 Jul 2020

Traditional spaghetti made from wheat. Image: ©

Researchers at Trinity have found evidence to suggest that making pasta out of chickpeas could benefit both the planet and our health.

Pasta purists may not like the idea, but researchers believe the kitchen staple is in need of a change in ingredients. In recent research published to Sustainable Production and Consumption, an international team including scientists from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) proposed that pasta made from chickpeas, instead of durum wheat, is the way to go.

The team argued that wheat production involves unsustainable agricultural practices that use environmentally damaging nitrogen fertilisers, while traditional pasta can contribute to an over-consumption of nutrient-poor foods, which can lead to non-communicable disease and malnutrition.

By contrast, chickpea pasta could help negate many of the environmental concerns. The research found that resource use and eutrophication burdens per nutrient density unit (NDU) was up to 95pc less for chickpea pasta compared with wheat pasta.

However, the research showed that chickpea pasta had a land-use burden 200pc higher per serving, or 17pc higher per NDU, than wheat pasta.

‘Tastes adapt quite quickly’

In terms of how it would affect our diets, the chickpea alternative was found to contain 1.5 times more protein, 3.2 times more fibre and five times more essential fatty acids than durum wheat pasta.

Speaking of the team’s findings, co-author of the research, TCD’s Michael Williams, said it was an “excellent example” of how legumes such as chickpeas can be incorporated into conventional diets to the benefit of the planet.

“The higher protein content of chickpea pasta could also contribute towards wider environmental benefits if we were to substitute it for some of the animal protein that typically takes up too big a part of many Irish and European diets,” he said.

But how does it actually taste? According to Williams, chickpea pasta is “very tasty and has a subtle, nutty flavour” and should be cooked al dente.

“Tastes adapt quite quickly, and humanity will have to adapt very quickly to meet the nutritional demands of a rapidly increasing global population while safeguarding our already fragile environment that is key to feeding billions of mouths,” Williams said.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic