Count lentils

In Food item, Information by Sue Marshall

A steady pulse

Nestling within the pulses category, sat next door to beans, are the little marvels that are lentils.

Low in fat, packed with protein, lentils are a perfect little pulse, and one that’s been part of the human diet for millennia. It’s known that medieval farmers in the south of England grew lentils to put in their daily pottage as seed relics have been found from that time period. Maybe climate change ended the practice.

The optical lens (double-convex shaped) is named after the lentil, ‘lens’ being the Latin name for lentil, and now the lentil (Lens culinaris) are part of everyday diets in some corners of the globe. In the Indian subcontinent Dhal, or lentil curry, is part of the everyday diet, eaten with both rice and roti. Boiled lentil and lentil stock are used as thickening agent in most vegetarian curries.

Per 100g of lentils there is 20g carbs, 10g of protein not even 1% fat and 44% insoluble dietary fibre (which helps eliminate blood cholesterol). Other properties include a long list of proteins (making you feel fuller, longer, and hence often used by dieters) and complex carbohydrates (so you don’t get blood sugar spikes after eating them). In addition as part of a normal diet they contain 10% of your potassium needs, 10% of your vitamin B-12 needs, 10% of the magnesium and nearly 20% of your iron needs.

Spoilt for choice

There is quite a wide variety of lentils available.  Whole lentils keep their shape when cooked but hulled lentils will turn to a dal-like purée. Most supermarkets sell green, Puy and red lentils. Lentils do not need to be soaked before cooking. Lentils are also cheap. Ordinary green lentils are a few pence a helping. Puy lentils are a bit more fancy and you can even get black Beluga lentils too, so pick a colour to match your mood if you want to.

Merchant Gourmet’s excellent range of grains and pulses includes Puy lentils and beautiful black Beluga lentils. Available from Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Budgens, Booths and Waitrose for around £2.29 for 500g or buy direct from

Types of lentils

The chief three groups of lentils are brown, green and red though within each group they still vary by colour and origin. Brown lentils cook quickly. Green lentils, particularly popular in Europe, cook in around 45 minutes, and work well in stews. Both retain their shape well when cooked. Red lentils range from a golden colour to fully red, and tend to lose their shape a little when cooked and are most often used for Indian dhals).

Types of lentils (by name an appearance): Brown/Spanish pardina; French green/puy lentils (dark speckled blue-green); Green lentils; Black/beluga lentils; 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).

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