Snack on This: The Not-So-Lowly Lentil Makes a Comeback
Christine Escobar and Aysha Hussain
This tiny powerhouse packs a punch of nutrients, fiber, iron and protein. Formerly relegated to ethnic grocery stores, the humble lentil is finally garnering respect across mainstream North American grocery stores. Lentils, aka daal in South Asia, also have a new lease on life as (and you may not believe this) crackers, hummus and energy bars. And that’s a good thing considering that America is snacking more than ever before.
A staple in most parts of the world, lentils are nothing short of a true superfood. Minerals in lentils include iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc, as well as B vitamins folate, thiamin and niacin. They are also low fat, contain no cholesterol, and are a high protein (20 to 25 percent protein) alternative to meat. A single serving is an excellent source of fiber, providing nearly half of the U.S. recommended daily allowance.
Throw gluten allergy into the mix and lentil flour replaces wheat flour easily in many recipes. It’s no wonder that manufacturers are rapidly recognizing the versatility and nutritional quality of lentils.
Ali McDaniel, of the U.S. Dry Pea and Lentil Council, says the growing popularity of lentils can be attributed to a number of factors: “an increase in the number of individuals embracing vegetarian, flexitarian and healthy diets, revised USDA nutrition guidelines and the growing ‘superfood’ status of pulses and beans.”
Historians can date the lentil to early archaeological times. Snacking, while not new, accounts for as much as 48 percent of eating habits amongst Americans, according to The Hartman Group, a market research firm. Another finding: Americans want snacks containing richer sources, protein and fiber.
The latest companies to take on this challenge include Simply 7, IFANCA halal-certified Enjoy Life Foods and Mediterranean Snacks, all of which offer a different assortment of all-natural treats. What the trio share in common is their love of the “lowly” lentil. Joel Warady, chief sales and marketing officer of Enjoy Life Foods and a true advocate of the legume, says that research across all three companies suggests that lentil-based snacks are “one of the top three fastest growing subcategories in the healthy snack sector” – definitely a popular consumer choice.
“Snacking is not going to go away,” says Warady. “But people want to alleviate a little bit of their guilt when they snack, and find products that satisfy their snacking desires but at the same time are healthier.
Among Enjoy Life Foods’ halal certified lentil-based snacks is “Plentils,” a snack chip made with a lentil-potato mixture. According to Warady, their snack products contain 40 percent less fat than ordinary potato chips and have a thickness that holds up well to dips. The health-conscious company, which specializes in allergen and gluten free foods, boasts that their Plentils chips are also free from eight most common allergens and are free from dairy products.
“We made the decision to halal certify all of our products about three years ago,” says Warady. “We are one of the few brands that have all of our products halal certified. We are re-certified on an annual basis.”
To Warady, the halal market in the U.S. is a growing one so the decision to get halal-certified was not a difficult one. “When you look at the trends; the population and lifestyle trends, there’s no question that the market for halal products is growing very similarly to the way the market for the Hispanic products grew,” Warady adds. “[For us] it was both a good business decision as well as the right thing to do.”
Since the introduction of Plentils in March 2012, Enjoy Life Foods has had a great response from consumers. “There’s a great opportunity for lentils to be the base of other product lines,” Warady explains. “We use alternative bases for all of our products… we’re always looking at the unique lentil.”
While most mainstream consumers are still relatively new to the idea of incorporating lentils and lentil-based snacks into their diet, ardent snackers are excited about the possibility of trying a healthy snack food that’s different, like lentil chips and crackers. Responding on facebook.com/halalconsumer this is what they had to say:
“There are so many different types of lentils. It has a unique flavor and is filling. I think lentil-based snacks sound great,” said Farah Hussain Baig of Chicago, Illinois.
“When I do snack I am looking for healthy options with high protein and low fat content. As far as lentil-based chips or crackers, I would try them as long as they are baked and are sold in small calorie packaging,” said Akbar Ghous from Charlotte, North Carolina.
“I’ve tried a lot of different alternate snacks, like dried fruits and dried veggies, but I’ve also tried Wassabi peas, dried edamame, and different soy-based snacks. All of these were pretty good, but I found them a little oily. I’d like to try another alternative if it was lighter and crispier, but with less carbs. Lentils would probably be a good option for that,” said Azmat Hussain of Portland, Oregon.
Another growing trend is cooking with lentil flour. “Gluten free is one of the fastest growing food market segments. As many as one in 133 people are affected by some level of gluten intolerance. Pulses and pulse ingredients are gluten-free and easy to use in many recipes including baked goods, snacks and meals,” said Peter Watts, Director of Market Innovation for Pulse Canada. While lentil flour may have originally been a response to gluten allergies, it is a healthy option in and of itself.
Aside from providing you and your family with a high protein meal, lentil flour unlike regular flour, can give an extra kick to your baked goods in other ways. Lentil flour has the potential to give your favorite batch of baked cookies, breads and even pancake mix a boost in color, aroma, and of course, flavor.
Ready to get your lentil flour fix? Although not surprising, lentil flour is more readily available at most Asian and South East Asian shops, but can also be found at local organic and natural food stores. Yes, believe it or not, lentil flour like the regular kind, is also sold in organic varieties. If you don’t have the convenience of one of these nearby stores, there are several online web sites that offer lentil flour without being overly expensive.
Pulsecanda.com offers Pulses and the Gluten-Free Diet, lentil flour recipes popular with those on a gluten free diet and healthy cooking aficionados, alike. Check out Halal Consumer magazine’s digital issue for a selection.
Yvonne Maffei, IFANCA resident chef and creator of MyHalalKitchen.com prepares lentils often, usually every other week. “I mostly make soups with red lentils because it’s such a quick way to incorporate them into our diet since they don’t have to be soaked overnight or pressure cooked like the brown lentils,” she says.
Chicagoan Rosanna Dikbas, adds sprouted lentils to her tuna salads. Her husband, Mustafa, who is Turkish, enjoys red lentils.
“The trick Turks use with lentils to make them aromatic is to the saute them in the pan with olive oil until they get saturated and somewhat translucent,” Dikbas explains. “Red lentil soup is a favorite for my husband. I warm olive oil, add chopped onion, salt and saute a bit. Add the lentils and saute until the lentils are translucent. Add chicken broth, cook until creamy and blend. You can also add mint or parsley. However, I find simplicity is key when cooking with lentils.” Remember, lentils may double or triple in volume when soaked or cooked, so use an appropriate size pot.
Meet the Writers: Christine Escobar is a writer and the founder and editor of www.GreenParentChicago.com. Syndicated posts from Green Parent Chicago have appeared in Reuters, The Chicago Sun-Times, and other media outlets.
Aysha Hussain is a New York-based writer and producer. She has worked at NBC, CBS and has written for newspapers and magazines such as Newsday, DiversityInc and Muslim Girl Magazine. Check out Aysha’s video on this story online at http://read.uberflip.com/t/13438
Check Out Pulse Canada’s Bean Flour Recipes in Halal Consumer online as a PDF Magazine at www.ifanca.org and as a digital flip-magazine at http://read.uberflip.com/issue/80803/47.