Types of lentils: the best lentil varieties
Lentils are among the most versatile and diverse culinary treasures. They have so much to offer, so we have put together a collection of the best lentil varieties to grow and cook.
Lentils (Lens culinaris) are one of the oldest cultivated plants. As a result, they have been bred extensively. There are countless varieties, some of which are less known and only grow in small regions. Unfortunately, many of the regional varieties are lost today. Although we still know of about 3000 different types of lentils, only around 80 of them are actually grown. In many parts of the world even fewer kinds of lentils are available.
Lentil species and varieties
Six different lentil species belong to the genus Lens. Two of them, Lens nigrans and Lens orientalis, are thought to be the predecessors of Lens culinaris, the only species cultivated for eating. Lentils are determined by the size of the seed ranging from three to over seven millimetres. The other distinguishing feature is colour which can vary from brown and green, to black or even blue or purple.
Alb Leisa lentils include three different regional varieties from Germany. Lentil cultivation has a long tradition in this region. They are used in a lot of dishes, such as “Spätzle”. The Swabian lentil varieties were almost lost due to cultivation halting in 1966. Thankfully, a Swabian farmer rediscovered the regional varieties in a Russian gene database for agricultural plants in 2006. Today, the three varieties are being cultivated once again. Two are light green ‘Spaeths Alblinse 1’ and ‘Spaeths Alblinse 2’ the third is a dark green marbled, small-seeded lentil variety.
Brown lentils are probably the most popular lentils in Central Europe. The variety of this group is quite impressive because while some species are brown, others can range from yellow to orange. When cooked, they 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. The small black seeds are characterised by their delicious taste. Beluga lentils remain firm and crisp even when cooked. The best way to enjoy them is to incorporate them into a salad. Beluga lentils most likely originated from 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. Although their skin tends to be thin the inside remains firm even when cooked. Berry lentils are grown in France – their name is officially protected by the region of their origin meaning the same variety grown outside that region is not allowed to be called Berry lentils.
Puy lentils (also French lentils)
The enticing nutty aroma of these lentils makes salads taste amazing. Puy lentils typically have a blue and green marble colour. They come from a small region in the middle of France where they have been cultivated for over 1000 years. Similar to Green Du Berry lentils their name is protected. When grown somewhere else they are referred to as green lentils.
Mountain lentils are not a real variety. They are more of a group of different lenses that, as the term suggests, are grown in various mountainous regions. All of them are cultivated at least 700 metres above sea level.
Red and yellow lentils are – other than one might expect – not varieties of their own. They both are peeled brown lentils often listed among mountain lentils. The difference in colour lies within the core, not the skin.