Lentils are thought by some botanists to originate with the wild lentils still found growing in the Middle East, and the Egyptians are considered to have introduced lentils to the Greeks and Romans. In Genesis 25:34, Jacob gave Esau bread and lentils.

Most lentils today are grown in Europe, Asia, North Africa and in the Americas, with nearly 50% grown in India for their domestic market. Canada is the largest exporter and Saskatchewan is the most important lentil producing region in Canada. Idaho and Eastern Washington are the most important producing region in the USA.

Lentils (Lens culinaris, or Lens esculenta for the lens-shaped seed) contain dietary fiber (25% of which is soluble) said to help lower cholesterol, although the red/pink lentils have only 1/3 the fiber of green lentils. [1] They also contain folate (folic acid) which reportedly fights heart disease, and magnesium, a calcium channel blocker. They contain 26% protein [1], are high in iron and very low in fat. Health magazine selected lentils as one of the five healthiest foods. [2]

Varieties range in colors from red and yellow to black. Red, white and yellow lentils are decorticated, i.e. they have their skins removed. One variety of yellow "lentils," Chana, is in fact made from the kernels of chickpeas.[1] The small lentils generally have more flavor and are preferred in the Middle East. Lentils are often mixed with rice resulting in a complete protein eaten by the many vegetarians in India.

Types of lentils
* Brown (Spanish Pardina)
* Petite Castillio (Spanish)
* French Green (or Puy, from volcanic French soils, Dark speckled blue-green)

* Green (Most common variety)
* Black Beluga, glisten like caviar when cooked
* Yellow/Tan Lentils (Red inside)
*Red Chief (Decorticated yellow lentils)
* Eston Green (Small green)
* Richlea (Medium green)
* Laird (Large green)
* Petite Golden (Decorticated lentils)
* Masoor (Brown-skinned lentils which are red inside)
* Petite Crimson/Red (Decorticated masoor lentils)
* Chana (Kernel of chickpeas)
* Urad (A type of bean)
* White/Ivory (Peeled Urad beans)
* Garlic Lentils (Genetically altered)
* Macachiados (Big Mexican yellow lentils)

ImageThe lentil grows generally only about 15” tall although extended cold weather may produce taller plants with delayed flowering. However, lentils will tolerate some frost. They are a somewhat low-growing bushy annual (1 to 2 feet) sown in early spring and harvested by mid-July. Seeds should be sown as soon as the soil can be worked, 1 to 1-1/2 inches deep in moist soil. Once established they require dry soil conditions. They are harvested like dry beans when the seed pods are mature, usually by mid-July.

Cooking Lentils

Lentils have a mild, earthy flavor and stand up well to assertive herbs and spices. To boil lentils, use three cups of liquid for each cup of lentils. Lentils placed in already boiling water will be easier to digest than those that were brought to a boil with the water. When the water returns to a boil, turn down the heat to simmer and cover. Green lentils usually take 30 minutes, while red ones usually require only 20 minutes. If you add a bit of oil to cooking water and do not cook to mush, the lentils will be loose and fluffy.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lentil
[2] Raymond, Joan (March 2006). World's Healthiest Foods: Lentils (India). Health Magazine.

Photo Credits

All Dried Lentils Photos are by Darius Van d'Rhys,

Vegetable Soup © Anna Milkova, iStock Photo 1975516, By Permission

Man with Bean Plants, © Greg Sargent, iStock Photo 3867190, By Permission

Lentil Soup Recipe Image
Wonderful on a cold snowy night served with homemade cornbread with maple butter and fried potatoes.

1 lb dried lentils

8 cups cold water
1 (16 ounce) can tomatos, chopped
4-5 slices bacon, cut up
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrot, chopped
3 teaspoons parsley
2 teaspoons wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 large bay leaf

Combine all ingredients in a Dutch oven. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes.
(The directions didn’t say to, but I think I’d lightly sauté the bacon and veggies first.)