Types of lentils: the most popular lentil varieties

Types of lentils: the most popular lentil varieties

Lentils are a versatile group of legumes and have a lot to offer. These are the best varieties of lentils to grow and cook. 

Lentils (Lens culinaris) are one of the oldest cultivated plants. As a result, they have been bred extensively. Therefore, there are countless varieties of lentils, some of which are less known and only grow in some regions. Unfortunately, many of the regional varieties have been lost today. While there are about 3000 different lentil varieties known to humans, only about 80 varieties are cultivated worldwide. In many parts of the world, however, there are even fewer lentil varieties available. This is a great shame, because there are a lot of interesting lentil varieties to try out and experiment with. Although it is hard to say which is the best type of lentils, there are plenty to choose from to cook with or even grow in the garden.

Lentil species and varieties

There are six different types of lentils, that belong to the genus Lens. Two of them, Lens nigrans and Lens orientalis, are thought to be the ancestors of Lens culinaris, which is the only lentil species that we cultivate on a large scale and use in the kitchen. There are several ways of classifying lentils. One method of classification is based on the seed size of the lentil, which can range from three to over seven millimetres. Another way of grouping lentil varieties is by colour, which ranges from brown and green, to black and can even reach a blue or purple.

Alb-Leisa lentils

Alb Leisa lentils include three different regional varieties from the European region of the Swabian Alps. In this German region, lentil cultivation has a long tradition and lentils are used to prepare many national dishes, such as “Spätzle”. These regional varieties from Swabia have almost been lost because their cultivation stopped in 1966. Thankfully, a Swabian farmer rediscovered the regional variety of lentil in the Russian gene database for agricultural plants in 2006. Today, the three varieties are being cultivated again: the two light green varieties ‘Späths Alblinse 1’ and ‘Späths Alblinse 2’ and the dark green marbled, small seeded lentil variety.

Brown lentils

Brown lentils are probably the best-known and most frequently used lentils in Central Europe. The variety of this group of lentils is quite impressive: while some species are brown, others range from yellow to orange. When cooked, these lentils become soft and floury without falling apart. They are best suited for stews, spreads and casseroles.

Black beluga lentils

This variety is easy to distinguish from all others. It characteristically has small black seeds that are delicious in taste. Beluga lentils remain firm and crisp even when cooked. The best way to use them in the kitchen is to incorporate them into a salad. Beluga lentils most likely originated in North America, where they are still cultivated on a large scale.

Berry lentils (also Vertes du Berry lentils)

These dark blue marbled lentils are very aromatic. Their skin tends to be thinner, but the inside of these lentils remains firm even when cooked. Berry lentils come from the heart of France and the region, where these lentils come from, is also officially protected. Interestingly, Berry lentils planted in another region cannot be called or marketed as Berry lentils, even if they are the exact same variety.

Puy lentils (also French lentils)

The enticing nutty aroma of these lentils makes salads taste amazing. Puy lentils have a characteristic blue to green marbling. These lentils come from a small region in the middle of France where they have been cultivated for over 1000 years. Similarly to the Green Du Berry lentils, this type of lentil cannot be referred to as a Puy lentil, if they are cultivated elsewhere. Instead, Puy lentils grown in other regions are called green lentils.

Mountain lentils

This type of lentils is strictly speaking not an individual variety of its own. The term ‘mountain lentils’ encompasses the range of lentils grown in various mountainous regions. This means that this group is extremely diverse, and it is hard to pinpoint common features present in all lentils belonging to this group. The only common characteristic of mountain lentils is that they are all cultivated at least 700 m above sea level.

Other types of lentils include yellow and red coloured ones. However, yellow and red lentils are not considered to be separate lentil species. They are basically just peeled brown lentils, as is also the case with many types of mountain lentils. In other words, the difference between red and yellow lentils is not the colour of the skin covering the lentil, but the colour of the core. The classification of lentils is made even more complicated by protected geographical areas. Puy lentils and Vertes du Berry lentils, for example, also grow outside the Puy and Vertes du Berry regions. But in such a case, they are no longer referred to as Puy or Vertes du Berry, even though they are exactly the same.

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