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Lentils a key ingredient in more than dinner

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

Many aspects of sustainability revolve around food. The types of food we consume, how that food is cultivated, how far the food travels from farm to market, food waste generated, how food waste is handled, and the list goes on.

We must all eat to survive, so sustainability in food is an area that affects all of us, and one all of us can affect.

Today, let’s take a close look at a tiny legume, the lentil. One of the family of edible seeds of the legume family — pulses — lentils, along with dry peas and chickpeas, are an important agricultural and economic benefit to the Palouse region; a dietary protein, fiber, folate and iron powerhouse; and one of the most sustainable production crops around.

Wait, did I say lentils? Those boring things our moms made into cold weather soups? Lentils are far from boring — they’re a versatile food that has had its roots in cultures around the world for thousands of years.

In 1989, Pullman held the first National Lentil Festival as an event to foster tourism to the region. At the time, the Palouse, including parts of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon, produced 98 percent of lentils grown in the U.S. and Pullman was dubbed the Lentil Capital of the World.

Palouse weather is ideal for lentil production, and legumes provide an excellent rotation crop for wheat. Legumes restore nitrogen to the ground and help disrupt disease, weed and pest cycles of wheat crops. Today the Palouse is one of two principal growing regions and accounts for 18 percent of national lentil production. Eighty-five percent of farmers in the region grow some form of pulse crops. A report by the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council states about 90 percent of the US production of lentils is exported to Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, Europe and Africa, although U.S. consumption has been increasing in recent years.

Beyond the economic and agricultural benefits, lentil cultivation, according to comparisons done by the Environmental Working Group, produces the lowest amount of carbon emissions among 20 popular protein sources.

As a food source, lentils can be a strong ally for a healthy diet and proper nutrition. The Pulses website ( lists these nutritional benefits:

  • Good source of plant-based protein.

  • Excellent source of fiber.

  • Low in fat and sodium.

  • Cholesterol free.

  • Rich in iron, potassium, and folate. also states eating a diet rich in lentils (and other pulses) can help us maintain healthy weight levels, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, help maintain heart health, and contribute to good gut health and help stabilize blood sugar levels.

Some of the increase in domestic consumption can be attributed to the growing awareness of the health benefits of lentils but also to more varieties, prepared foods, and snack foods like lentil chips that are becoming more available and popular.

With all of the positive benefits that the mighty lentil brings to the table, why is it not more of a staple in our diets? I blame the soups: boring soups, boring lentils. It’s time to change all that and rethink the lentil — pulses in general — and discover new, non-boring ways to incorporate them into our diets.

A great start would be to head to Pullman next Friday or Saturday and partake in the 29th Annual National Lentil Festival. A parade, 5k fun run, golf mini tournament, three on three hoops, tennis and softball tournaments, a bicycle tour (50k/100k/150k), live music, beer garden, a giant cauldron (yes, 350 gallons) of lentil chili, cooking demonstrations, vendors, information, kids activities, and more will make the trip worth your while.

Admission is free and details can be found at If you’d rather stay home, learn more, get recipes, and take the half-cup challenge go to And if all that just seems too much, simply try the recipe for Arhar Dal, listed below, and serve with your favorite vegetable side or salad. You’ll be glad you did and might even be inspired to make a lasting positive impact on your health, your pocketbook, and the health of our planet.

For questions or additional information, feel free to get in touch with the Sustainable Living

Center at 509-524-5218 or

Erendira Cruz is the executive director of the Sustainable Living Center. She has a bachelor’s degree in business management from Montana State University.

Link to Union Bulletin Article here.

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