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Lentil, botanically-known as “Lens culinaris esculenta,” are legumes (or beans) that have been a source of sustenance for our ancestors since prehistoric times. The Lentil is classified as an edible pulse or “grain legume,” an annual leguminous crop yielding from one to 12 seeds of variable size, shape and color within a pod.

Lentils actually date back to the Neolithic times and have been found in the tombs of the Ancient Egyptians in 2400 BC. Lentils are mentioned many times in the Hebrew Bible, the first time recounting the incident in which Jacob purchases the birthright from Esau with stewed lentils.

In Jewish mourning tradition, Lentils are traditional as food for mourners, together with boiled eggs, because their round shape symbolizes the life cycle from birth to death.

This power-packed Legume was also a chief part of the diet of ancient Iranians, who ate Lentils in a Stew form poured over Rice.

The English word “Lentil” is known to have derived from the Romans observing the shape of the seed pod. A “lens” is a double-convex shape which also describes the shape of the Lentil pod. In Latin, “Lens” is the name for Lentils.

At times, foodies have considered Lentils a “poor man’s” food because they are so healthy and so inexpensive. One of the most famous examples comes from the fairytales. Cinderella was tasked with fishing Lentils out of the ash before she is allowed to go to the ball.

Whatever the price, Lentils are a wonderful staple – nutritious, filling, and arguably the most flavorful Legume.

In India and the Middle East, particularly, Red Lentils are very popular. Red Lentils are red in color, but are actually really de-hulled Brown Lentils. Think of it similarly to how White Rice and Brown Rice are just more or less processed versions of the same Rice grain and you won’t go far wrong.


Considered a hardy annual, Lentils grow best in cool temperatures. They can be sowed in spring two to three weeks prior to the last frost date. Lentils can be started indoors before transplanting to the garden; seeds will germinate in 10 days at 68°F (20˚ C). Lentils are often started indoors before transplanting to the outside garden because they require 80 to 110 days to come to harvest.


Lentils grow on sparsely branched vines from 18 to 24 inches tall. The Lentil grows small whitish to light purple pea-like flowers. Pods are small, broad, flat and contain one or two flat, lens-shaped seed that range in color from green or yellow to orange, red or brown. Plant four to eight Lentils per household member.

Lentils should be planted in full sunlight. They prefer loose, well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. They will grow in poor soil but best thrive in a soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5. Aged compost should be added to the planting beds before sowing to further improve the soil conditions.

Plant lentil seeds ½ to one inch deep, spaced one inch apart. Thin successful seedlings to four or five inches apart. Space rows 18 to 24 inches apart.

Keep Lentils evenly moist. Lentils are more drought tolerant than other beans. Do not water Lentils once pods have begun to dry. Add aged compost to planting beds before sowing. Side dress Lentils with compost tea when plants are five inches tall and again at flowering.

Lentils are commonly used like dry beans or peas. Harvest pods when the dried seeds have matured and hardened. Leave lentils unshelled until you are ready to use them. Dried Lentils are ready for harvest 110 days after sowing. The Lentil also can be used like snap beans; harvest these green about 70 to 80 days after sowing.


Relatively drought-tolerant, Lentils are grown throughout the world with most production coming from Canada, India, Turkey and Australia.

About 25% of the worldwide harvest of Lentils comes from India where they are consumed domestically. Canada is the largest known export producer of Lentils in the world with Saskatchewan being the most important Lentil producing region in Canada.  

The most important Lentil producers in the U.S. are eastern Washington state and the Idaho panhandle. Montana and North Dakota also have significant crops.


Lentils range in types, varieties and colors, from yellow and brown to green, red and black. The most common type of Lentil is the Brown Lentil, which is mild in flavor and often described as earthy. Brown Lentils soften when they are cooked, so be careful not to overdo it or they will become mushy.

Other Lentil varieties include: Green Lentils, Puy Lentils (also known as French Green Lentils), Beluga Lentils and Macachiados Lentils.


To ensure the best quality and shelf life of your Lentils, buy Lentils that have a bright uniform color; a dull color indicates a lack of freshness and vitality. Also look for Lentils that are uniform in size since varied sizes result in uneven cooking times. Inspect the lentils for cracks or holes and avoid buying any packaging that has been damaged. Lentils are sold whole or split into halves.


Dried Lentils are known for their long, almost indefinite, shelf life. Store your dried Lentils in a sealed package or airtight container in a cool and dry area, such as your pantry. Refer to the expiration dates on the package to determine how long they can be stored. For best flavor and presentation, use dried lentils within one year. Fresh Lentils should last about 5-7 days in the refrigerator.

Culinary Uses

Lentils generally feature a hearty, dense, somewhat nutty flavor. Different variants of Lentils have their own flavors though. For example, Red Lentils have a mild sweet flavor while Brown Lentils have more of a mild, earthy flavor.

Lentils cooks up quickly so pay attention. We typically bring them to a rapid Boil before lowering the heat to cook them with a Simmer until they are Al Dente (or a little bit more). Lentils readily absorb a variety of wonderful flavors from other foods. Adding Herbs, Vegetables and other appropriate ingredients to the Boiling Liquid is a plus.

Properly cooked Lentils are great in Soups, Stews and Salads but Lentils also tend to get break down and get mushy if overcooked. Overcooked Lentils are also frequently used in Purées and as Thickening Agents, even as Puréed Garnishes to add extra Flair, the 4th of Smart Kitchen's 4 Levers of Cookingtm.

Because of their high Protein content and their nutritional value, Lentils are often used in Vegetarian or Vegan versions of Meat substitutes. For example, Smart Kitchen has a recipe for a Lentil Quinoa Bolognese Sauce where Lentils take the place of meat.

Another creative spin on Lentils is Smart Kitchen’s recipe for Smoky Lentil Tacos.

Nutritional Value USDA
Amount Per 100g
Calories 343
%Daily Value*
Total Fat 1g
Saturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 6mg
Potassium 955mg
Total Carbohydrate 60g
Dietary Fiber 30g
Sugars 2g
Protein 25g
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Whether you are watching your calories and cholesterol, a vegan or vegetarian, or you’re simply looking to add some variety to your meal planning, Lentils are the perfect option. Legumes’ high protein and low fat content makes them a satiating meat substitute for main dishes, and they are delicious!

Additionally, Lentils are rich in Dietary Fiber, both soluble and insoluble, so, Lentils are thought to be a good food choice, if you suffer from digestive and stomach disorders. Not to mention, Lentils are a good source of iron, folate and vitamin B.

Recently, Green Lentils have become more popular in natural medicine. Naturopaths believe that they help clear the digestive system and improve liver function and serum lipids. Soaking Green Lentils overnight allows them to sprout, unleashing their nutritional potential. Additionally, un-skinned Green Lentils can be powdered and used as a skin cleansing and moisturizing agent.

Gluten Free


Low Fat


Low Calorie