On the Table

Split peas, lentils are rich in fiber and protein

October 2, 2012 

What’s the difference between split peas and lentils?

That’s the question I was asked at dinner last week. We were eating homemade curried split pea and butternut squash soup with friends, and all heads turned to me for the answer.

For a moment, I wasn’t sure.

Dried beans, peas and lentils are so similar. And once they’re split, peas and lentils look a lot alike.

It’s true that they’re closely related, as they’re all legumes. Nutritionally, legumes have a lot in common.

All of them are ridiculously rich in soluble fiber, making them effective edible moderators of blood cholesterol and sugar. They’re high in protein, iron, folate and magnesium and they’re low in saturated fat.

But they are different, too.

Split peas are made from fresh, round peas that are dried first, then peeled and split along a natural crevice. They come in two main varieties and colors – yellow and green.

They’re used all over the world to make split pea soup and dahl, a thick stew served with rice or bread. Split peas have more surface area than whole peas, so they cook more quickly and break down into a thick, savory paste.

In contrast to split peas, lentils are small and disk-shaped. They come in several colors – black, brown, red, yellow and speckled – and different sizes, too.

Like split peas, they can be used to make soups and dahl, and if they’re not overcooked, they hold their shape and work well in salads and pilaf, too.

Dried beans come in lots of varieties as well and are oval in shape. They’re generally bigger than lentils and dried peas and take considerably more time to prepare.

That’s why canned, precooked beans are so popular. They’re ready to eat without the need for lengthy soaking and cooking times.

Like dried peas and lentils, dried beans also work well in soups and stews. They’re good mashed or pureed and made into dips, eaten cold in salads or as fillings in hot foods such as burritos and casseroles.

When you consider how many different dried peas, beans and lentils are available and the variety of ways you can use them, it’s easy to imagine eating them every day.

And, why not?

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a registered dietitian and clinical associate professor in the departments of Health Policy and Management and Nutrition in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Send questions and comments to suzanne@onthetable.net.

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