Pulse crops are members of the legume family grown for their dry, edible seeds. Sometimes, they are referred to as “grain legumes.” Although pulse crops can be fed to animals (feed), their common use is human food. The definition of pulse crops excludes legume plants harvested green and consumed as a vegetable by humans (e.g. green beans, green peas) or as a forage for animals (e.g. alfalfa hay).

Soybean and peanut are sometimes listed as pulse crops, but not in every instance or by every organization. The international organization, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), recognizes 11 types of pulse crops: dry beans, dry broad beans, dry peas, chickpea, cowpea, pidgeon pea, lentil, bambara ground nut, vetch, lupins, and minor pulses. FAO excludes from their definition plants for which oil is extracted from dry seeds. But, when soybean grain is used as human food, such as tofu, it may make sense to include soybean as a pulse crop.

Categories of pulse crops with examples:

Dry beans

Dry bean is the most common category of pulses consumed in the USA. Most dry bean types are species of the genus Phaseolus, although a few are members of the Vignagenus. Examples of Phaseolus vulgaris are kidney, pinto,, soldier, black turtle (plants, pods, seeds), and navy beans. Seed color is usually red, white or speckled. Pinto is the most common bean in the USA. Two common uses of pinto beans are refried beans and as a filling for burritos. Seed coats are often mottled or speckled. Navy beans are used in baked beans and soups.

Lima beans (butter beans) are P. lunatus and are either large-seeded (Lima type) or small-seeded (Sieva type). In southern U.S., it is the small seeded type that is usually referred to as butter beans. Upright (bush) and vine-like (pole) growth habits exist. Seeds are usually white, although black, red, orange or mottled seeds occur. Other members of the Phaseolus genus are scarlet runner bean (P. coccineus) (plant, vine, flowers, seeds) and tepary bean (P. acutifolius) (plants, pods, seeds)

Two common Vigna species are Adzuki (sometimes spelled Azuki) beans and Mung bean. Adzuki bean is V. angularis. Popular in East Asia, seed color is usually red although white, black, gray and speckled seeds occur. Mung bean is V. radiata. It is native to India and commonly used in Indian and Asian foods. Other members of the Vigna genus are black gram (V. mungo), ricebean (V. umbellata) and moth bean (V. aconitifloia) (plants, pods, seeds).

Dry broad bean

Dry broad beans or fava beans or faba beans, are Vicia faba. A specific variety (not cultivar, but in plant classification nomenclature) is called horse bean. Fava beans were a major constituent in old Mediterranean civilizations, including the Romans. Today, broad beans are grown and consumed on nearly every continent. Seeds are often quite large. Fava beans can be eaten as green beans, fried, pureéd, boiled or as a constituent in numerous foods.

Dry pea

Dry pea is Pisum sativum. In the USA, peas are commonly harvested before maturity and consumed as a vegetable. Dry peas are harvested after the pea pods are fully mature and are available either whole or split in half (split peas). Dry peas come in both yellow and green types. Yellow pea has the milder, more neutral flavor, while green pea have an earthier, more vegetal taste. Pea soup is common in many countries. In southeast Asia, peas are roasted, salted and eaten as snacks.


Chickpea is Cicer arietinum and is also known as garbanzo beans. Most chickpea varieites are placed into two categoreis. Desi chickpea seeds are small, dark in color, with a yellow interior. Kabuli chickpea seeds are large, beige in color, and possess a thin skin. The country with the greatest production is India where it is a common ingredient in many popular dishes. Cooked and ground chickpea is known as hummus.


Cowpea is Vigna unguiculata. In southern USA, cowpea is often called black-eyed pea. Nigeria is the largest producer and consumer of cowpea. Cowpea tolerates drought better than some other pulse crops. Its tolerance of shade makes it a common choice for intercropping with corn or sorghum.

Pigeon pea

Pigeon pea is Cajanus cajan. Unlike other pulse crops, pigeon pea has perennial and annual types. The annual type is better suited for grain production. India is the largest producer of pigeon pea. Pigeon pea is consumed as cooked dry peas, ground into flour, or as a green vegetable.


Lentil is Lens culinaris. The genus name relates to the lens-shaped, relatively small seed. There are at least 15 lentil types based on seed size and color. Examples includu: Eston (small green), Richlea (medium green), and Laird (large green). Lentil is often combined with rice in Asian dishes. Other food uses are similar to dry pea. Canada is the largest producer of lentil.

Bambara bean

Bambara bean is Vigna subterranean. The species name refers to the unusual characteristic of underground pod development and maturation. In this respect, it is similar to peanut. Although world production of Bambara bean is small, it is an important constituent of diets in West Africa.


Vetches are species within the genus, Vicia. The predominant use of vetch in the USA is as a forage or cover crop. Grain use is limited.


There are over 200 species in the genus, Lupinus. Many lupine species are perennial, and some species are ornamental (e.g. Texas bluebonnet). Annual lupines are used in agriculture for animal forage, green manure, and as a pulse. Western Australia produces the majority of lupine seeds. Lupine seeds often contain alkaloids that make the seeds toxic to humans and animals. “Sweet” lupine types were selected for reduced alkaloids and their grain is used for human food and animal feed. Two common annual lupines are blue (narrow-leafed) lupine and yellow lupin.

Miscellaneous and minor pulses

Other pulse crops include hyacinth bean (Lablab purpureus), Jack bean (Canavalia ensiformis) and winged bean (Psophocarpus teragonolobus).

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