By the Bronze Age chickpeas were known in Italy and Greece. In classical Greece they were called erébinthos and eaten as a staple, a dessert or consumed raw when young. The Romans knew several varieties such as venus, ram and punic chickpeas. They were both cooked down into a broth and roasted as a snack. The Roman gourmet Apicius gives several recipes for chickpeas. Carbonized chickpeas have been found at the Roman legion fort at Neuss (Novaesium), Germany in layers from the 1st century CE, along with rice.
Chickpeas are mentioned in Charlemagne's Capitulare de villis (about 800 CE) as cicer italicum, as grown in each imperial demesne. Albertus Magnus mentions red, white and black varieties. Culpeper noted "chick-pease or cicers" are less "windy" than peas and more nourishing. Ancient people also associated chickpeas with Venus because they were said to offer medical uses such as increasing sperm and milk, provoking menstruation and urine and helping to treat kidney stones. Wild cicers were thought to be especially strong and helpful.
In 1793 ground roast chickpeas were noted by a German writer as a coffee substitute in Europe and in the First World War they were grown for this in some areas of Germany. Chickpeas are still sometimes brewed instead of coffee.
The plant grows to between 20 and 50 cm high and has small feathery leaves on either side of the stem. One seedpod contains two or three peas. The flowers are white or sometimes reddish-blue. Chickpeas need a subtropical or tropical climate with more than 400 mm of annual rain. They can be grown in a temperate climate but yields will be much lower.
The Desi (meaning country or local in Hindi) is also known as Bengal gram or kala chana. Kabuli (meaning from Kabul in Hindi, since they were thought to have come from Afghanistan when first seen in India) is the kind widely grown throughout the Mediterranean. Desi is likely the earliest form since it closely resembles seeds found both on archaeological sites and the wild plant ancestor of domesticated chickpeas (cicer reticulatum) which only grows in southeast Turkey, where it is believed to have originated. Desi chickpeas have a markedly higher fiber content than Kabulis and hence a very low glycemic index which may make them suitable for people with blood sugar problems. The desi type is used to make Chana Dal, which is a split chickpea with the skin removed.
Mature chickpeas can be cooked and eaten cold in salads, cooked in stews, ground into a flour called gram flour (also known as besan and used primarily in Indian cuisine), ground and shaped in balls and fried as falafel, fermented to make an alcoholic drink similar to sake, stirred into a batter and baked to make farinata, cooked and ground into a paste called hummus or roasted, spiced and eaten as a snack (such as leblebi). Chick peas and bengal grams are used to make curries and are one of the most popular vegetarian foods in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the UK. On the Indian subcontinent chickpeas are called kadale kaalu (Kannada), chana (Hindi and other Indic languages),Chhola (Bengali), konda kadalai or pothu kadalai (Tamil), where they are a major source of protein in a mostly vegetarian culture.
Many popular Indian dishes are made with chickpea flour, such as mirchi bajji and mirapakaya bajji telugu. In India unripe chickpeas are often picked out of the pod and eaten as a raw snack and the leaves are eaten as a green vegetable in salads. Chickpea flour is also used to make "Burmese tofu" which was first known among the Shan people of Burma. The flour is also used as a batter to coat various vegetables and meats before frying, such as with panelle, a chickpea fritter from Sicily. In the Philippines garbanzo beans preserved in syrup are eaten as sweets and in desserts such as halo-halo. Ashkenazi Jews traditionally serve whole chickpeas at a Shalom Zachar celebration for baby boys.
Dried chick peas need a long cooking time (1-2 hours) but will not easily fall apart when cooked longer. If soaked for 12-24 hours before use, cooking time can be considerably shortened (30 mins).
One hundred grams of mature boiled chickpeas contains 164 calories, 2.6 grams of fat (of which only 0.27 grams is saturated), 7.6 grams of dietary fiber and 8.9 grams of protein. Chickpeas also provide dietary calcium (49-53 mg/100 g), with some sources citing the garbanzo's calcium content as about the same as yogurt and close to milk. According to the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics chickpea seeds contain on average:
There is also a high reported mineral content: