Value for money in legumes

November 30, 2008

Following up on Stephen’s post on the musical fruit, I thought I’d weight up my options on chickpeas, one of my favoured legumes.

Chickpeas are blimmin great, they’re moister than most legumes, they make dishes like hummus (one of everybody’s favourites), and spicy pumpkin and chickpea soup.

The question you have to ask yourself is, is it better to buy dried or tined beans? From an environmental point of view you’re going to go for dried. Other than the cost of heating the water to cook the legumes, the only other cost is transportation of said legume to the market in which you the consumer purchase it. Tinned things on the other hand are heavy, using more fossil fuels, and need additional products like tins to be manufactured.

So no real competition there.

But. And there’s always a but. Are they easier on the back pocket?

100g of dried chickpeas from the local New World costs $0.99, and that seems like a pretty good deal right? Even with the cost of cooking them added in, they’re still going to come in cheap (incidentally, if anyone knows the kw/h used by a typical household stovetop, I’d love to hear it. The interweb has been useless in this instance).

I took my 100g of chickpeas, soaked and cooked them, and ended up with ~230g of ready to eat peas.

In the tinned variety, you can buy 415g of cooked chickpeas from the Pams range for $1.55. That’s almost twice as many peas for only $0.56 more, right?! Wrong. Once you tip off the brine they use to preserve the peas after cooking them for you, you end up with ~245g of peas.

My shonky maths stands to be corrected, so lets run through this carefully.

  • Dried chickpeas are $0.99 for ~230g ready to eat, making them $4.30 per kg.
  • Tinned chickpeas are $1.55 for ~245g ready to eat, making them $6.33 per kg.

What this tells me is that the manufacturer has added 68% more value to their product by cooking them for you, which is lovely for them but not so lovely for you – or the environment.

And this is why frugality is so important to me. By getting it together to cook my own chickpeas I’m not only saving myself money, I’m preventing communal resources being squandered on useless commercial activity. Worse, supermarkets are full of this type of crap. Instant pasta sauce? I’m looking at you, buddy…

UPDATE: There’s an “Turkic” store of some kind in Newtown that sells pulses. Their chickpeas are $5 a kilo. This would add up to $2.15 per kilo cooked. I’d say you’re hard-pressed to find a better bargain than that.

The place is on the corner of Constable/Riddiford St, heading towards New World. Which I was.


  1. I figured it out like this: the main element is usually rated at 1kW, and because of the thermostat, it isn’t drawing that all the time, so if it was on half way, and you pay 22c per kWh (current Meridian charge in Wellington) it costs you 11 cents for an hour.

  2. cool. that would then add 11c to the cost of the home-cooked chickpeas, making them $4.78 per kg.

    still a bargain.

  3. One fateful weekend I overdosed on “pasta e ceci”, so my love of the chickpea has diminished somewhat, but thank you for confirming my intuitive knowledge that it made no sense whatsoever to buy them tinned. And I’m with you on ready-made pasta sauces, except perhaps for pesto. And wallnut sauce.

  4. How long does it take to soak and cook said chickpeas?

  5. takes about 8 hours to soak chickpeas, and about an hour to cook them. not too onerous if you get it together and soak a bunch at once.

    @giovanni. buying pesto is good value. you’d have to grow a boatload yourself to make it worthwhile otherwise, that or buy *a lot*.

    but… i might have to test that theory come basil season.

  6. As I pointed out in an earlier post, as long as you have time on your hands, you don’t even need to soak – the cooking time just gets longer.

    Eg, if it’s 3pm and you forgot to put them in to soak after breakfast, you don’t go “oh god, dinner is ruined.” You just start cooking them, and they’ll still be done by 5, if not sooner.

  7. but… i might have to test that theory come basil season.

    Haven’t had time to plant it yet, which is a damn shame. Last summer Justine planted a forest and we had pizza marinara and pesto by the truckload. Yum.

    (I have this theory that pizza marinara is the cheapest dish in the universe, in terms of sheer cost per acreage. Perhaps one of you Frugallists could help me test it.)

  8. Yeah, as long as you have the space, growing a boatload of basil IS easy. Certainly a substantial saving on fresh basil from the supermarket. I mean, a packet of basil seeds costs no more than one bunch of pallid, soft, tasteless supermarket basil. Pesto made with fresh basil grown outdoors is just so much better.

  9. “Perhaps one of you Frugallists could help me test it.”

    is that’s an invitation. we accept.

  10. I agree. But I think we want a family recipe from an elderly relative, preferably handed down through generations on a yellowing scrap of paper.

  11. But I think we want a family recipe from an elderly relative, preferably handed down through generations on a yellowing scrap of paper.

    Ah, sorry, none of my ancestry comes from the requisite parts of the country, so pizza is recent heritage for me (Italy hasn’t been unified for that long, politically or gastronomically). But marinara basically is your pizza base with tomato, sliced garlic cloves and fresh basil leaves. No cheese. The fact that it’s called marinara creates in some an expectation of seafood, but it’s so named because it was the food of fishermen, and fishermen were a pretty impoverished lot. Hence the frugality.

  12. ahhh… i was seeing a pizza with wee octopi on.

    i’ll see what i can do about putting together a pizza recipe for you from the old country. i.e. the other end of cuba st.

  13. LOL – I make pizza at least once a week but I don’t think its a traditional recipe as my dough has a cup of beer in it 🙂 I agree though – its extremely cheap and filling and more importantly in my house -everyone likes it.

  14. Pizza has to be one of the frugalest good foods out there. Flour and water. And whatever you throw on the top is likely to end up delicious. I’m eating home made pizza right now in fact (an evening’s work gets me a week of pizza lunches).

  15. I like the way George thinks! But cheese, that’s expensive. (And beer, I shall add it.)

  16. You’ll have to share the pesto recipe with us sometime, Giovanni.

  17. With great pleasure.

    Let’s estimate quantities based on how much basil you’d get from a supermarket-bought plant.

    75 g pinenuts
    2-3 cloves of garlic, depending on how much you like the stuff
    1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano or grana padano
    175 ml extra virgin olive oil

    Mix the garlic, basil leaves, pinenuts and cheese in a mortar or food processor. Add the oil in a steady stream, while continuing to mix. Aaaannnd… you’re done.

    There should be enough for about three pasta meals, and a little bit on the side to go in the odd sandwich or baked on a focaccia. It’s not terribly cheap – pinenuts and parmigiano will take care of that – but not terribly expensive either. It keeps in the fridge for two-three weeks but you want to keep it covered with a thin layer of oil.

  18. Thanks Giovanni, hat looks delicious. I look forward to making it.

    “not terribly expensive either.”

    If you’re somebody who buys something from the store, and making it is cheaper and easy, and a pleasure, then the cost difference isn’t much of the point. As has been pointed out here often, those dollars here and there add up, and give you more freedom to do more or work less.

  19. “those dollars here and there add up, and give you more freedom to do more or work less.”

    absolutely. i save money on a bunch of stuff in order to be able to afford decent holidays!

    oh, and build up savings so i’m rarely in the red.

  20. ok, ok, you’ve convinced me. 😉

  21. I know this is an old post but the Davis Trading shop on Webb Street sells 3kgs of dried chickpeas for $12 – if you go on Saturdays when they have 12.5% off. Otherwise the Spice Rack in Petone sells them for $4.50/kg standard. A bargin.

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