Dried legumes and their edible seeds are known as pulses. Pulses are classified into three groups - lentils, beans and peas. They are the seeds of plants belonging to the family Leguminosae, which gets its name from the characteristic pod or legume that protects the seeds while they are forming and ripening. With approximately 13,000 species, the family Leguminosae is the second largest in the plant kingdom and it is very important economically.
Most pulses prefer warm climates but there are varieties which grow in temperate regions. Different kinds of legumes provide us with food, medicines, oils, chemicals, timber, dyes and ornamental garden plants. Pulses are valuable because they contain a higher percentage of protein than most other plant foods. They have a wide range of flavors and textures and form a large part of the Indian daily diet.
In spite of its common name, the peanut or groundnut is also a legume rather than a nut. Once referred to as "poor man's meat” because they are high in protein and inexpensive, pulses are valuable additions to a modern diet because of their good taste, convenience, ease of use and nutritional role in managing and preventing diabetes. They are eaten either whole (with the skin still intact) or split in half (with or without their skins).
The term "Dal” or "daal" refers to a bean or lentil which has the outer husk removed and the remaining lentil is then split. This ensures a quicker cooking time and a softer, creamier texture when cooked. Crops which are mainly grown for oil extraction, like soybeans and peanuts are not called pulses. Also, vegetable crops like fresh green peas and fresh green beans are not considered pulses because they are immature peas that have not been dried naturally in the field.