UK's first commercial crop of chickpeas harvested in Norfolk
PUBLISHED: 12:49 30 August 2019 | UPDATED: 12:49 30 August 2019
The UK's first commercial crop of chickpeas has been harvested in Norfolk- helping to feed a growing demand for vegetarian and Asian cooking ingredients.
About 20 tonnes of the legume is now being processed, graded and packaged to be sold next month by Suffolk pulse specialist Hodmedod, based at Brampton near Beccles.
Half of it has been grown in Breckland by Raker Farms near Thetford, adding to crops grown in Lincolnshire and County Durham.
Hodmedod's co-founder Josiah Meldrum said the company has been working with growers on trial crops of chickpeas for five years, but this is the first one that has been successful enough to be taken to market.
"We had been trying this for several years when Henry Raker gave us a call and said he was thinking about growing chickpeas," he said. "He has done a fantastic job getting it to harvest.
"They can be tricky to grow because they like it warm and dry in late August, as they are a late-maturing and ripening crop. In the normal run of things it is not quite hot enough for chickpeas in the UK."
Although most chickpeas are imported from places like the Mediterranean, Asia and north America, Mr Meldrum said our warming climate is now making it increasingly viable to grow them in the UK.
"One of the responses to climate change and to make our farms more resilient is to have a greater range of crops being sown, so if one does well it will compensate one that is not doing so well," he said. "We would like to get chickpeas on to more farms, and get better at growing it more consistently so we can compete better with imports from North America or Turkey."
Mr Meldrum said the company is focusing on the kabuli chickpea variety - the pale, smooth, round peas most familiar to UK consumers - which can be canned and sold whole or used to make chickpea flour.
The chickpea features prominently in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine and is a staple ingredient in hummus. The popularity of those dishes, allied to the recent shift towards "clean eating" and veganism, has meant that pulses, lentils, peas and beans are seeing a revival.
"What has become clear to us over the last few days is that people really love chickpeas," said Mr Meldrum. "There are a lot of people who are looking to cut down on their meat consumption, or buy better quality meat, and to find an alternative protein source is really useful."