Differentiating Among Types of Legumes-April 7, 2021

Differentiating Among Types of Legumes

The other night, I couldn’t fall asleep because my mind was racing. What keeps you up at night? I’m sure although there are many things on your list, one of the concerns at the top is wanting to know the differences between types of legumes.

Well, you are in luck!

An article I wrote with one of my professors was recently published. If so inclined to read the whole thing (or just the abstract), browse tables, or look at the pretty (yes, I am of course biased) figures, you can view it for free on the Nutrients website at this link. Our goal in this paper was to help clarify the differences among types of legumes, which is often quite muddled.

Differentiating Among Types of Legumes-April 7, 2021

In particular, we focused on the important role pulses (e.g., chickpeas, dry peas, lentils, cowpeas, and dry beans like black, kidney, and pinto beans – click this link for a visual explanation) could play in meeting nutritional needs. For instance, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans call out 4 “dietary components of public health concern,” including dietary fiber and potassium. Pulses are a rich source of both, and they provide lots of plant-based protein while also being very low in fat. Check out Table 1 to get an idea of some of the differences between different types of legumes. Tables 2-4 will then give you an idea of some of the nutritional differences between pulses and other food groups, including vegetables, protein foods, and grains.

Now, I understand that all of this may not sound as exciting to everyone as it does to me. But. I think if you take a chance to look at the tables you will be surprised at the dramatic differences. Knowing about important differences between foods empowers you to make the choices that are right for you!

What Are the Types of Legumes?

So, it IS in the paper, and the video I linked to above also explains the different types of legumes. But let’s be real – most of us don’t read science papers for fun (and yes, that sometimes includes us scientists, too). Maybe you just want a brief summary right here on this page, without having to look around. Here you go!

Oilseed Legumes

Oilseed legumes have – perhaps not surprisingly – a higher oil content. They include soybeans and peanuts. In a 100-calorie portion, they have more fat (don’t panic, lipids are not inherently evil) and less dietary fiber than their non-oilseed counterparts. We often use oilseed legumes to, well, extract oil that we use in cooking or processed food.

Non-Oilseed Legumes

Non-oilseed legumes include what we often consider fresh vegetables, like snap beans and snap peas. The pods are often eaten, too.

Pulses are another type, and they have a very specific definition. They are – drumroll, please! – the dried, edible seeds of non-oilseed legumes. That means that a dried down soybean is not considered a pulse, because a soybean is an oilseed legume. There are many types of pulses, and the main ones include chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans), dry peas, dry beans (like pinto, kidney, Mayocoba, etc.), cowpeas such as black-eyed peas, and lentils.

WAIT! you say, Does this mean that a garbanzo bean is not technically a bean?? Correct. Garbanzo beans are pulses, not beans. But, no matter what you call them, including more of them in our lives is a great idea. Beans and other pulses are truly amazing nutritionally because they pack in a ton of fiber, protein, and several vitamins and minerals, like potassium.

Essentially, just like all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares – all beans are pulses, but all pulses are not beans. I know right, you didn’t realize legume jargon could be so much fun, did you? πŸ˜‰

Diagram of Types of Legumes

As you know, a picture is worth a thousand words (or at least however many words I used to describe the different types of legumes). So, here is the diagram we provide in our paper.

types of legumes

Side Note About Forage Legumes

I won’t really go into this, but there are also legumes that are used as forage, like alfalfa and clover. Yes, the world of legumes is endlessly fascinating.

Now, go forth and impress folks in your circle with legume facts. And please don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comment section!


  1. Carrie Bulger

    I just learned about you and this blog from someone on the Rancho Gordo Bean Club FB page, so apologies for this late comment to an April post. I read your article in Nutrients—so interesting! I hope it’s been well-received. I particularly liked learning about the oil-seed/non-oil-seed distinction and why that might be important.

  2. Hi Chelsea, I just downloaded your paper to read it in it’s entirety. Just a quick scan and now I realize that humble beans and legumes are seriously nutritious and their science is complex (worth getting a PhD in!).
    Thank you for all the great information here on this website.

    • Wow, thank you SO much for looking at my paper! I’m highly biased, but I definitely think they are a fascinating and important food.

      You are so welcome, and thank YOU for reading!

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