Lentils, The Protein-Rich Powerhouse Legume

Words: Katrina Rose Wind

We have them in our pantry, we use them for quick, easy meals and they’re a great source of protein. But, how much do you actually know about this legume? Lentils have been around for quite some time and feature in many cuisines from all over the world. Today, there are more than fifty lentil varieties grown.

Background of Lentils

This seemingly inconspicuous legume was one of the first agricultural crops grown and dates back more than 8,500 years ago. Lentils originate from the Mediterranean area, specifically, on the banks of the Euphrates River – now known as Syria. There is evidence that the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks and Hebrews were eating this legume around 7000 BC. Lentils even pop up in the Bible… in the book of Genesis, Esau (the firstborn) sells his birthright to his brother, Jacob, for some lentil stew.


Lentils made their way from the Mediterranean to France. In fact, France now has its own variety called lentilles du Puy (Puy lentils), they have round green/grey seeds and mottled dark-green hulls. They are a very popular ingredient in French bistro cuisine and are known to hold their shape during cooking, compared to other varieties. Lentils were then introduced to the Americas by Portuguese and Spanish explorers, in the 16th century.

Unlike other legumes or crops that have garnered a lot of attention from food scientists, lentils have received little research attention to improve its quality or yield. This is because it can be easily grown almost anywhere in the world and more importantly, can still grow in areas around the world where there is limited rainfall.

They remain a staple in Middle Eastern and Indian diets, and are popular in cuisines throughout the world. This is due to the fact that they are inexpensive, versatile and packed with nutritional value. Even though lentils are part of the legume family, they are different to their bean counterparts – there is no need to soak them overnight, making them the easiest bean to cook.

Production and Varieties of Lentils

Surprisingly enough, Canada is the world-leading producer of lentils, accounting for 32.8 % of lentils production in the world. They are then followed by India and the US. Even though Canada is the highest producing country out there, half of the world’s lentils are still consumed in India.

As stated above, there are about 50 different varieties out there but the most common ones are sorted into five different categories. Brown, green, red, yellow and speciality lentils. The speciality lentils include French lentils and black/Beluga lentils.


Brown Lentils

These are the most common variety. You can pop into any supermarket and find dry or tinned brown lentils readily available. In fact, if you see a generic brand that just says ‘lentils’, you can almost guarantee that they are brown lentils. There is a reason why this variety is the most common, it holds its shape well during cooking and cooks in under 30 minutes. It has a mild, earthy flavour making it perfect for stews, soups, warm salads, and are perfect when puréed for spreads and dips.

Green Lentils

Also quite a common lentil, it has the longest cooking time of about 40 minutes. They do get a bit mushy after they’ve been cooking for a while, making them ideal for stews and as an added ingredient to meat dishes. They have a slight peppery flavour in comparison to the brown variety, making them perfect for French cuisine. Green lentils are a great (and less expensive) substitute for French Puy lentils.

Red Lentils

This variety ranges from orange to a reddish hue and is commonly used in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines, and has a very soft texture when cooked. The great thing about this variety is that it breaks down when cooking, making it ideal for dhal or sauces that need thickening. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes to cook, making them one of the easiest varieties to prepare.

Yellow Lentils

Very similar to its red counterpart, these cook in about 15 minutes. It has a bit more of a nutty and sweet flavour, making it a staple in Ethiopian and Indian cuisines. When cooked, they become creamy, which is perfect for soups, dhal and if you want them puréed.

Black Beluga Lentils

This variety gets its name because they are small, black and shiny, resembling beluga caviar. Not as common as the varieties listed above, they have thicker skin and have a deep, earthy flavour to them. They take about 35 to 40 minutes to cook and eventually start to fall apart like the green and red varieties. Perfect in salads, couscous or as a side dish to fish.

French Puy Lentils

Last but not least, is France’s legume golden child. Because of their thicker skin, these take the longest to cook, about 45 to 55 minutes, to be exact. They’ve got a bit of a peppery flavour, which means you don’t have to season them as much. French Puy lentils retain their shape when cooked and because they don’t get mushy when cooked, they’re perfect as a main dish and a great addition to salads.

The Benefits of Eating Lentils

They are an important source of nutrients for millions of vegetarians around the world. In fact, nearly every traditional Indian meal includes at least one lentil dish because they are protein-rich and inexpensive.

Lentils are a superfood, rich in protein, and in fact, have the second-highest protein content of all legumes, after soybeans. They are packed with soluble and insoluble fibre, which supports the growth of healthy gut bacteria, minimises the risk of heart disease and can help reduce blood cholesterol.

They are also an excellent source of iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc. One cup of cooked lentils provides 85% of the daily recommended intake of folate (vitamin B); folate helps with building new cells, and helps tissues work. It can help prevent anemia and certain types of cancer.

Lentil Recipes

Here are some delicious ways in which you can prepare this powerhouse legume…

Thai Green Vegetable Curry with Lentils

This comforting Thai Green Veg Curry is filled with all the flavour you could ask for.

Recipe for Thai Green Vegetable Curry with Lentils

Gluten-free Vegetarian Pies

All of the deliciousness of a pie with zero of the guilt. We promise you’ll be making these gluten-free pies again and again.

Recipe for Gluten-free Vegetarian Pies

Lentil Dhal

This nutrient-dense and delicious dhal recipe is the ultimate winter comfort meal.

Recipe for Lentil Dhal

Tomato & Coriander Dhal with Basmati Rice & Greek Yoghurt

This dish is a perfect example as to why vegetarians love this legume. It’s quick and easy to make, flavourful and filled with nutrients — what more could you want? This Indian dish will have you coming back for more!

Recipe for Tomato and Coriander Curried Dhal


Warm Salad of Lentils & Vegetables

Sometimes a warm salad in winter hits the spot more than soup. This vegetarian salad is one of the most tantalising dishes you’ll have.

Recipe for Warm Salad of Lenitls & Vegetables

Salmon Mi-Cuit with Black Beluga Lentils

These black beluga lentils give the already tender salmon an extra flavour profile.

Recipe for Salmon Mi-Cuit with Black Beluga Lentils


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