Small annual legume (Lens esculenta) and its lens-shaped, protein-rich, edible seed. One of the most ancient of cultivated foods, it is a good source of vitamin B, iron, and phosphorus. Of unknown origin, the lentil is widely cultivated throughout Europe, Asia, and North Africa; though little grown in the Western Hemisphere, its inclusion in the U.S. diet is increasing. Growing 6–18 in. (15–45 cm) high, the plant has compound leaves and pale blue flowers. Animals are fed the stalks and leaves as fodder.
Learn more about lentil with a free trial on Britannica.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Arabic||عدسة (adasa)||عدس (adas)|
|Japanese||レンズ (renzu)||レンズ豆 (renzumame)|