Legume and pulse are common names for plants that are members of the botanical family Fabaceae, formerly called Leguminosae. These botanical family members include various peas, beans and herbs. With more than 17,000 species, these plants usually consist of three major components: compound leaves, fruit (the pod considered as the "legume") with edible seeds (referred to as the "pulse") and blossoms.
Although technically, pulses (the seeds) and legumes (the pods) are two different components, for common usage, the terms legume and pulse are used interchangeably. For example, soybeans are seeds or pulses that are encased in a pod or legume. But for common usage, soybeans are generally called either pulses or legumes as a whole. Pulse has also been used to describe grainy meal products made from pulses and legumes.
Pulses are used for human food, sometimes being primary dietary staples for various lifestyles, or in countries where meat is expensive or scare. Some of the most prevalent legumes used for nutritional purposes include beans, peas, lentils, carob, peanuts and soybeans. Pulses such as alfalfa, soybeans, lupin and lespedeza are also used for animal fodder.
Legumes are used in a variety of commerical and industrial applications. For example, acacia, copal and carob are used in resins and gums. Dyes are made from the indigo plant, brazilwood, and acacia. Some medicines contain senna, liquorice and tamarind. Also, common cooking oils are made from peanuts and soybeans.
Soybean or Glycine max is the most widely used legume in the agricultural industry. It's an annual crop grown worldwide, but is indigenous to Asia, where it's been cultivated for more than 5000 years. Even though there is only one species of soybean, there are more than 2,500 varieties that come in a wide range of shapes, sizes and colours.
Acacia is a leguminous plant that consists of 1200 species, which primarily come in the form of trees and shrubs. Acacias are distributed worldwide, but are predominately found in the subtropics and tropics. These versatile pulses, used for diverse purposes, grow on trees that are widely used for fuel wood and timber.
Jicama or Pachyrhizus erosus is one of the few plants classified as a legume that does not fit in the "pod-to-seed" mould. It is a tuberous pulse -- similar in appearance to a turnip -- commonly grown in Mexico, Thailand, Malaysia and Hawaii. It is used in a cooked food, but popularly served raw in salads. More than 85 per cent of a jicama's edible portion consists of water.
Peanuts or Arachis hypogaea is one of the most heavily cultivated crops in the southern region of the United States. Despite the word "nut" being a part of their common name, peanuts are not true nuts but are legumes. In other parts of the world, these pulse plants are called groundnuts. They also serve as important agricultural crops in China, India, Senegal, Nigeria and Brazil.