It's a good question because the word is out there, but
it's not often defined. So here goes! A legume is a collection
of a particular family of vegetables called Leguminosae.
The term includes all peas, beans, and lentils, plus clover,
carob, and licorice. Legumes can be generally described
as the protective pod of seeds.
vegetable families, legumes are unique because of their
ability to fix nitrogen in the soil. As a leguminous
plant grows, it supplies sugar to bacteria, which form
in the nodules of the plant roots. In turn, the bacteria
extract nitrogen from the air and convert it to nitrate-one
of the most important nutrients for plant growth. Thus,
legumes not only supply us with some fine vegetables,
but they also benefit the soil in which they are grown.
With the choice of legumes now available, we can enjoy
vegetables such as green peas at various stages of maturity.
When very tiny, the immature seed plus its pod (known
as the snap pea) is a fine treat. Or by choosing another
variety of pea, you can enjoy just the seeds, removed
from the pod and briefly cooked. But then again, you
can choose to leave the pods on the vine so their sugars
are changed to starches as they mature. When dried,
and their outer covering removed, the seeds can be stored
for later use in hearty winter soups and casseroles.
The seeds of dried legumes are high in a storage form
of sugar, called oligosaccharides. As the digestive
system of most people cannot break down these sugars,
they pass undigested to the large intestine where they're
fermented by nonpathogenic intestinal bacteria. The
term musical fruit, aptly describes the gassy results!
(See the article "Getting
a Bang out of Beans").
Anne & Sue