These small legumes of the pea family are grown for their seeds, which may be dried and used in soups and stews, and are also ground into lentil flour. The plant itself is usually used for animal fodder.
It is possibly the oldest cultivated legume, and is believed to be native to south western Asia, maybe northern Syria. Seeds have been found in Egyptian tombs dating from the 2400 B.C., and there is other evidence that cultivation occurred as early as 6,000 B.C.
Lentils are widely cultivated throughout Asia, parts of Europe and North Africa, and more than two million hectares are grown worldwide. They are a staple in much of the Middle East and India. They are rich in protein and carbohydrates, and provide a useful source of calcium, phosphorus, iron and B vitamins. They are found in a range of colours including white, green, red, yellow, brown, and orange.
The Latin name Lens culinaris originates from the shape of the lentil, round, flat and convex, likens its name to a glass ‘lens’