Amber and cowpea

Characteristics of ambers and cowpeas

  • Excellent sources of dietary fibre;
  • Rich in vegetable proteins ;
  • Antioxidant power ;
  • Sources of starch ;
  • Promotes transit and cardiovascular health.

 Nutritional and caloric values of amber and cowpeas

Weight/volumeDry mung, 100 gDry Azuki, 100 gCooked Black-eyed Susan, 90 g
Calories334329105
Protein24,5 g20 g7,0 g
Carbohydrates47,6 g63 g18,9 g
Lipids1,42 g0,5 g0,5 g
Dietary fibres16,7 g13 g5,9 g

Focus on the micronutrients contained in ambers and cowpeas

Among the nutrients contained in good quantities in amber and cowpeas, we can mention the following:

  • Phosphorus. Azuki is an excellent source of phosphorus, while cowpeas and mung beans are good sources. Phosphorus is the second most abundant mineral in the body after calcium. It plays an essential role in the formation and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. It also participates in the growth and regeneration of tissues and helps maintain a normal blood pH. Finally, phosphorus is one of the components of cell membranes;
  • Iron. Azuki and cowpeas are excellent sources of iron for men, while mungo is a good source. For women, mungo, azukis and cowpeas are sources, as the needs between the two sexes are different. Every cell in the body contains iron. This mineral is essential for oxygen transport and the formation of red blood cells in the blood. It also plays a role in the manufacture of new cells, hormones and neurotransmitters (messengers in nerve impulses);
  • Zinc. Azuki is an excellent source of zinc for women and a good source for men, as their needs are different. Mungo and cowpea are also sources of zinc. Zinc is involved in immune reactions, genetic material production, taste perception, wound healing and fetal development. It also interacts with sex and thyroid hormones. In the pancreas, it is involved in the synthesis (manufacture), storage and release of insulin;
  • Manganese. Azuki is an excellent source of manganese, while mung and cowpeas are good sources. Manganese acts as a cofactor for several enzymes that facilitate a dozen different metabolic processes. It also helps prevent free radical damage;
  • Copper. Azuki and cowpeas are excellent sources of copper, while mung is a source of copper. As a constituent of several enzymes, copper is necessary for the formation of hemoglobin and collagen (a protein used for tissue structure and repair) in the body. Several copper-containing enzymes also contribute to the body’s defense against free radicals;
  • Folate. Azuki and cowpeas are excellent sources of folate, while mung beans are a good source. Folate (vitamin B9) is involved in the production of all cells in the body, including red blood cells. This vitamin plays an essential role in the production of genetic material (DNA, RNA), in the functioning of the nervous system and the immune system, as well as in the healing of wounds and sores. As it is necessary for the production of new cells, adequate consumption is essential during periods of growth and for the development of the foetus;
  • Magnesium. Azuki is a good source of magnesium. Mung and cowpea are good sources for women and a source for men, as their needs are different. Magnesium is involved in bone development, protein building, enzyme actions, muscle contraction, dental health and immune system function. It also plays a role in energy metabolism and in the transmission of nerve impulses;
  • Vitamin B1. Cowpeas are a good source of vitamin B1, while mungo and azuki are sources. Also known as thiamine, vitamin B1 is part of a coenzyme needed for energy production mainly from the carbohydrates we ingest. It is also involved in the transmission of nerve impulses and promotes normal growth;
  • Potassium. Azuki and cowpeas are sources of potassium. In the body, potassium is used to balance the pH of the blood and to stimulate the production of hydrochloric acid by the stomach, thus aiding digestion. It also facilitates muscle contraction, including the heart, and participates in the transmission of nerve impulses;
  • Vitamin B2. Mung and azuki are sources of vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin. Like vitamin B1, it plays a role in the energy metabolism of all cells. In addition, it contributes to tissue growth and repair, hormone production and red blood cell formation;
  • Vitamin B3. Mung and azuki are sources of vitamin B3. Also known as niacin, this vitamin is involved in many metabolic reactions and is particularly important in the production of energy from the carbohydrates, fats, proteins and alcohol we ingest. It is also involved in the process of DNA formation, allowing normal growth and development;
  • Pantothenic acid. Mung, azuki and cowpeas are sources of pantothenic acid. Also known as vitamin B5, pantothenic acid is part of a key coenzyme that allows us to adequately use the energy present in the food we eat. It is also involved in several steps in the synthesis (manufacture) of steroid hormones, neurotransmitters (messengers in nerve impulses) and hemoglobin;
  • Vitamin B6. Azuki and cowpeas are sources of vitamin B6. Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is one of the coenzymes involved in the metabolism of proteins and fatty acids, as well as the synthesis (manufacture) of neurotransmitters (messengers in nerve impulses). It also contributes to the manufacture of red blood cells and allows them to carry more oxygen. Pyridoxine is also necessary for the transformation of glycogen into glucose and helps the immune system function properly. Finally, this vitamin plays a role in the formation of certain components of nerve cells and in the modulation of hormone receptors.

 The benefits of ambers and cowpeas

Some studies have associated regular consumption of legumes with various health benefits such as better control of diabetes, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, better management of body weight and reduced risk of colorectal cancer. These benefits are believed to be due in part to various compounds found in legumes such as dietary fibre. American dietary recommendations suggest eating legumes a few times a week, the equivalent of 3 cups.

Finally, among the major recommendations for public health and cancer prevention, the population is advised to favour a diet composed mainly of plant foods, including a variety of vegetables and fruits, legumes and minimally processed grain products.

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Rich in dietary fibre

Legumes are all good sources of fibre. Dietary fibre, found only in plant products, is a substance that is not digested by the body. Amber and cowpeas contain 6-9 g of fibre per 125 ml serving and, like most legumes, have a higher proportion of insoluble fibre than soluble fibre. A diet rich in insoluble fibre helps maintain proper bowel function, while a diet rich in soluble fibre can help normalize blood levels of cholesterol, glucose and insulin. It should be noted that it is recommended that women between the ages of 19 and 50 consume 25 g of fibre per day, and men in the same age group 38 g per day, and that the consumption of legumes helps to achieve this goal.

Dietary fibre, in combination with other compounds such as amylose (a component of starch), allows legumes to be digested more slowly. The ingestion of legumes improves blood sugar control in both diabetics and healthy individuals, but current scientific evidence is unclear as to the exact mechanisms involved. Fibre is likely to play a role, but not independently. Other constituents present in legumes would also be involved.

In one study, the glycemic index of five legume varieties (mung, chickpea, white bean, black bean and pigeon pea) was evaluated. All of them have a low glycemic index, with mung slightly higher than the other legumes. The authors explain the variation in glycemic index between legumes by, among other things, the type and quantity of fiber present and the proportion of amylose. However, the real implication of these two compounds remains to be confirmed.

Antioxidant power

Legumes contain molecules with antioxidant properties. These molecules are found mainly in the seed of the plant. Beans also contain volatile substances with some antioxidant activity. In an in vitro study on the antioxidant activity of volatile compounds from different varieties of beans, those extracted from mung beans had one of the best antioxidant potentials. The antioxidant activity is probably due in part to two aromatic compounds, eugenol and maltol.

In two other in vitro studies, results show that the outer shell of mungos would be effective against lipid oxidation and, therefore, against cell damage. These data suggest that compounds with antioxidant potential are found in the outer layer of mungos.

Cowpeas also have an antioxidant activity that increases when they undergo fermentation followed by heat treatment in an autoclave. Fermentation increases the amount of phenolic compounds. Some phenolic compounds have antioxidant activity. The high temperature reached during the autoclave treatment allows the formation of new compounds (by-products of the Maillard reaction) with a high antioxidant activity.

Azukis contain proanthocyanidins (a group of polyphenols) which are considered powerful natural antioxidants. Studies indicate that proanthocyanidins are more protective than vitamins C, E and beta-carotene, which are also antioxidants. Studies have shown beneficial effects of proanthocyanidins on oxidative damage associated with various diseases such as inflammation, cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes and cancer.

Recent studies in diabetic rats and others with kidney disease suggest that the outer shell of azukis, which contains polyphenols and fibres, has the effect of eliminating the infiltration of a certain type of cell (macrophages) and the expansion of glomeruli (blood capillaries) in the kidneys. These capillaries are responsible for the progression of diabetic nephropathy, a kidney disease that can lead to kidney failure. These preliminary results will need to be validated in a clinical study of diabetic patients with kidney disease.

Good source of starch

In dry mungos, we find on average 50% of starch, of which about 11% is in the form of resistant starch. This type of starch escapes digestion in the small intestine in the same way that dietary fibre does. The starch in mungos is special because it contains more amylose than most other legumes. The chemical structure of mung starch gives it special culinary properties. For example, vermicelli made from mungo starch is more heat resistant, so it does not break or warp during cooking19.

Mung starch is a slowly digested sugar with a low glycemic index. It appears that the high amylose content and the presence of resistant starch in mung starch contribute to an improved carbohydrate response. This is partly the conclusion of a human study in which consumption of mung starch-based pasta produced a low glycemic response compared to other types of raw and processed starch (tapioca and extruded wheat). Also in humans, researchers have shown that mung starch was absorbed more slowly than corn starch or glucose, resulting in a lower increase in blood sugar levels and a lower glycemic index.

In healthy rats, consumption of mung starch for five weeks resulted in lower blood glucose levels following a meal compared to wheat starch. In healthy and diabetic animals, the addition of mung starch to the diet rather than wheat starch resulted in a decrease in blood triglyceride levels and fat cell volume. This change in fat cells was also observed in a second animal study in which mung starch was compared to corn starch. The results of these studies show that consumption of mung starch could help improve the blood carbohydrate and fat profile in healthy individuals. It is hypothesized that mung starch could provide the same benefits to people with diabetes. Controlled clinical studies are needed to confirm this.

A word from the nutritionist

Unlike animal proteins, legumes are generally low in methionine (an essential amino acid for the body), making their protein incomplete. However, people who eat little or no animal protein can combine legumes with grain products or nuts, which then provides complete protein (containing all the essential amino acids). Adults do not need to seek this complementarity within the same meal, as obtaining it in the same day is usually sufficient. However, it is preferable for children, adolescents and pregnant women to achieve protein complementarity in the same meal.

 How to choose the right ambers and dollies?

Amber and cowpeas belong to the large Fabaceae family, as do all legumes. They originate from Asia, from the Indian subcontinent precisely. In France, they are increasingly popular and can be found in most supermarkets and grocery stores throughout the year, in canned or dried form.

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Identity card of the generic

  • Family: Fabaceae ;
  • Origin: Asia ;
  • Season: available all year round;
  • Color: black, red or green;
  • Flavour: mealy and slightly sweet.

Choosing the right amberberries and cowpeas

Long-shelled green cowpea pods are available in Asian grocery stores, as well as in some metropolitan supermarkets. They are also available in cans. Most grocery stores sell young sprouts of amberjack (mung or green amberjack) or “sprouted beans”. They should be firm, crisp, and the germ should be white.

The dried grains of most of the seven species described above can be found in some western grocery stores or in ethnic markets. Black-eyed peas are often sold under their English name of cowpea. Azuki flakes are available in France, but to our knowledge not in North America.

Before going into the kitchen

Regardless of the recipe used, the ambers and cowpeas can be dry roasted for about 10 minutes before cooking in water. They will then take on a pleasant nutty flavour.

 How to prepare cowpeas and ambers

Amberberries and cowpeas are very versatile and can be used in a variety of culinary preparations. Also, compared to many legumes, ambers are easier to digest. All lentil recipes are suitable for ambers and cowpeas, as well as dishes made with their flour. Also, don’t hesitate to interchange the various grains presented in this sheet in your recipes.

Soaking, an important step

Traditionally, in Africa, cowpea beans are soaked for a few hours and then rubbed between the hands to remove the skin, which is less digestible than the core. All the legumes we are talking about here gain in digestibility if we apply this treatment. This is why many of them are sold shelled and split.

Salted version of ambers and dollies

  • Amber and cowpeas can be sprouted. Choose whole grains rather than hulled and split grains. Young sprouts can be eaten raw or sautéed for a few minutes;
  • They can be prepared as a salad with chicken, chopped green onions and parsley. Garnish with dried cranberries and roasted peanuts, and drizzle with a honey-mustard dressing. Or cook in water with potatoes, green onions and Indian spices. Serve hot with greens.

Dare to try a sweet version of beans

  • Prepare a spread by mixing a puree of red ambers, grated ginger, lemon juice and tahini;
  • The red berry pudding is made by cooking the beans and adding a little sugar and arrowroot starch diluted in water. Put back on the fire until the water is absorbed. Serve hot or cold, with a little coconut milk;

Travelling in the kitchen with ambers and dollies

  • In Africa, Thiébou Niébé is prepared by cooking cowpeas for about 20 minutes, then frying an onion and cubes of meat in oil, and adding various vegetables (cassava, carrots, okra) and a good amount of water. The vegetables are cooked until they are tender. The vegetables are then removed from the pan, along with some of the sauce, and replaced with rice and the half-cooked okra. The cooking continues until the rice is ready. Serve with the sauce;
  • Green ambers are used to make Harusame vermicelli, which means “fine spring rain” because of the way they look when cooked. Watch the cooking carefully, as they disintegrate quickly;
  • The moyin-moyin, another pudding, comes from the Congo: cook cowpeas after soaking them overnight and removing their skin. Then crush them to a thick purée. Gradually add water so that the puree is manageable. Whisk in a few drops of oil. Mix together tomatoes, onion and hot pepper by chopping them finely, add salt and pepper, and incorporate this preparation into the dollies. The cooking is done in the oven (30 to 35 minutes) in a bain-marie, in ramekins. Africans modify this recipe at will by adding to the basic vegetables a little meat (fresh, cooked or canned), fish or seafood (fresh, dried or smoked), carrots, peas, peppers, a hard-boiled egg, etc;
  • Accras are a variation of this basic recipe. Instead of baking the mashed potatoes in ramekins, they are made into patties, fried in oil and served with a hot sauce. Cowpeas are also often cooked with corn (fresh, frozen or dried) until they disintegrate and form a thick puree;
  • In India, all pulses can be used to make a soup or purée: cook them in water with turmeric; mash them and add tomatoes, fresh coriander, hot chillies and salt, and cook for about 15 minutes. Sauté onions with cumin separately and add to the soup. Serve over basmati rice. Countless variations are possible, by changing the balance of spices (turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, cumin, cardamom, coriander, garam masala, mustard seeds, assa-foetida, tamarind, hot peppers, lemon, etc.) and by serving with different vegetables. Note that many of these spices have carminative properties, which facilitates the digestion of legumes.

The bread of Rajasthan

Rajasthani bread is a rather complex recipe that is prepared with green ambers, split and cooked with spices in a large quantity of water, and with dumplings made of flour, salt and oil or clarified butter (baflas). Once formed, the dumplings are poached in the water of the ambers and then removed after 25 minutes.

They are smeared with butter, a slight depression is made in the centre with the thumb, and then they are baked until they start to crack and take on a nice brown colour. The ambers are drained and then fried for a few minutes in oil with onions. They are served on dumplings with vegetables and chutney.

 Contraindications and allergies to amber and cowpea

Amber and cowpeas, like most legumes, can cause digestive problems in people with irritable bowel syndrome and/or intestinal hypersensitivity. The amount ingested, the soaking and the cooking method can have a positive impact on the symptoms as long as individual digestive tolerance is respected.

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Both harmful and beneficial compounds in legumes

Legumes contain phytochemicals such as lectins or saponins; these compounds can decrease the bioavailability of certain nutrients. However, researchers agree that in a North American context, where there is an abundance and diversity of foods and where nutritional deficiency is rather marginal, this effect has little impact on health. In recent years, in vitro and animal research has even linked the consumption of these compounds to certain benefits such as a reduction in the growth of cancer cells and an improvement in blood lipids.

Digestive disorders

As with most legumes, consumption of cowpeas is often limited by abdominal discomfort (e.g. flatulence and bloating). Flatulence is caused by certain oligosaccharides (sugars) such as stachyose, raffinose and verbascose found in beans. Humans are not able to properly digest these oligosaccharides because they lack the enzymes needed to break them down.

The oligosaccharides then ferment in the ileum (lower part of the small intestine). Various processes such as soaking, cooking and shelling can be used to reduce flatulence and increase the digestibility of the bean. Dehulling is an industrial mechanical operation that separates the bean from its shell. The bean hull contains polyphenols that can interfere with the digestibility of proteins and thus increase intestinal discomfort.

 History and anecdotes

The origin of the French word “ambérique” remains obscure (“ambre”?), especially since it has now disappeared from most dictionaries. However, it is still used in France, while in Canada it appears in official government documents.

The term “cowpea” (14th century) comes from the Greek dolikos, meaning “long”, probably in reference to the length of the pods of certain varieties.

A little history

The genus Vigna includes many species, seven of which are commercially exploited for their grains. They originate from India, the Far East or West Africa. In general, little is known about their domestication, despite the fact that they have been, and still are, the staple food for millions of people around the world.

It is known, for example, that red amber (azuki) and green amber (mungo) were introduced into Japan about 1,000 years before the present, but the time of their domestication is not known. Apart from cowpeas, which were already consumed in Europe at the beginning of our era, the legumes of the genus Vigna were only recently introduced into the West with the waves of immigration from Asia and Africa. Moreover, they have never played an important role in our crops, unlike rice and soybeans, for example.

We know a little more about cowpea, which is thought to have been domesticated 5,000 or 6,000 years ago in Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia), at the same time as sorghum, an important cereal on that continent. Of course, cowpeas were eaten in the wild long before they were domesticated.

The cowpea, a subspecies, was introduced by the Greeks of Marseilles into what was then Gaul at the beginning of our era, from where it gradually spread to the rest of the country. Its use remained very common until the Renaissance, although medieval medical texts accuse it of causing “terrible and lying dreams”.

After the conquest, it was replaced by the New World bean and its cultivation survived only in a few regions of France: Vendée, Poitou, Charente. It is still cultivated in Italy, Spain and particularly in Portugal. It is also found in Arab countries, and in Brazil, it is one of the main local legumes.

It is thought to have been introduced to America via Jamaica, around 1675, by black slave traders who brought large quantities to feed their tragic cargo. As it is well adapted to tropical climates and is rich in nutrients, it quickly spread to the West Indies. By the 18th century, it was grown everywhere. After entering the United States around 1700, its cultivation spread to all the southern states, replacing peas, which were poorly adapted to high temperatures and dry soils. Even today, it plays an important role in the diet of the populations of these regions.

Organic gardening

If you don’t have a garden, you can grow ambrosia and cowpea in a container. Climbing varieties will look best on a balcony or against a fence. Although it is difficult in temperate climates to bring Vigna plants to maturity (100 to 120 frost-free days are required), they can be grown for eating as a snack or for their green seeds. In addition, the leaves can be eaten like spinach, a boon that only gardeners can enjoy.

Preferably choose varieties that are indifferent to photoperiod, as most of these species are adapted to the short days prevailing in winter in their country of origin. It is particularly important to inoculate the seeds with the appropriate nitrogen fixing bacteria (rhizobacteria). Indeed, as the genus Vigna is absent from our local flora, so is the bacterial microflora that normally corresponds to it.

To avoid problems with root rot, wait until the soil is well warmed up before sowing (around June 6 in southern Quebec). Sow dwarf varieties 5-7 cm apart, and climbing varieties 20-22 cm apart. Cultivate like regular beans, making sure the soil is worked deeply to allow the taproot to develop fully.

The pods of the long-shelled cowpea can easily reach 1 m in length, but for consumption it is best to harvest them when they are about 30 cm long.

Ecology and environment

Cowpeas, moth beans and bambara peas can grow and spread in semi-arid environments where only a few centimetres of rain fall each year and where any other legume would wither and not yield. As well as providing food and medicine for humans, and fodder and feed for livestock, they can be used to develop marginal lands that are left alone because they are not rich enough to be cultivated.

The butterfly bean’s leaves form a thick mat that reduces evaporation from the sun and erosion from the wind. Its roots burrow deep to seek water where it is found, often tens of metres below the surface. Like all other legumes, it fixes atmospheric nitrogen in the soil, which promotes the growth of plants that follow it in the rotation, such as cereals and oilseeds.

Amber and cowpea
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