One of the first crops ever domesticated, lentils are a nutritious food legume that is one of the primary sources of protein for much of the world today. Canada is the world’s largest producer of lentils, followed by India, Turkey and the United States.
Lentils are grown for their seeds, which are typically canned or packaged for retail sale in whole or split form. Lentils can also be processed into flour, which can be added to cereal flour to make breads, cakes and baby foods. Lentils are used in soups, stews, salads, casseroles, snack food and vegetarian dishes. In Southeast Asia, split red lentils are used in curries.
Lentils are often used as a meat extender or substitute because of their high protein content and quality of nutrition. Lentils have a shorter cooking time than other pulses and do not need to be pre-soaked.
Pulses, including lentils, are increasingly being used in health-conscious diets to promote general well-being and reduce the risk of illness. They are low in fat, high in protein, have a low glycemic index and are an excellent source of both soluble and insoluble fibre, complex carbohydrates, vitamins (especially B vitamins) and minerals (including potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc).
Lentils are an inexpensive, high-quality source of protein, making them an invaluable part of a vegetarian diet. Since lentils are high in fibre, low in fat and are cholesterol free, they are an excellent heart-healthy food that may be beneficial to the prevention of coronary and cardiovascular disease.