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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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Lens culinaris, a legume which originated in the Near East. It has been cultivated since antiquity in Egypt and remains of it have been found in many prehistoric sites in Europe. India is the chief producer, followed closely by Canada (which is the largest exporter).

The plant is an annual, around 40 cm (16") tall, whose edible seeds develop in short pods, each typically containing two seeds. The seeds come in various sizes, from tiny to small. They also vary in colour in both the husked and unhusked state. The two main types noticeable among lentils of the Near East and Asia are: first, those which are relatively large and light coloured or yellow; and second, the small ones, which are brown, pink, or grey. In India, it is the pink lentils which are mainly eaten by Muslims in the north, especially in Bengal; and the same applies in Pakistan.