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nutritional properties and how to use them in cooking


What are

By red lentils we mean the edible seeds produced by the plant L. culinaryis (or, L. esculenta). They are not part of a separate botanical typology and owe their reddish color to the removal of the outer skin of the seeds – since the pulp naturally has this appearance.

Belonging to the Fabaceae botanical family, lentils fall into the IV fundamental group of foods – as well as: chickpeas, peas, beans, broad beans, soya, lupins, grass peas. They provide proteins of medium biological value (more than cereals), starch, water-soluble vitamins, mineral salts and a lot of dietary fibre.

In the diet, red lentils play a decidedly positive role. Compared to refined cereals and their derivatives, such as pasta made from white flour, they allow us to reduce the total caloric intake, moderating the intake of carbohydrates and increasing proteins, fibers and water, decreasing the speed of digestion to the advantage of satiety, enrich the meal with vitamins and minerals, nourish the intestinal bacterial flora and regulate the bowel movement and are considered ideal products in the diet against metabolic pathologies – especially dyslipidemia. Unlike other legumes, however, dried lentils are more digestible and cause less intestinal swelling.

Red lentils are easily available on the market in dehydrated form. However, to the advantage of other dried legumes, these do not require soaking and can be cooked directly, although always with plenty of water. Among the best-known recipes based on red lentils we find: soups, minestrone minestrone and purees or creams, dry first courses based on semolina/egg pasta seasoned with lentils or – thanks to recent commercial proposals – based on lentil pasta , vegetarian meatballs and various ethnic formulas – especially Indian. In the cuisines of the Indian subcontinent, where lentils are a basic food, the red ones are stewed until a thick mixture is obtained to accompany rice or rotis.

Lentils are in fact a plant of Middle Eastern and Asian origin. About 40 cm high, it has the typical appearance of herbaceous plants and produces seeds similar to “small lenses”, closed inside the pods two at a time. It is an annual crop whose majority of global production comes from Canada, India and Turkey.

Nutritional properties

Red lentils are considered foods with excellent nutritional properties: let's find out why.

Nutritional properties of red lentils

Red lentils fall into the fourth fundamental group of foods.

They constitute an abundant nutritional source of starch and proteins of medium biological value (BV), which provide almost all of the calories contained in them. Fats are marginal, but unsaturated and therefore beneficial for the body.

An excellent level of dietary fiber is appreciated in red lentils. The soluble ones, in particular, are higher in percentage when compared to lentils with peel, even if the overall level of fiber is still lower.

Red lentils do not contain cholesterol, but phytosterols, substances with a hypocholesterolemic action. The content of lecithins and polyphenolic antioxidants is appreciable. They are also free of lactose, gluten and histamine. Phenylalanine, on the other hand, is abundant, while purines appear in medium quantities.

Red lentils contain many vitamins, almost all of the water-soluble type of group B. In this case, the level of: folates, thiamine (vit B1), pantothenic acid (vit B5) and pyridoxine (vit B6) is appreciated. The contribution of certain minerals is excellent, especially iron, phosphorus and zinc.

It should be remembered that legumes are naturally characterized by the presence of various anti-nutritional factors. These are mostly concentrated in the peel and are sensitive to cooking.


Red lentils have several appreciable dietary functions: let's see the main ones.

Role of red lentils in the diet

First of all, we can undoubtedly mention the energetic function of the starch contained in them. Lentils are suitable for supporting an active life, but are not as caloric as cereals and refined derivatives (thanks to the moderate glycemic load); for this reason they also have an application in nutritional slimming therapy. They are among the recommended autumn foods with a low glycemic index. Let us remember that the calories provided by dry red lentils, in practice, drop by around 25%; this is because during cooking the seeds absorb up to 3 times their weight in water. Furthermore, to those who take this parameter into consideration, we remind you that these legumes also have a low glycemic index, moderated by the presence of fiber and proteins, and insulin. All this makes it an ideal product in food therapy against hyperglycemia or type 2 diabetes mellitus, and against hypertriglyceridemia.

Medium biological value proteins contribute to the intake of essential amino acids, even if with one or two limiting amino acids, which can easily be compensated by alternating them with cereals.

Fibers, especially soluble ones, are natural prebiotics and modulators of absorption; in synergy with lecithins, phytosterols and antioxidant polyphenols, they hinder the absorption of fats, including cholesterol, a very useful function in the therapy against hypercholesterolemia. The intake of lentils is recommended in case of constipation or constipation. They also determine a lower production of intestinal gas than that triggered by the presence of insoluble fibre.

They are suitable for the celiac diet, for lactose and histamine intolerance, but caution is advised in therapy against hyperuricemia and gout, and for phenylketonuria.

Rich in minerals and B vitamins, they support various enzymatic functions essential to cellular processes.


Organoleptic characteristics of red lentils

The flavor of lentils is characteristic, pleasantly “earthy”, with a light sweetish taste and a tendency to taste slightly lappy.

On the market they can mainly be found dried or cooked and in jars or briks – in brine. Unlike most legumes, even when dried, lentils do not require preliminary soaking.

Ways to cook lentils

They are consumed in many ways: sprouted and eaten raw, boiled, stewed, stir-fried, fried and baked. By grinding the dried and hulled seeds, lentil flour is obtained, used for many different purposes, such as the very recent use in the production of pasta.

Red lentil pasta has the advantage of preserving the purpose of wheat pasta, offering several nutritional advantages. It is considered as a dietary food and, by alternating or associating it with ingredients containing cereals and other grains, it constitutes an essential element in the nutritional regime of vegans, who usually struggle to achieve the necessary protein intake.

The most common method of preparing lentils is in a pan, either by boiling or stewing. Whole seeds with peel usually require a maximum cooking time of 40 minutes. The smaller, hulled and broken varieties, such as the red lentil, are ready in just 10' – after which they tend to break down into a dense puree.

They are widely consumed in the packaging of first courses, such as purées and veloutés, minestrone and soups. The red ones, however, are more suitable for quick recipes, or they should be added no later than 15 minutes after the end of cooking.

The cold use of boiled seeds for summer salads is also frequent, although generally jarred lentils with peel are used for this purpose.

With cooked red lentils it is also possible to produce small meatballs to gratin in the oven or to fry.

Lentil flour can be used in the cut (no more than 10%) of wheat-based flour for leavened bread making, increasing its nutritional value and taste. On its own, however, it can be used to make flat bread to cook in a pan.

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