Besan, also called gram flour, is made from ground, dried chickpeas and is a staple ingredient in many Indian and Pakistani foods. Some people may be more familiar with the name garbanzo beans for chickpeas, and further, others may confuse besan with graham flour. Cooks will also occasionally see it called ground chickpea lentil flour. A variety of beans are called lentils, but in this case, besan refers exclusively to what is commonly referred to in the English-speaking world as garbanzo beans.
Cooks may find numerous recipes that use the exceptionally high protein and gluten-free besan. It’s used as a coating on many of the deep-fried favorites of India including the vegetable fritters called pakouras. Many Indian curries are most authentic when they include this flour to thicken the curry sauce that coats meats, fish and/or vegetables. Besan is used as a thickener in soups and sauces of all types, and may be used as Westerners might use eggs to bind ingredients together.
Besan is finely ground, not coarse as is the chickpea flour used to make falafels. Some varieties are made from dried roasted chickpeas, which gives the flour a rich and nutty taste. It can be used in place of a number of different flours that would be found in the Western world, in a straight substitution, or by using a half/half mixture of besan and wheat flour.
When compared to standard white flour, cooks can see that nutritionally, besan is far superior. One cup (92 grams) has 20.6 grams of protein, as compared to the 16 grams in whole wheat flour and the 12 grams in wheat/white flour. It is lower in carbohydrates and calories than is wheat flour of any type. Besan is not a low carb food by any means, and contains more fat than does wheat flour, about 6 grams per cup.
Since many people are now avoiding more glutenous flours, besan may be found in low-gluten flour mixes particularly at natural food stores. Natural food stores may additionally carry gram flour; it's often found in the bulk food section or refrigerated section if it's not next to the other flours. It can be ordered on the Internet too, but consumers may want to check Asian grocery stores if they can’t find besan at a natural foods store before ordering it online.
Once a cook has obtained besan, it is best stored in the refrigerator. The oil content in the flour can make it turn rancid more easily than other flours. In an airtight container in the fridge, it can usually be kept safely for about six months.