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  • Russell Kallman

The mystery of Chickpea varieties

Updated: May 9, 2022

If you buy canned chickpeas in the supermarket you may be under the mistaken impression that Chickpeas come in two varieties - conventional and organic.

Desi and Kabuli

However, Chickpeas have historically had a great divide in their family. The Desi and Kabuli varieties have very different markets and growing characteristics.

The Desi chickpea (90%+ of Australian harvest) is typically preferred in India and the subcontinent - predominately split and de-hulled, but also as a whole variety. Its cheaper and less risky to grow than Kabuli and continues to grab a larger share of acreage.

The Kabuli chickpea is the preferred choice of most other markets. When you buy a can of chickpeas you are getting a Kabuli variety. In North America it goes by the name Garbanzo Bean (a vestige of Spain's influence).

Kabuli varieties

In Australia, there are actually 12 different main varieties of Kabuli Chickpeas grown.

In practice, most consumers and wholesalers will ask for three types by name. Kabuli - which is taken to mean any variety 7-9mm. Macarena - which for some has preferred cooking properties and is sized 9 - 10mm. Ord River - which is actually a Kimberley Large and known for its large size

Macarena Grande chickpeas and Ord River are just varieties of Kabuli that have been cultivated over time to suite a particular growing climate and may therefore benefit from more consistent size or colour characteristics given the advantages of their growing region.

The acreage of Macarena grown in Queensland has been dropping as the drought took a toll on growers and ever lower prices have just made the crop not worth growing given the costs and risks in that region.

The Ord River ( Kimberley Large) have a sophisticated irrigation scheme, critical mass and higher market prices meant that despite a drop in quality, the acreage hasn't declined like the Macarena.

Canned product is increasingly being imported

Importing Chickpeas into Australia is not trivial. Expensive heat treatment or dedicated quarantine inspection processes for manufacturers are required. Therefore the majority of chickpeas consumed in Australia, originate here. The one exception is canned product.

You will find almost all private label canned chickpeas are imported from Italy and they may be using ingredients imported from anywhere in the world given current country of origin labelling rules. Other brands vary.

Whilst almost all canned organic product is imported. Australia does have a local organic product that is widely available.

Size does matter

Depending on the usage of the Chickpea, the size does matter. For some purposes a 7mm actually yields a higher quality outcome. Others look for sizes 9mm and above, such as Macarena Grande. Sometimes you need a consistent sizing, other times a lower cost mix will be suitable.

Pricing of the different sizes is largely driven by what percentage of a given harvest intake falls into each size class. The lower the %, the more expensive to provide a pure product in that grade. In difficult crop years like 2019, you will see sizes mixed together to create the impression of a larger size in a package. Some sellers are upfront about this, others not so much.


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