Fact: Sixty-seven percent of the world crop of lentils is grown in Saskatchewan. Fact: You can buy red lentils that are grown right here on Vancouver Island. Fact: The Saskatchewan Pulse Growers want to make sure you start eating a lot more lentils.
Even armed with those facts, although most people know what they look like and maybe even what they taste like, they’re not really part of our daily diet. The vast majority of those lentils grown in Saskatchewan are shipped out of the country and around the world. A nutritionist friend of mine who visited a lentil farm in Saskatchewan asked the farmers how they liked eating their lentils and they admitted to her, ‘we just grow them, we don’t eat them!’ But lentils have been cultivated for thousands of years in Egypt and have been found in prehistoric sites in Europe. They have the highest protein content of all vegetables at around 25 percent. They are in the legume family but more properly are called a pulse, which is the dried version of a legume. The protein made them a great substitute for meat in Roman Catholic countries during Lent, but that’s not where the name comes from. The Latin name, lens culinaris, comes from the lentil’s resemblance to a lens, and from lens we get lentils.
A hoped-for rise in Canadian lentil consumption grabbed my attention while watching Top Chef Canada on the Food Network. And in episode 4, in the Quickfire Challenge that starts every show, the chefs were challenged to create a dish using Canadian lentils. The winner received a cash prize of five thousand dollars, courtesy of Canadian Lentils, the entity that is in charge of promoting lentils grown by the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers. So I got to see some creative uses of lentils. Then, also on the Food Network, I see a promo for a show called Lentil Hunter. Each webisode features everyone’s favourite tall chef, Michael Smith, travelling around the world in search of the world’s best lentil recipes. In a press release, Chef Smith says, “This is a big deal, just moving that needle 1%, keeping 1% more of those lentils here in Canada, would be huge for our farmers. It would be ever so much more profitable for them.” So there you have it, the campaign is aimed at getting more money into the hands of farmers since they would probably make more money actually selling lentils in Canada than shipping them overseas, and it seems like they are spending a lot of money in order to make money. That being said, lentils are a healthy and nutritious food item, so I can’t really argue with the idea of getting us to eat more lentils…and of course Chef Smith and Canadian Lentils are providing us with lots of recipes.
As far as buying local is concerned, you can find lentils grown right here on Vancouver Island. I have not yet tried this product, but my friend Chef Heidi Fink has, and here’s a link to her article about the lentils grown at Saanichton Farm on my blog. They grow red lentils there, and they are sold as the whole pulse, what we usually buy at the store are split red lentils, but it’s great that they are growing them and I think I should be doing a visit out there this summer to see how they’re grown.
Is this campaign is going to result in us eating more lentils? I think the timing is right, Canadians want to eat more local food, and they probably didn’t know that lentils are grown right here, and for those people trying to put less meat in their diet but still want some protein, here are lentils. You can even use them to cut down on the amount of butter in a cookie recipe, using pureed lentils instead. And they are not expensive. If you’re not a fan yet, give them a try.