Cajanus cajan: Toor dal

Family: Fabaceae
Common name: Toor dal, Pigeon pea, Arhar dal, Red gram

The most commonly used dal in India, toor dal used in sambhar, khichdi, rasam and many other popular dishes. They are used in making snacks like vadas and pakoras; and sweets like payasam.

No wonder India is the largest producer of toor dal with 63% of world’s production happening in India, followed by Africa. producing 21% of the total. Within India, the top 3 states in toor dal production are Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.

Toor dal plants or Pigeon peas are annual, erect legumes belonging to the family Fabaceae, the stem growing to a height of 2-3 meters very quickly. The stems are hard and woody at the base; green and tender towards the top. Leaves are alternate and trifoliate, having 3 leaflets to each main leaf.

Belonging to the pea family, their roots have nitrogen fixing bacteria that can take atmospheric nitrogen and convert it into a form that can be absorbed by plants, thus enriching the soil.

They also make good garden plants because they are quite sturdy, and drought-tolerant. With proper fertilization and pest management, you can produce a good crop of toor dal at home. They also improve the quality your garden soil through nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the roots.

Flowers are similar in shape to those of other pea plants like hyacinth beans, but definitely more beautifully colored. The flower buds are mostly red since the outer petal is bicolor, red outside and yellow inside. When the buds open, they are yellow inside with fused petals. They grow bunches of 12-15 beautiful, elegant flowers. Leaves, buds, and fruits have thin, downy white hair all over them.

Fruits are long, green and flattened, about 7-9 cms long with 5-8 rounded seeds inside each pod. They have a pointy tips and red markings at the ridges between seeds, and near the edges.

The fruits become more rounded and fuller as the seeds mature, and gradually become brown with rattling seeds inside. This is an indication of harvest time, when the toor dal seeds are removed using manual, wet or dry methods depending on the scale of cultivation.

Toor dal is a rich source of protein with over 20% protein content, beneficial especially if you follow a vegetarian diet. Tender shoots, leaves and seedpods are also cooked and eaten. Toor dal cooked with rice, vegetables or meat are delicacies in many parts of Africa.

Pigeon pea plants are also grown for ground-cover, as forage crops, as a host for other beneficial insects or for green manure. The thick dried stems of these plants are used as firewood, for thatching and for making fences.
Some varieties of toor dal plants live for 4-6 months and die, whereas some other varieties can live for 3-4 years.

These plants can be grown by themselves or along with other legumes or grains like maize. To increase yield, it is better to test the soil and ensure that it has all the minerals and trace elements needed for healthy growth of the plants. Weed and pest control is also essential, especially when the plants are young and also after flowering.

Propagation is from seeds.

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