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Lentil (Masoor Dal)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae
Subfamily: Faboideae
Tribe: Vicieae
Genus: Lens
Species: L. culinaris
Binomial name
Lens culinaris

The lentil or Masoor daal or Masoor dal (Lens culinaris), considered a type of pulse, (generic translation daal or dal,) is a bushy annual plant of the legume family, grown for its lens-shaped seeds. It is about 15 inches (38 cm) tall and the seeds grow in pods, usually with two seeds in each.



The plant likely originated in the Near East,[1] and has been part of the human diet since the aceramic (non-pottery producing) Neolithic times, being one of the first crops domesticated in the Near East. With approximately 26% of their calories from protein, lentils and generally any pulses or legumes have the third-highest level of protein, by weight, of any plant-based food after soybeans and hemp, and is an important part of the diet in many parts of the world, especially in the Indian subcontinent which has large vegetarian populations. There is some confusion about the exact names, and while in India Daal is translated as pulse or legume, elsewhere especially in US Lentils are confusedly held as the particular species Masoor as well as the generic name for all pulses. Since this page shows only Masoor in pictures which in fact is sold under the name Lentil in US, that is the more precise interpretation to be held.

A variety of pulses or lentils exists with colors that range from yellow to red-orange to green, brown and black. Red, white and yellow lentils in some cases are peeled, i.e., are those that have their skins removed before being sold. There are large and small varieties of many lentils (e.g., Masoor Lentils, shown in photos here). Lentils are sold in many forms, with or without the skins, whole or split.

Culturally, other pulses are sometimes called lentils but are actually beans or peas, e.g. "black lentils" (urad beans).


Illustration of the lentil plant, 1885
Red and brown comparison
  • Brown/Spanish Pardina
  • French Green/Puy (Dark speckled blue-green)
  • Green
  • Black/Beluga
  • Yellow/Tan Lentils (Red inside)
    • Red Chief (Decorticated yellow lentils)
  • Eston Green (Small green)
  • Richlea (Medium green)
  • Laird (Large green)
  • Petite Golden (Decorticated lentils)
  • Masoor (Brown-skinned lentils which are red inside)
    • Petite Crimson/Red (Decorticated masoor lentils)
  • Macachiados (Big Mexican yellow lentils)


The seeds have a short cooking time (especially for small varieties with the husk removed, such as the common red lentil) and a distinctive earthy flavor. Lentils are used to prepare an inexpensive and nutritious soup all over Europe and North and South America, sometimes combined with some form of chicken or pork. They are frequently combined with rice, which has a similar cooking time. A lentil and rice dish is referred to in the Middle East as mujaddara or mejadra. Rice and lentils are also cooked together in khichdi, a popular Indian dish; a similar dish, kushari, is made in Egypt and considered one of two national dishes. Lentils are used throughout India, the Mediterranean regions and the Middle East. In rare cases the lentils are mixed with dairy cheese.

A large percentage of Indians are vegetarian, and lentils have long been part of the indigenous diet as a common source of protein. Usually, lentils are boiled to a stew-like consistency, before spicing as in north and west or with vegetables as in south India (the latter are usually, 99 percent of the time, Toor and not Masoor which are shown here) and then seasoned with a mixture of spices to make many side dishes such as dal which is generic name in north and the generic dish to go with rice or wheat main dishes, sambar or rasam which accompany rice in south, and normally are the chief protein source in a vegetarian cuisine.

When lentils, or other pulses or beans, are prepared, they are first inspected for damaged lentils, stones and other foreign matter. Then they are rinsed until the water runs through and comes out clear. Some prefer to soak the lentils for an extended time and discard the water. This removes substances that may cause indigestion. Discarding the water is not a universal practice and the soaking is more often to soften the bean in order to shorten the cooking time and save fuel as well, a precious consideration in the cold northern winters. The lentils are then boiled in water or broth. They may be cooked on the stovetop, or in a slow cooker. Pressure cookers may, if not properly used, clog the pressure relief valve, and their quick cooking time means there is little benefit from pressure cooking, although the nutritional benefits from pressure cooking override the inefficiency of open or otherwise cooking; properly done, that is to say with a covered container inside the pressure cooker, gives the most benefit nutritionally and is done in most homes this way. Cooked lentils often require thinning: adding more hot water or broth to the cooked legumes until the desired final consistency is reached. Usully southern people living in more tropical climate eat far more watery versions while northern dishes tend to be thicker unless poverty or misery dictates otherwise. But even within south some regions do thicker versions with more taste and a smooth consistency while others attempt to elevate the eater to spiritual heights by the sheer cuisine.

Again, while there is some confusion here in this page, Lentils as in the particular species (Masoor) are rarely used if at all in south India, while they are a favourite and quite common in North India, and used often enough in East and West India.

Nutritional value and health benefits

Lentils, raw (Dry Weight)
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 1,477 kJ (353 kcal)
Carbohydrates 60 g
Sugars 2 g
Dietary fiber 31 g
Fat 1 g
Protein 26 g
Thiamine (Vit. B1) 0.87 mg (67%)
Iron 7.5 mg (60%)
Percentages are relative to US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient database

Lentils contain high levels of proteins, including the essential amino acids isoleucine and lysine, and are an essential source of inexpensive protein in many parts of the world for those who adhere to a vegetarian diet.[2] Lentils are deficient in two essential amino acids, methionine and cystine.[3] However, sprouted lentils contain sufficient levels of all essential amino acids, including methionine and cystine.[4]

Apart from a high level of proteins, lentils also contain dietary fiber, folate, vitamin B1, and minerals. Red (or pink) lentils contain a lower concentration of fiber than green lentils (11% rather than 31%).[5] Health magazine has selected lentils as one of the five healthiest foods.[6] Lentils are often mixed with grains, such as rice, which results in a complete protein dish.

In several tribal areas of Inner Mongolia, a salve made from lentils, coriander, and cumin is used as a folk remedy for infertility.[7]


Iron content

Lentils are one of the best vegetable sources of iron. This makes them an important part of a vegetarian diet, and useful for preventing iron deficiency. Iron is particularly important for adolescents and pregnant women, whose requirements for it are increased.[8]


Lentil output in 2005

Lentils are relatively tolerant to drought and are grown throughout the world. About a third of the worldwide production of lentils is from India, most of which is consumed in the domestic market. Canada is the largest export producer of lentils in the world and Saskatchewan is the most important producing region in Canada. The Palouse Region of Eastern Washington and the Idaho Panhandle, with its commercial center at Pullman, WA, constitutes the most important producing region in the United States.[9]

FAO reports that world production of lentils for calendar year 2007 is 3.874 million metric tonnes, primarily coming from India (36%), Canada (17%) and Turkey (15%). National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) reports United States 2007 production at 154.5 thousand metric tonnes, primarily coming from North Dakota, Montana, Washington, and Idaho. Statistics Canada estimates that Canadian lentil production for the 2009/10 year is a record 1.5 million metric tonnes.[10]

Top ten lentil producers – 2007
Country Production (tonnes) Footnote
 India 1,400,000 *
 Canada 669,700
 Turkey 580,260
 People's Republic of China 180,000 F
 Syria 165,000 F
 Nepal 164,694
 United States 154,584
 Australia 131,000
 Bangladesh 119,000 F
 Iran 115,000 F
 World 3,873,801 A
No symbol = official figure, P = official figure, F = FAO estimate, * = Unofficial/Semi-official/mirror data, C = Calculated figure A = Aggregate (may include official, semi-official or estimates);

Source: Food And Agricultural Organization of United Nations: Economic And Social Department: The Statistical Division

Current United States production numbers can be found at the NASS database here by selecting the desired items.


In culture

Lentils are mentioned many times in the Old Testament, the first time recounting the incident in which Jacob purchases the birthright from Esau with stewed lentils (a "mess of pottage") {Genesis 25:34}.[11] In Jewish mourning tradition, they are considered as food for mourners, together with boiled eggs. The reason is that their round shape symbolizes the life cycle from birth to death.

The ancient Greek dramatist Aristophanes mentions lentil soup in his plays and describes it as the "sweetest of delicacies."[12]

Lens etymology

Brown lentils being mixed for a salad
Raw brown lentils

The optical lens is named after the lentil (Latin: lens), whose shape it resembles.[13] This same connection appears in many other languages:

Language lens lentil
Arabic عدسة ('adasa) عدس ('adas)
Afrikaans lens lensie
Albanian Thjerrëz (bot.) Thjerrëza
Amharic Difin misir Misir kik
Bengali daal daal
Botswana Chadi Aditi Chaddi
Bulgarian леща леща
Catalan lent llentia
Croatian leća leća
Czech čočka čočka
Danish linse linse
Dari Daal Daal
Dutch lens linzen
Esperanto lenzo lento
Estonian läätsed läätsed
Finnish linssi linssi
French lentille lentille
German Linse Linse
Greek φακός φακή
Hebrew adasha (pl. adashot) adasha (pl. adashim)
Hindi daal daal
Hungarian lencse lencse
Icelandic linsa linsubaun
Italian lente lenticchia
Kurdish Nisik Nisk
Kannada Baylea Thogare Baylea
Kapampangan Malobias Malobias
Korean 렌즈 렌즈콩
Latin lens lens
Latvian lēca lēca
Lithuanian lęšis lęšis
Macedonian леќа леќа
Malayalam Parippu Thvara Parippu
Marathi Masoor Masoor
Nepali Daal Daal
Norwegian linse linse
Persian adasi adas
Polish soczewka soczewica
Pashto Dhal Dhal
Portuguese lente lentilha
Punjabi Daal Daal
Romanian lentila linte
Serbian sočivo sočivo
Sinhalese Parippu (පරිප්පු) Parippu (පරිප්පු)
Slovene leča leča
Slovak šošovka šošovica
Spanish lente or lentilla lenteja
Swahili jicho icho
Swedish lins lins
Telugu Pappu Pappu
Tamil Paruppu Thuvaram Paruppu
Turkish mercek mercimek
Urdu Daal Daal

See also


  • Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food. ISBN 0-19-211579-0
  1. ^ Bejiga, G. (2006). Brink, M.; Belay, G.. eds. Cereals and Pulses. Plant Resources of Tropical Africa. Wageningen, Netherlands: PROTA Foundation/Backhuys Publishers/CTA. p. 91. ISBN 90-5782-170-2. 
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ USDA nutrient database
  6. ^ Raymond, Joan (March 2006). "World's Healthiest Foods: Lentils (India)". Health Magazine.,23414,1149140,00.html. 
  7. ^ Raymond, Joan (March 2006). "World's Healthiest Foods: Lentils (India)". Health Magazine.,23414,1149140,00.html. 
  8. ^ Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI), Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies, 2004 
  9. ^ Crop Profile for Lentils in Idaho, Department of Plant, Soil and Entomological Science, University of Idaho (web site), 2000 
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Clifford A. Wright: Shurba al- 'Adas (Arab Levant) Lentil Soup
  13. ^ Chambers Dictionary (10th ed) 2006

Further reading

  • S S Yadav et al. Lentil: An Ancient Crop for Modern Times. (2007). Springer Verlag. ISBN 9781402063121.

External links


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