Green lentils are an edible legume seed produced by Lens culinaris, an annual plant harvested only for the pod of lentil seeds that it produces, with each pod producing only about two seeds. Believed to be one of the first foods cultivated, the lentils are a popular food in a variety of countries around the world for both their flavor and their intense nutritional value. They are also referred to as German or Egyptian lentils, as well as continental, brown, or Indian brown lentils. This type of lentil is common in supermarkets, and are generally cooked like other types of beans.
Lentils date back to the prehistoric era and are believed to be one of the first foods cultivated, with seeds 8,000 years old in existence. The legume spread over time to Africa and Europe, appearing in India by the 1st century A.D. and becoming a mainstay in Indian cuisine. Lentils are a popular food during the Christian Lenten season, where little to no meat is eaten and some followers practice fasting. In the 21st century, China, Syria, and Canada, as well as Turkey and India provided most of the world's lentil supply.
Lentil plants are typically grown in climates with a cool, dry growing season. A grower harvests plant pods when the plant yellows and bottom pods have a yellowish-brown hue, which takes only a few days. The grower must take care to harvest the pods during this short window to minimize the chance of pods drying and shattering, losing the crop. Lentils are harvested at a certain moisture level, usually around 18 to 20 percent, and then dried over about a week's time. When they hit the supermarket, green lentils may be sold whole, split, or typically hulled.
Green lentils have about 150 calories per 1/4-cup (50 mL) serving. They have a 31 percent concentration of fiber, about 7 grams, and mixing lentils with a whole grain like brown rice creates a complete protein. They also have a high protein content, with a typical serving offering 10 grams of protein, second only to soy beans.
A lentil with strong flavor, the green lentil stays relatively firm after cooking as long as it's not left to overcook. It's firm shape makes it a popular choice in salads or dryer dishes. The seed has a flat shape and is one of the largest lentil varieties, measuring about 0.25 inch (about 0.64 cm) in diameter. It also has a grainy texture and relatively full, nutty flavor.
A cook typically prepares green lentils by boiling or simmering them in water or broth for about 15 to 20 minutes for semi-firm lentils, significantly shorter than other legumes. Lentils may be cooked to be eaten alone or as a soup with vegetables and seasoning. Green lentils are eaten hot and cold. Cooked green lentils dry slightly after storage in a refrigerator. A cook can remedy this by adding a small amount of water or by using the lentils as a dry ingredient or topping.