Legume Types

Legumes are grown throughout the world, with some adapted to warmer tropical and subtropical climates and others preferring temperate to cooler climates. The 20 species listed in Table 1 are some of the more commonly cultivated legumes and include those whose annual production reaches levels that allow for worldwide marketing. In developing countries, many locally adapted legume species are cultivated on a small scale or are harvested from wild sources. These less cultivated legumes are usually harvested as mature seeds, but immature pods, leaves, roots, or tubers can also be collected.

Most of the common legume species are grown agronomically and harvested as mature seeds. These can be cooked and consumed in their entirety, or they are cracked and used as split seeds with the hulls (seed coats) removed. Seeds of some species are milled to produce a flour product, or they can be processed to yield protein isolate (e.g., soybean and lupine), extracted oils (e.g., soybean and peanut), or starch (e.g., pea).

For those legumes also cultivated as vegetable crops, immature seeds or immature pods can be harvested. These are canned, frozen, or sold as fresh products. Immature pods are nutritionally similar to leafy vegetables in that they contain various carotenoids and other phytochemicals; however, they also contain immature seeds that can provide a modest amount of protein. For some species, young tender leaves or whole shoots are also collected and used as vegetable greens that are eaten fresh or cooked. More detailed information is given on some of the common legume types in the following sections.

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