So what are lentils? The lentil is a popular dried bean that is easier to prepare than your typical dried bean. They are round, oval, or heart shaped and usually no larger than a pencil eraser.
The lentil dates back thousands of years, and has played a huge part in the diets and nutrition of our ancestors. This type of food is categorized as a legume, and is a part of the pea family. It is essentially an edible seed, due to its smaller size by nature. It is most popularly grown in Asia, Africa, and Europe, and not as commonly grown in the Western Hemisphere. According to Brittanica, “The lentil has been found in the lake dwellings of St. Peter’s Island, Lake Biel, Switzerland, dating from the Bronze Age. The red pottage of lentils for which Esau sold his birthright (Genesis 25:30–34) probably was made from the red Egyptian lentil. This lentil is cultivated in one or another variety in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe along the Mediterranean coast, and as far north as Germany, the Netherlands, and France.”
Lentils are closely associated with Old World agriculture, and spread in popularity alongside of wheat and barley. Wheat and barley are huge contributors to food and nutrition around the world, so it gives you an idea of how important lentils also were then and now. Playing important roles with Jewish nutrition, Greek nutrition, and Roman nutrition, this legume is rich in history. In many of these cultures, they were consumed by the poor, as meat cost way too much money and lentils still contained ample amounts of protein. According to Clifford A. Wright, “The ancient Greeks very much enjoyed lentils, especially in soups. Aristophanes said “You, who dare insult lentil soup, sweetest of delicacies.”
These small pea shaped beans were thought to have originated in the Mediterranean region, but they grow best in cooler weather. Most lentils produced in the United States comes from the Pacific Northwest region of the country, and they have been produced since 1930 on a rotation crop with wheat. These little beans are grown two to a pod, and they are dried immediately after they are harvested. India consumes the majority of the world’s lentils and over fifty different varieties are grown over in that part of the world. They are heavily used in curries and soups. Mushy red lentils are best known to turn thinner soups into thicker ones.
Lentils Nutrition Facts
Who would have thought that lentils have the second highest level of antioxidants behind black beans when it comes to legumes overall? Along with the many positive antioxidants, they also offer a plethora of vitamins, minerals, and protein. They are extremely high in fiber, and all the while, they are low in fat and calories. According to lentils.org, “When combined with a whole grain, lentils provide the same quality protein as meat!” Other notable nutrition inside lentils include: folate, vitamin D, calcium, potassium, iron, and manganese. Their iron content will account for over 45% of your daily needs with just 100 grams, which will give you a natural little boost in energy too!
According to Medical News Today, here is the nutritional breakdown for lentils:
- “45 percent of folate
- 36 percent of iron
- 70 percent of manganese
- 28 percent of phosphorus
- 58 percent of thiamin
- 14 percent of potassium
- 127 percent of vitamin B6”
Lentils Health Benefits
There are many different yet unique health benefits that will occur when you incorporate lentils into your everyday diet. They benefit your bones, digestive system, blood, and heart. According to Nutrition Facts, “Lentils are high in phytates, which may reduce the risk of colon cancer and may have protective effects against osteoporosis.” There are also tremendous heart benefits involved in consuming lentils. One study followed 16,000 middle ages men throughout a variety of countries and different eating habits. Ranging from the United States all the way to Japan, they found that lentils reduced heart disease by 82%. “When researchers analyzed this data in relation to the risk of death from heart disease, they found that legumes were associated with a whopping 82% reduction in risk!”
Other health benefits include protection from the onset of cancer, increased energy, healthier pregnancy due to high levels of folate, and the regulation of healthy digestion. When it comes to digestion, this is true because of the higher levels of fiber in lentils. Overall, these protein packed little morsels are a nice break from the heavy meats, yet they are packed with vitamins and minerals which will only better your health. There are plenty of varieties to choose from and there is an abundance of recipes to take advantage of.
Varieties of Lentils
It is really simple when it comes to lentils and the different varieties you can choose. They come in a few different colors, but they are all very similar. See below for the different varieties:
Yellow and Red
The cook time for this variety is anywhere from 20-25 minutes. As stated earlier, this type of lentil breaks down and mushes more easily and is found in Indian cuisine and is used to thicken soups.
Cook time is anywhere from 20-30 minutes. Green lentils are larger and milder in flavor, and can be easily paired with herbs and olive oil.
Cook time is 20-30 minutes. Brown lentils are the most common type found in the United States. They are large in size and rich in flavor.
These darker lentils can take anywhere from 30-40 minutes to cook, and they are smaller in nature. They are more firm in texture and are most commonly found in salads.
Uses for Lentils
First of all, how do you cook lentil beans? Unlike every other bean, lentils are less work because they do not require soaking at all. Simply fill up a pot of water and add the lentils in when the water comes to a boil. There are many different lentil sources you can look to for more ideas on how to cook them, but this is the basis. You can cook them anywhere from 15-20 minutes until they reach your preferred tenderness. There are some really good recipes for lentil soup that I want to share in this article. There are so many different varieties of soups, but this is one of the best to try out.
Spiced Vegan Lentil Soup Recipe
By: Cookie and Kate
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow or white onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 large can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, drained
- 1 cup brown or green lentils, picked over and rinsed
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt, more to taste
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup chopped fresh collard greens or kale, tough ribs removed
- Juice of ½ to 1 medium lemon, to taste
- “Warm the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or pot over medium heat. One-fourth cup olive oil may seem like a lot, but it adds a lovely richness and heartiness to this nutritious soup.
- Once the oil is shimmering, add the chopped onion and carrots and cook, stirring often, until the onion has softened and is turning translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, curry powder, and thyme. Cook until fragrant while stirring constantly, about 30 seconds. Pour in the drained diced tomatoes and cook for a few more minutes, stirring often, in order to enhance their flavor.
- Pour in the lentils, broth, and the water. Add 1 teaspoon salt and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper. Raise heat and bring the mixture to a boil, then partially cover the pot and reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender but still hold their shape.
- Transfer 2 cups of the soup to a blender. Protect your hand from steam with a tea towel placed over the lid and purée the soup until smooth. Pour the puréed soup back into the pot and add the chopped greens. Cook for 5 more minutes, or until the greens have softened to your liking.
- Remove the pot from heat and stir in the juice of half of a lemon. Taste and season with more salt, pepper, and/or lemon juice until the flavors really sing. Serve immediately. Leftovers will keep well for about 4 days in the refrigerator, or can be frozen for several months (just defrost before serving).”