lentil, leguminous Old World annual plant ( Lens culinaris ) with whitish or pale blue flowers. Its pods contain two greenish-brown or dark-colored seeds, also called lentils, which when fully ripe are ground into meal or used in soups and stews. Probably indigenous to SW Asia, and known to have been used as early as the Bronze Age, the lentil was introduced to Greece and Egypt before biblical times and was one of the first food plants cultivated in Europe. Esau sold his heritage for a mess of lentils—although the name in the Scriptures may have been applied to several plants. Lentils are unusually high in protein content and are much used for food in Europe, especially by the poor, and increasingly in the United States. Many varieties are cultivated, for the seeds as well as for forage. Lentil seeds, from their shape, gave their name to the magnifying lens. The gulfweed (see seaweed) is sometimes called sea lentil. Lentils are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Rosales, family Leguminosae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.