2016 declared International Year of the Pulses

The UN has declared 2016 is the International Year of Pulses and grain legumes across the world are preparing for their year in the spotlight.

Lebanese chefs prepare hummus, during a bid to break a record previously held by Israel and reclaim ownership over the popular Middle Eastern dish, in Fanar, east of Beirut, Lebanon. A Guinness World Records adjudicator confirmed that Lebanon now holds the record. Hussein Malla / AP Photo
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Hummus is finally getting the celebrity treatment it deserves.

The UN has declared 2016 is the International Year of Pulses and grain legumes across the world are preparing for their year in the spotlight. Pulses are found in most of the world’s cuisines but the Middle East is probably their biggest cheerleader.

Hakan Agro, a major pulse trader player in Dubai, says the Mena region is the largest importer, bringing in 25 per cent of the world’s pulses and cereals.

“Pulses are a mainstay of Middle East cuisine used on a daily basis, starting with the popular foul medames, which is a mash of brown fava beans,” says Faysal Younes, chief executive of Eathos, the restaurant company behind the new Kababji Grill in Dubai Marina.

“Lentil soup is another mainstay of Middle East cuisine and of course, there’s the very popular falafel, made from ground chickpeas, fava beans or both.”

Then there’s hummus. Made with chickpeas, hummus is one of the best known stars of the pulse world, but the UN’s recognition could catapult the regional dip to international stardom.

“This UN designation will lift hummus to a superfood status, which is great as it has enormous health benefits,” Mr Younes says.

“Hummus is high in fibre and protein. It has also gained a celebrity following, with Natalie Portman and Anne Hathaway saying they are fans and using it in diets to keep their slim figures.”

But hummus isn’t the only pulse in town. Lentils, dried peas and beans will also be demanding their share of the glory.

The UN’s designation may also influence shoppers to pay at least some attention to B-list pulses such as yam beans, velvet beans and jack beans.

The UN has long held special observances to promote international awareness and action on a wide range of issues. There have been years dedicated to sustainable energy, literacy, peace, women and one even to the UN.

Less common are years dedicated to food, but this isn’t the first time the UN has devoted an entire year to a single food group.

It declared 2008 to be the International Year of the Potato and in 2013 it was quinoa. Often there are two or more themes observed (quinoa had to share its podium with water cooperation), but this year pulses have the stage to themselves.

It’s too early to say whether the Year of Pulses will change what people cook in their kitchens, but professional chefs around the world would do well to capitalise on pulse mania.

The Lebanese eatery Byblos Sur Mer is the signature restaurant at the InterContinental Abu Dhabi and executive chef Danny Kattar says pulses are a mainstay on the menu.

Mr Kattar says he already uses hummus in innovative ways and expects more chefs will now do the same.

“I use it with quail breast and hummus stew,” he says. “I use it as a puree with Aleppo spice and I use hummus with cherry chutney.”

Mr Kattar plans to use more pulses in daily specials across the hotel’s restaurants.

On a global scale, pulses are serious business and the UN hopes this year’s designation will bring change.

Launching the International Year of Pulses, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, said: “This is a great opportunity to raise awareness of the benefits of pulses as the world embarks on efforts to achieve the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals.

“The year’s theme — “nutritious seeds for a sustainable future” — highlights the contribution pulses can make. Pulses can contribute significantly in addressing hunger, food security, malnutrition, environmental challenges and human health.”

To join in the celebrations, visit pulses.org for recipes.

sjohnson@thenational.ae