Puy Green Lentils – "poor man’s caviar"


The green lentils of Puy, France are a unique lentil, very flavoursome and do not need to be soaked before cooking. They were traditionally known as ‘poor man’s caviar’ due to their excellent flavour and their reasonable cost. They do have some interesting characteristics. Firstly, they are exceptionally small, being only 4-5 mm is diameter and they have a relatively high proportion of skin, which gives them powerful aroma. Secondly, the skin is much finer than other lentils and they have a much lower starch content than other pulses, which means that they do not need to be cooked for as long, are more easily digested and have a more pleasant consistency. Thirdly, the green colour comes from the blue pigment anthocyanin which when combined with the yellow husk, creates a pale green shade with deeper blue-green flecks. The lentils do however turn brown when cooked.

There is evidence that suggests that these lentils have been cultivated in the Velay for some 2000 years, and that is it the volcanic landscape of the Auvergne that favoured their cultivation and quality. There are some 3900 hectares under cultivation.The lentils also thrive because of the specific micro-climate of the region, with the Cantal and Margeride mountains in the southwest and the Vivarais peaks in the southeast acting as protective barriers. The combination of sun and hot dry wind ensures that the lentils do not fully ripen which ensures the lower starch content and their softer skin. As they are generally harvested in Summer between the end of July and mid-September, they have already dried by natural means, with less then 16% moisture, so only need to be graded according to size and quality, then packed into sacks.

There are some wonderful recipes using Puy lentils, so I do recommend that you seek them out and keep them as a staple item in your pantry.




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