Lentils: what the hell are they?

So I was wondering…

As a vegan, I do enjoy a good lentil dish, especially red lentils. They’re high in protein, delicious and versatile. But what the hell IS a lentil? I know that soy is a bean in some kind of chlorophyllic escape pod way before it becomes tofu or fake meat or whatever, but I can’t really imagine lentils growing wild. Any why do they have stones mixed in sometimes? I did some research…

 

 

 

Some of you might know that a lentil is a pulse. Pulses are mainly beans and such things that are usually dry and in pods. Here are some examples… peanuts, clover, lentils, chickpeas (garbanzo beans for Americans), kidney beans etc. It turns out that soy beans and lentils are both pulses.

 

Lentils are a bushy type of pulse, and apparently they are seeds, usually growing two to a pod. Here’s a pod

 

 

Aren’t they cute? There are several colours, from the dark green French (Puy) lentil to the red one that’s used in Indian food. Apparently there is a black lentil, but what is usually called a black lentil is actually a non-lentil pulse with lenticular aspirations, the urad bean. I feel shame for it.

 

Lentils have more protein than any plant food except soy beans and hemp, although they are sadly deficient in the amino acid methionine, which is why they are combined with grains like rice in some cultures. Rice contains methionine, but lacks lysine (this even applies to white rice, although brown rice has more than three times as much protein).

 

So why with the stones? To harvest, the plants are pulled out by hand (or maybe by machine) and piled on the ground to dry (I’m guessing this is where they pick up the stones). Then the piles are taken to be threshed within an inch of their lives. This gets rid of the pods and other outsidey parts. Then they’re winnowed (for some reason I picture horses being involved in this, but I don’t think they are), which separates out the small light bits from the bigger, food bits. Since lentils are about the same size as the little stones, they can’t really be got rid of. If you ever bought hand-harvested lentils, they wouldn’t have stones with them.

 

 

 

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