What are lentils?
Lentils are legumes that are high in both protein and fiber. They are grown in pods and resemble very small beans. Legumes are different from beans in that they are grown in a pod of a plant whereas beans are the seeds of a plant. They are similar in texture and appearance to dried peas, which are also legumes. Lentils come in a variety of colors such as red, brown, yellow, and black. They’re small, colorful, and nutritional powerhouses. Many nations around the world, have been reaping the health and nutritional benefits of lentils for thousands of years, especially in Asia, Europe, North Africa and the Middle East where lentils are naturally grown.
Lentils were grown and consumed for thousands of years, and evidence shows they were first cultivated as early as 8.000 BC in the Northern region of Syria. Lentils spread from Syria to Greece, Italy, and Egypt and to this day they remain a staple in the Middle East. The Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine frequently use lentils in soups, stews, and salads as well as seasoned on its own. They’re considered to be economical and simple to prepare, making them an essential staple in many kitchens around the world. With the right spices and proper preparation, the otherwise rather bland-tasting lentils can become the delicious heart and soul of many main dishes.
Lentils are an excellent source of protein, especially for vegans and vegetarians.
100 g of dried lentils contains 307 calories, 40 g of carbs, of which 17 g is fiber, only 1,6 g of fat, and 25 g of protein. Lentils, such as other legumes, are also rich in the essential amino acid lysine which is low in most other plant sources. Therefore, incorporating lentils and legumes combined with other grains, nuts and seeds will ensure you get all of the essential amino acids.
But not only that, it contains 8 mg of iron, which is 53 % of the recommended daily intake for women and 80% for men. It also covers 56% of your daily folate intake, 35% of your magnesium, and 50% of your daily zinc intake for women, and 30% for men.
Eating 100 g of dried lentils also covers your entire daily vitamin K intake and almost half your vitamin B2 and B6 recommended intake.
Consuming plant-based foods with plenty of fiber and protein is known to significantly decrease the risk of many illnesses such as heart disease and obesity. Lentils are a sure way to include more fiber and protein into your diet. In addition, this high fiber and protein content helps with satiety and digestion so you’ll be less hungry and longer satisfied after a meal. The vitamins and minerals found in lentils are thought to help prevent inflammation, fight fatigue, and decrease blood pressure.
With all of those wonderful benefits, it’s a good idea to learn more about the humble but powerful lentil and how to incorporate it into your plant-based diet.
The different types of lentils
You’ll notice immediately that there are many different colors of lentils available. All of the colors have approximately the same nutritional value with some slight variation in protein content. However, different colors tend to have different flavors, take on different textures as they cook and they all have slightly different cooking times. To decide for yourself which lentils to purchase, read on to learn about the various lentil types and what makes each of them unique.
The most common variety, brown lentils are mild and earthy in taste. They can range from a light khaki color to a rich, deep brown. They’re also the most versatile of all the lentil colors. They hold their shape and texture well with prolonged cooking so they are great in curries and stews, but they also work well when they’re mashed into burgers, added on top of salads, or even blended up into soups. Brown lentils are a good choice to always have on hand due to their hardy texture and versatility as well as how easy it is to find them. Brown lentils have a moderate cooking time at about 20-25 minutes.
Red lentils are different from brown in both color and texture. They can have a true red color or range from orange to gold. Red lentils tend to break down and become mushy with prolonged cooking. That isn’t a bad thing, but be aware when cooking to achieve your perfect texture. When cooked for longer, they make great thickening agents to soups and stews. However, they’re not as good for salads. In addition to their thickening potential, red lentils also offer a vibrant color to dishes and lend a sweeter, nuttier flavor than the earthy brown lentils. They are the most common in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine and have the shortest cooking time at 15-20 minutes.
Similarly to red lentils, yellow lentils are mild and sweet compared to earthy brown lentils. They range from light to bright yellow or look similar to the orange and gold red lentils. They’re equally common in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine to the red lentils. Yellow lentils, like the red, also tend to break down and become mushy so they’re great for thickening soups and stews. They have a cooking time of about 15-20 minutes.
Green lentils hold up well in all cooking methods but tend to be the most expensive. They range from pale, mottled green to darker green, almost brown colors. Green lentils are hardy, keep their shape and texture and do best spooned over salads. They have a mild peppery taste that may overwhelm the flavors of soups and stews. They also take the longest to cook at about 30 to 40 minutes.
Beluga (Black) lentils
Named like this because of their resemblance to beluga caviar, beluga lentils are hardy and have a strong, earthy flavor. They tend to be slightly smaller than other lentils and have a dark, black color. They’re actually fairly similar to the taste and texture of black beans. Even after cooking, they keep a harder texture and do not become mushy. They go well combined with other hardy vegetables such as sweet potatoes and carrots and tend to have more protein per 100 g than other lentils. They cook in about 25-30 minutes and are about as versatile as brown lentils although earthier in taste.