The lentil plant (Lens Culinaris) originates from Asia and North Africa and is one of our oldest sources of food. A cousin to the pea and a rich provider of protein and carbohydrates the lentil is also a good source of calcium, phosphorus, iron and B vitamins – making it an important diet staple the world over. There are several different varieties – most commonly used in cooking are Brown, Red and Green lentils, although Puy and Yellow are stocked in many health and specialist shops.
Lentils are high in protein. The U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference reports that 1 cup of cooked lentils contains more than 17 grams of protein. Lentils are not a complete protein because they do not contain all nine essential amino acids. Lentils lack the amino acids methionine and cysteine. Sprouted lentils do contain sufficient amounts of all nine amino acids. You can obtain all amino acids necessary by pairing cooked lentils with a grain such as rice.
Types of Lentils
The most common type, can be found in most grocery stores. They are mild in flavor, often described as earthy and can be used in a variety of recipes. Brown lentils soften when cooked but still hold their shape. They can become mushy if they are cooked too long. Use them for soup recipes. Puy or French Green Lentils.
French green or Puy lentil
This lentil are also common. They were originally grown in the Le Puy region of France, hence their name. Puy lentils are often considered the most flavorful variety because they have a peppery taste. They take a bit longer to cook, but Puy lentils tend to stay firm. Use them in dishes that need a little crunch, such as salads.
Red lentils are commonly used in Indian and Middle Eastern dishes. They are actually brown massor lentils with the hulls removed. Red lentils have a mild, sweet flavor. When cooked, they turn a golden color. Red lentils do not hold their shape very well and tend to become mushy. Use them for purees or as a thickener for a recipe..
Beluga lentils which are small, black and shiny, resemble beluga caviar when cooked. Often more expensive than their brown lentil counterpart, they have a stronger, earthy flavor. When the hull of the black lentil is removed, the white lentil is produced. These are much milder in flavor than black lentils. The macachiados lentil is a Mexican variety of lentil. About the same size as other lentils, macachiados have a very strong nutty taste. They are used in a variety of Mexican dishes. These less common varieties of lentils can usually be found in specialty food stores.