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Gram flour is a finely ground powder made from cooked, roasted garbanzo beans. Known also as chickpea flour, it is pale yellow and has a silky texture. This flour is widely used as an ingredient in Indian cuisine, as well as in some Asian, Middle Eastern, and European dishes.
Chickpeas (Cicer arietinum) grow on small bushes that produce feathery foliage and plump, oval pea pods. There are two types: desi, which are small and dark with rugged skin, and kabuli, which are larger and lighter with smooth skin. Historically, these legumes were one of the earliest cultivated crops. India is the world’s largest producer.
The term “gram” comes from the Bengali dialect. On much of the Indian subcontinent, the flour is called besan or chana. In the Middle East, it is called hummus. In Italy, it is known as farina di ceci, and in French, it is called farine de pois chiche.
Much like chickpeas themselves, gram flour is relatively high in both protein and carbohydrates. It is also rich in B vitamins, calcium, and other minerals such as iron, phosphorous, and magnesium. As a gluten-free product, it is especially favored by those with food allergies and special dietary needs.
Some of India’s most popular dishes are made with gram flour. Many deep-fried dishes are coated with a batter made of this flour, egg, and water. These include potato croquettes called bonda, vegetable fritters called pakora, and stuffed chilies called bajji. Chickpea flour is also used to make a crispy Indian flatbread called papadum.
In other international cuisines, gram flour is used in an interesting array of dishes. It is used to make the Chinese food called jidou liangfen, a firm jelly that is served cold or added to stir-fry dishes. In Myanmar, it is used to make a tofu-like food called to-hpu. Around the Mediterranean, it is used to make an Italian flatbread called farinata, a crepe-like French-Provencial flatbread called socca, and Sicilian fritters called panelle, a popular street food.
Many Asian markets and most Indian grocery stores carry the flour, and it is also available in health food stores, since it is popular among vegetarians and vegans. For intrepid cooks, it can be made at home by boiling, dry-roasting, and mortar-grinding dried chickpeas.