Lentils are dried legumes or pulses that grow in many regions of the world. Brown lentils are one of the three main types and colors of the lentil family. During processing, producers leave the seed contact on this lentil intact, resulting in a mottled brown exterior. The brown lentil is the smallest of the lentil varieties. Red lentils are the next largest size, followed by green lentils.
An annual plant best suited for cooler climates or early spring planting, the brown lentil is a common crop in Canada and the northwestern section of the United States. Like other beans and peas, the plant produces pods that contain the lentils. Producers harvest the pods, remove the lentils and dry them before packaging.
Lentils are a plant source of quality protein and are low in calories, especially when compared to a similar size serving of animal protein, such as chicken or beef. They are low in fat, provide fiber and contain no cholesterol. Unlike many plant-based proteins, lentils provide all eight essential amino acids found in quality protein sources. This makes them useful as a meat substitute for vegetarians and vegans. It also makes them popular as a budget-friendly meal extender.
As a gluten-free food, lentils are safe for people with gluten sensitivities. They also have moderate carbohydrate content. This gives brown lentils a low glycemic index score, which means that eating lentils does not increase one’s blood sugar as rapidly as other foods that contain more carbohydrates.
Brown lentils contain important minerals, including copper, iron, manganese, phosphorus and potassium. They also are good sources of B vitamins, including folate. The vitamin content includes antioxidants such as vitamins A and C, which help the body repair or prevent cell damage caused by environmental pollutants and free radicals.
Unlike most beans and peas, brown lentils do not require soaking before cooking. One should inspect dried, packaged lentils after removing them from the bag so any dirt and debris picked up in the harvesting process can be removed. Once rinsed, the lentils are ready for seasoning and cooking. On average, lentils will absorb enough water to be tender enough to eat in less than an hour.
A common use for lentils is as an addition to vegetable soups that also include potatoes, onions, celery and carrots. When using brown lentils in this type of recipe, one cooks all of the ingredients at the same time. When prepared separately, cooked brown lentils are ready to be added to salads, paired with fresh or frozen vegetables or eaten as a main dish.