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Pigeon pea, ideal substitute for garden pea

By Our Agriculture Correspondent

Pigeon pea grown as a vegetable crop is a profitable venture in dry lands.

PIGEON PEA, also known as red gram or arhar, is a major pulse crop of India. It is an important protein supplement in the vegetarian diet.

Though, it is consumed as a cooked dhal, people in some States especially Gujarat and Karnataka prefer it as a green vegetable. For the farmers also, growing pigeon pea as a pure crop for vegetable purpose is profitable.

"If the vegetable-type red gram is cultivated around the urban markets, the returns from the crop are quite handsome. It is suited for red soil belts of dry regions with erratic rainfall," explains an expert on dry land agricultural projects.

Besides yielding nutritious vegetables the dry biomass of red gram serves as an ideal fuel. Pigeon pea is also an ideal foraging crop for honeybees.

For use as a vegetable, the green pods of pigeon pea are picked before maturity. This operation is done about 25-30 days after flowering. After a couple of rounds of harvesting of the green pods, the remaining pods are allowed to mature to form seeds for the next season. Pods of pigeon pea vary in size and colour ranging from green to purple or dark brown. Raw pigeon pea seeds got from green coloured pods generally more acceptable than those extracted from purple pods.

Field studies conducted by the scientists at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Patancheru near Hyderabad in the early Eighties revealed that there was a good consumer preference for pigeon pea as a vegetable in several States of India, especially Gujarat.

The full-grown green seeds of pigeon pea are an ideal substitute for garden pea. It is cooked the same way as garden peas are, and like garden peas, the green pigeon pea seeds cook well in combination with other vegetables such as potato, carrot, cauliflower and cabbage.

Laboratory tests showed the pigeon pea required slightly longer cooking time than garden peas. However, there was no noticeable difference between the two in the amount of water taken up or in the increase in volume during cooking. Generally, garden peas are preferred to pigeon peas because of their sweetness. Pigeon peas contain 5 per cent soluble sugars on dry weight basis as compared to 10 per cent in garden peas. The protein content of pigeon peas is also lower than garden peas, but their starch content is higher.

A detailed comparative study of the nutritional aspects of green and matured pigeon pea seeds favours the consumption of pigeon pea as a vegetable than as a matured grain. The flatulence (production of gas in the intestines due to consumption of matured pods) causing sugars are absent or present in much lower concentrations in green seeds than in the ripe grains.

The protein quality of the green seeds is better than that of the matured seeds. It was also found that the starch digestibility of the green seeds was better than that of the matured seeds.

Some high-yielding varieties with greenish pods are ideal for raising pigeon pea as a vegetable crop. The varieties respond well to organic nutrition and application of rhizobium and other bio-fertilizers. About 25 kg seeds will be needed to cover a hectare at an espacement of 22.5 cm x 75 cm.

The crop can drought conditions well, and it needs some minimal plant protection care. Farmers in Karnataka have harvested up to nearly four tonnes of green pods and about 650 kg of matured seeds from a hectare.

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