Grain legumes: an overview

Frederick Stoddard
Posted: 02.06.2021
The grain legumes are important sources of protein in animal and human diets. This article provides an overview of some basic aspects of their biology and production in Europe. All early agricultural societies apparently domesticated a grain legume at much the same time as a cereal, perhaps indicating that their nutritional value was noticed. The cool-season grain legumes came to Europe from the Middle East with arable agriculture, followed in historical times by common bean from the Americas and soybean from China. The basic growth habit is indeterminate, with simultaneous flowering and pod filling. Most species are self-pollinating but produce more flowers than can mature as pods. The cool-season starchy species (pea, faba bean, lentil and chickpea) have many attributes in common, including parallel diseases. The lupins (white, narrow-leafed and yellow) form a closer cluster, and have an unusual seed composition where the main energy store for germination is cell wall material. The number of warm-season legume species is large, but only two, common bean and soybean, are important in Europe. Seed size is highly variable in the cool-season species and common bean, and seed colour in all species. Many cultures prefer specific sizes and colours for food use. A wide range of antinutritional substances has evolved to protect legume seeds from predators, and humans have developed methods to remove or denature them, or reduce them through breeding, in order to improve quality for food and feed.

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Stoddard, F. (2017). Grain legumes: an overview. In: Murphy-Bokern, D., Stoddard, F. and Watson, C. (Eds.).  Legumes in cropping systems. CABI.

  • Frederick Stoddard
  • 2017
  • The grain legumes are important sources of protein in animal and human diets. This article provides an overview of some basic aspects of their biology and production in Europe. All early agricultural societies apparently domesticated a grain legume at much the same time as a cereal, perhaps indicating that their nutritional value was noticed. The cool-season grain legumes came to Europe from the Middle East with arable agriculture, followed in historical times by common bean from the Americas and soybean from China. The basic growth habit is indeterminate, with simultaneous flowering and pod filling. Most species are self-pollinating but produce more flowers than can mature as pods. The cool-season starchy species (pea, faba bean, lentil and chickpea) have many attributes in common, including parallel diseases. The lupins (white, narrow-leafed and yellow) form a closer cluster, and have an unusual seed composition where the main energy store for germination is cell wall material. The number of warm-season legume species is large, but only two, common bean and soybean, are important in Europe. Seed size is highly variable in the cool-season species and common bean, and seed colour in all species. Many cultures prefer specific sizes and colours for food use. A wide range of antinutritional substances has evolved to protect legume seeds from predators, and humans have developed methods to remove or denature them, or reduce them through breeding, in order to improve quality for food and feed.

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    Frederick Stoddard
    Grain legumes: an overview
  • 2017. Grain legumes: an overview. Legume Hub. https://www.legumehub.eu

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Authors: Frederick Stoddard
Acknowledgement: Legume Futures has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant No. 245216.

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