Lentils are a type of pulse, which is a legume grown on a bush that bears seeds in a pod. They get their botanical name, Lens culinaris, because of their tiny lens-like shape.
Lentils are exceptionally nutritious and are rich in dietary fiber, potassium, calcium, zinc, protein and the B complex vitamins such as niacin and folate. The fiber lentils contain is both soluble and insoluble and support the health of the lower gastrointestinal tract. Eating lentils may reduce the risk of certain cancers, including esophageal and breast cancer.
Another good thing about lentils is that they do not need to soak for a long time before cooking. Different colored lentils have different cooking times, but none require cooking more than 45 minutes. Types of lentils include the French, or du Puy; the black, or beluga; and brown, green, red and yellow lentils. Yellow and red lentils often come split and tend to break down, while the brown variety is the most popular sold in the United States.
Lentils are one of the first crops domesticated by human beings. Archaeologists believe people ate lentils as far back as 13,000 years ago. The lentil plant is hardy and grows all over the world.