Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae
Subfamily: Faboideae
Tribe: Vicieae
Genus: Lens
Species: L. culinaris
Binomial name
Lens culinaris

The lentil (Lens culinaris) (International Feed Number, 5-02-506) is an edible pulse. It is a bushy annual plant of the legume family, grown for its lens-shaped seeds. It is about 40 centimetres (16 in) tall and the seeds grow in pods, usually with two seeds in each.



Lentil plants in the field before flowering

The plant likely originated in India and Pakistan,[1] and lentils have been part of the human diet since the aceramic (pottery nonproducing) Neolithic times, being one of the first crops domesticated in the Near East. Archeological evidence shows they were eaten 13,000 to 9,500 years ago.[2]

Lentil colors range from yellow to red-orange to green, brown and black.[2] Lentils also vary in size (e.g., Masoor lentils, shown in photos here), and are sold in many forms, with or without the skins, whole or split.

Other pulses are sometimes called lentils, but are actually beans or peas, e.g., "black lentils" (urad beans).


Illustration of the lentil plant, 1885
Red and brown comparison
  • Brown/Spanish pardina
  • French green/puy lentils (dark speckled blue-green)
  • Green
  • Black/beluga (not actually true lentils; see urad bean)
  • 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 orange inside)
    • Petite crimson/red (decorticated masoor lentils)
  • Macachiados (big Mexican yellow lentils)

The seeds require a cooking time of 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the variety–shorter for small varieties with the husk removed, such as the common red lentil–and have a distinctive, earthy flavor. Lentils are used throughout South Asia, the Mediterranean regions and West Asia. They are frequently combined with rice, which has a similar cooking time. A lentil and rice dish is referred to in western Asia as mujaddara or mejadra. Rice and lentils are also cooked together in khichdi, a popular dish in the Indian and pakistan subcontinent; a similar dish, kushari, made in Egypt, is considered one of two national dishes. 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.

Dried lentils can also be sprouted by leaving in water for several days, which changes their nutrition profile.

Lentils with husk remain whole with moderate cooking; lentils without husk tend to disintegrate into a thick purée, which leads to quite different dishes.[3]

Nutritional value and health benefits

Lentils, raw (dry weight)
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 1,477 kJ (353 kcal)
Carbohydrates 60 g
- Sugars 2 g
- Dietary fiber 31 g
Fat 1 g
Protein 26 g
Water 10.4 g
Thiamine (vit. B1) 0.87 mg (76%)
Folate (vit. B9) 479 μg (120%)
Calcium 56 mg (6%)
Iron 7.54 mg (58%)
Magnesium 122 mg (34%)
Phosphorus 451 mg (64%)
Potassium 955 mg (20%)
Sodium 6 mg (0%)
Zinc 4.78 mg (50%)
Percentages are relative to US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

With about 30% of their calories from protein, lentils, like other legumes, have the third-highest level of protein, by weight, of any plant-based food, after soybeans and hemp.[4] Proteins include the essential amino acids isoleucine and lysine, and lentils are an essential source of inexpensive protein in many parts of the world, especially in the West Asia and the Indian subcontinent, which have large vegetarian populations.[5] Lentils are deficient in two essential amino acids, methionine and cysteine.[6] However, sprouted lentils contain sufficient levels of all essential amino acids, including methionine and cysteine.[7]

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%).[8] Health magazine has selected lentils as one of the five healthiest foods.[9] Lentils are often mixed with grains, such as rice, which results in a complete protein dish.

Lentils also have antinutritional factors, such as trypsin inhibitors and relatively high phytate content. Trypsin is an enzyme involved in digestion, and phytates reduce the bioavailability of dietary minerals.[10] The phytates can be reduced by soaking the lentils in warm water overnight.

Lentils are a good source of iron.[11]


Lentil output in 2005
Worldwide lentil production

Lentils are relatively tolerant to drought, and are grown throughout the world. FAO reported the world production of lentils for calendar year 2009 was 3.917 million metric tonnes, primarily coming from Canada, India, Turkey and United States.

About a quarter 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. Statistics Canada estimates that Canadian lentil production for the 2009/10 year is a record 1.5 million metric tonnes.[12]

The Palouse region of eastern Washington and the Idaho Panhandle, with its commercial center at Pullman, Washington, constitute the most important lentil-producing region in the United States.[13] Montana and North Dakota are also significant lentil growers.[2] National Agricultural Statistics Service reports United States 2007 production at 154.5 thousand metric tonnes.

Top ten lentil producers – 2009
Country Production (tonnes) Footnote
 Canada 1,510,200
 India 950,000
 Turkey 302,181
 United States 265,760
 Australia 143,000
 Ethiopia 123,777
 China 120,000
 Syria 102,461
 Iran 83,985
 Bangladesh 60,537
 World 3,917,923 A
No symbol = official figure, P = official figure, F = FAO estimate, * = Unofficial/semiofficial/mirror data, C = Calculated figure A = Aggregate (may include official, semiofficial or estimates);

Source: Food And Agricultural Organization of United Nations: Economic And Social Department: The Statistical Division

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


In culture

Lentils are mentioned many times in the Old Testament, the first time recounting the incident in which Jacob purchases the birthright from Esau with stewed lentils (a "mess of pottage").[14] In Jewish mourning tradition, they are considered as food for mourners, together with boiled eggs, because their round shape symbolizes the life cycle from birth to death.

Lentils were the main ingredient in the diet of ancient Iranians, who consumed lentils daily in the form of a stew poured over rice.

Lentils are also commonly used in Ethiopia in a stew-like dish called kik, or kik wot, one of the dishes people eat with Ethiopia's national food, injera flat bread. Yellow lentils are used to make a nonspicy stew, which is one of the first solid foods Ethiopian women feed their babies.

In Shia narrations, lentils are said to be blessed by seventy Prophets including Jesus and Mohammed.[15]

In Italy, eating lentils on New Year's Eve traditionally symbolizes the wish to earn more money next year, most likely because of their round coin-like shape.

In "Cinderella", one of Grimm's Fairy Tales, a task her stepmother assigns Cinderella is fishing lentils out of ash. If she succeeds, she may go to the ball.

See also


  1. ^ Bejiga, G. (2006). Brink, M.; Belay, G.. eds. Cereals and Pulses. Plant Resources of Tropical Africa. Wageningen, Netherlands: PROTA Foundation/Backhuys Publishers/CTA. p. 91. ISBN 90-5782-170-2. 
  2. ^ a b c Leah A. Zeldes (16 February 2011). "Eat this! Lentils, a prehistoric foodstuff". Dining Chicago. Chicago's Restaurant & Entertainment Guide. http://www.diningchicago.com/blog/2011/02/16/eat-this-lentils-a-prehistoric-foodstuff/. Retrieved 4 August 2011. 
  3. ^ "Red lentil recipes". BBC. 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/red_lentil. Retrieved 4 August 2011. []
  4. ^ Callaway JC (2004). Hempseed as a nutritional resource: an overview. Euphytica 140:65-72.
  5. ^ http://www.glisonline.com/aminoacids.php
  6. ^ http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/alt-ag/lentil.htm
  7. ^ http://www.bitterpoison.com/protein/11248
  8. ^ USDA nutrient database
  9. ^ Raymond, Joan (March 2006). "World's Healthiest Foods: Lentils (India)". Health Magazine. http://www.health.com/health/article/0,23414,1149140,00.html. 
  10. ^ Effect of processing on some antinutritional factors of lentils. J. Agric. Food Chem.
  11. ^ http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/iron.htm
  12. ^ http://www.agr.gc.ca/pol/mad-dam/index_e.php?s1=pubs&s2=spec&PHPSESSID=1d7c05ebd65aa90dd7ff96aba3cc7f64
  13. ^ Crop Profile for Lentils in Idaho. Department of Plant, Soil and Entomological Science, University of Idaho (web site). 2000 
  14. ^ Genesis 25:34, http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0125.htm
  15. ^ Jesus through Shiite Narrations, Chapter: Preaching of Jesus. No. 63 http://www.al-islam.org/jesus_shiite_narrations/21.htm

Further reading

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Lentil — Len til (l[e^]n t[i^]l), n. [F. lentille, fr. L. lenticula, dim. of lens, lentis, lentil. Cf. {Lens}.] (Bot.) A leguminous plant of the genus {Ervum} ({Ervum Lens}), of small size, common in the fields in Europe. Also, its seed, which is used for …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • lentil — mid 13c., from O.Fr. lentille lentil, also freckle, from L. lenticula, dim. of L. lens (gen. lentis) lentil, cognate with Gk. lathyros, Ger. linse, O.C.S. lД™ЕЎta …   Etymology dictionary

  • LENTIL — (Heb. עֲדָשָׁה, adashah, pl. עֲדָשִׁים, adashim), the legume Lens esculenta, one of the earliest of the flora of Israel. Remains dating to over 3,000 years ago have been discovered in excavations and in Egyptian tombs of the 12th dynasty as food… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • lentil — ► NOUN ▪ a high protein pulse which is dried and then soaked and cooked prior to eating. ORIGIN Latin lenticula, from lens lentil …   English terms dictionary

  • lentil — [lent′ l] n. [ME < OFr lentille < L lenticula, dim. of lens, lentil] 1. an Old World plant (Lens culinaris) of the pea family with small, edible seeds shaped like biconvex lenses 2. the seed of this plant …   English World dictionary

  • lentil — /len til, tl/, n. 1. a plant, Lens culinaris, of the legume family, having flattened, biconvex seeds used as food. 2. the seed itself. [1200 50; ME < OF lentille < VL *lenticula for L lenticula. See LENTICLE] * * * Small annual legume (Lens… …   Universalium

  • lentil — UK [ˈlentɪl] / US [ˈlent(ə)l] noun [countable] Word forms lentil : singular lentil plural lentils a round flat seed that you boil before you eat it. You normally buy lentils in dried form …   English dictionary

  • lentil — noun Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo French lentille, from Latin lenticula, diminutive of lent , lens Date: 13th century 1. a widely cultivated Eurasian annual leguminous plant (Lens culinaris) with flattened edible seeds and leafy stalks… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • lentil — [[t]le̱ntɪl[/t]] lentils N COUNT: usu pl Lentils are the seeds of a lentil plant. They can be dried and used to make soups and stews …   English dictionary

  • lentil — len·til || lentl n. plant belonging to the legume family; round flattened seed produced by the lentil plant and used for food …   English contemporary dictionary

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