[len-til, -tl]
lentil, leguminous Old World annual plant (Lens culinaris) with whitish or pale blue flowers. Its pods contain two greenish-brown or dark-colored seeds, also called lentils, which when fully ripe are ground into meal or used in soups and stews. Probably indigenous to SW Asia, and known to have been used as early as the Bronze Age, the lentil was introduced to Greece and Egypt before biblical times and was one of the first food plants cultivated in Europe. Esau sold his heritage for a mess of lentils—although the name in the Scriptures may have been applied to several plants. Lentils are unusually high in protein content and are much used for food in Europe, especially by the poor, and increasingly in the United States. Many varieties are cultivated, for the seeds as well as for forage. Lentil seeds, from their shape, gave their name to the magnifying lens. The gulfweed (see seaweed) is sometimes called sea lentil. Lentils are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Rosales, family Leguminosae.

The lentil or daal or pulse (Lens culinaris) is a bushy annual plant of the legume family, grown for its lens-shaped seeds. It is about 15 inches tall and the seeds grow in pods, usually with two seeds in each.


The plant originated in the Near East, and has been part of the human diet since the aceramic Neolithic, being one of the first crops domesticated in the Near East. With 26% protein, lentils have the highest level of protein in any plant after soybeans and hemp, and because of this it is a very important part of the diet in many parts of the world, especially in India, which has a large vegetarian population.

A variety of lentils exists with colors that range from yellow to red-orange to green, brown and 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. There are large and small varieties of many lentils (e.g., Masoor Lentils). Lentils are sold in many forms, with or without the skins, whole or split. The urad bean, a species of the genus Vigna, is also referred to as "black lentil". Split Pigeon peas (either green or yellow) are sometimes erroneously sold as lentils. They are considered pulses, which includes peas and beans.


  • Brown/Spanish Pardina
  • French Green/Puy (Dark speckled blue-green)
  • Green
  • Black/Beluga
  • 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)
  • Pigeon Peas
  • Channa Dal
  • Moong Lentils
    • Petite Crimson/Red (Decorticated masoor lentils)
  • Chana (Kernel of chickpeas)
  • Urad (A type of bean)
  • White/Ivory (Peeled Urad beans)
  • Macachiados (Big Mexican yellow lentils)


The seeds have a short cooking time (especially for small varieties with the husk removed, such as the common red lentil) and a distinctive earthy flavor. Lentils are used to prepare an inexpensive and nutritious soup all over Europe and North and South America, sometimes combined with some form of chicken or pork. They are frequently combined with rice, which has a similar cooking time. A lentil and rice dish is referred to in the Middle East as mujaddara or mejadra. Rice and lentils are also cooked together in khichdi, a popular Indian dish. Lentils are used throughout India, the Mediterranean regions and the Middle East. In rare cases the lentils are mixed with dairy cheese.

A large percentage of Indians are vegetarian and lentils have long been part of the indigenous diet as a common source of protein. Usually, lentils are boiled to a stew-like consistency with vegetables and then seasoned with a mixture of spices to make many side dishes such as sambar, rasam and dal, which are usually served over rice and roti.

When lentils are prepared, they are first inspected for damaged lentils, stones and other foreign matter. Then they are rinsed until the water runs through and comes out clear. Some prefer to soak the lentils for an extended time and discard the water. This removes substances that may cause indigestion. The lentils are then boiled in water or broth. They may be cooked on the stovetop, or in a slow cooker. Pressure cookers are not recommended, since the small lentils may clog the pressure relief valve, and their quick cooking time means there is little benefit from pressure cooking. Cooked lentils often require thinning: adding more hot water or broth to the cooked legumes until the desired final consistency is reached.

Nutritional value and health benefits

Apart from a high level of proteins, lentils also contain dietary fiber, Folate, vitamin B1, and minerals. Red (or pink) lentils contain a lower concentration of fiber than green lentils (11% rather than 31%). Health magazine has selected lentils as one of the five healthiest foods. Lentils are often mixed with grains, such as rice, which results in a complete protein dish.

Lower risk of coronary heart disease

Iron content

In addition to providing slow-burning complex carbohydrates, lentils are one of the best vegetable sources of iron. This makes them an important part of a vegetarian diet, and useful for preventing iron deficiency. Iron is particularly important for adolescents, and menstruating or pregnant women, whose requirements for it are increased.


Lentils are relatively tolerant to drought and are grown throughout the world. About half of the worldwide production of lentils is from India, most of which is consumed in the domestic market. Canada is the largest export producer of lentils in the world and Saskatchewan is the most important producing region in Canada. The Palouse Region of Eastern Washington and the Idaho Panhandle, with its commercial center at Moscow, Idaho, constitutes the most important producing region in the United States.

FAO reports that world production of lentils for calendar year 2007 is 3.874 million metric tonnes, primarily coming from India, Turkey, and Canada. National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) reports United States 2007 production at 154.5 thousand metric tonnes, primarily coming from North Dakota, Montana, Washington, and Idaho.

Current world production numbers can be found at the FAOSTAT ProdSTAT database here by selecting the desired items.

Current United States production numbers can be found at the NASS database here by selecting the desired items.


Lentils in Culture

Lentils are mentioned many times in the Old Testament. In Jewish tradition they are considered as food for mourners, together with boiled eggs. The reason is that their round shape symbolizes the life cycle from birth to death.

Lentils and lenses

The optical lens is named after the lentil (Latin: lens), whose shape it resembles. This same connection appears in many other languages:
Language lens lentil
Arabic عدسة (adasa) عدس (adas)
Botswana Chadi Aditi Chaddi
Bulgarian леща леща
Catalan lent llentia
Croatian leća leća
Czech čočka čočka
Danish linse linse
Dutch lens linze
Finnish linssi linssi
French lentille lentille
German Linse Linse
Greek φακός φακή
Hebrew adasha adash
Hindi dal Arhar dal
Hungarian lencse lencse
Italian lenti lenticchie
Japanese レンズ (renzu) レンズ豆 (renzumame)
Kannada Baylea Thogare Baylea
Latin lens lens
Latvian lēca lēca
Lithuanian lęšis lęšis
Macedonian леќа леќа
Malayalam Parippu Thvara Parippu
Marathi Daal Tur Daal
Norwegian linse linse
Persian adasi adas
Polish soczewka soczewica
Portuguese lente lentilha
Romanian lentila linte
Russian чечевица чечевица
Serbian sočivo sočivo
Slovene leča leča
Spanish lente lenteja
Swahili jicho icho
Swedish lins lins
Telugu Pappu Pappu
Tamil Paruppu Thuvaram Paruppu
Turkish mercek mercimek
Urdu daal daal


Further reading

  • S S Yadav et al. Lentil: An Ancient Crop for Modern Times. (2007). Springer Verlag. ISBN 9781402063121.

External links

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