A field of lentils grows well in northeastern Montana.

Do you use lentils in your recipes or eat them as a side dish or as a part of casseroles and soups? How nutritious are lentils?

Lentil consumers were recently asked to fill out a survey about their choices, including what type of lentils they buy, how they characterize a high quality lentil, how often they eat lentils and if a locally grown package of lentils would influence their purchase.

“I am really excited about the nutritional properties of lentils, and the potential environmental and economic benefits lentils can provide,” said Teresa Warne, a Montana State University grad student.

Warne is part of a team of researchers at MSU working on lentil research. There are two surveys that are a part of the research project, a consumer survey and a lentil producer survey.

Lentil producers across the greater region, including Canada, were also asked to fill out a survey about production management.

“With the lentil producer survey, I am seeking to understand the different management practices of lentils and the sustainability of lentil production,” she said.

The survey was handed out to producers at three events in Montana, Montana Pulse Day, Montana Grain Growers Association meeting, and a meeting of the Montana Organic Association last fall.

It was also offered through an online format that concluded in January 2019.

Warne wanted to find out what barriers to lentil production existed in the region.

“Since lentil production and consumption can be viewed as a sustainability solution, we are trying to understand the barriers to lentil production producers face, as well as the opportunities lentils provide locally,” she said.

Lentils bring a wide range of production benefits to growers such as recycling water and nutrients in the soil, helping with weed control, and increasing yields in the crop following lentils.

“The crop also has the ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere by rhizobial symbiosis in the soil, and growing lentils can increase soil carbon content,” she added.

The producer survey will help strengthen lentil production and help researchers understand the barriers producers face, including environmental stressors, market stressors and other stressors.

“International markets have changed, affecting lentil producers' ability to market their crops,” Warne said.

Warne grew up in Montana, and said she was “proud that Montana is the number one producer of lentils in the nation.”

Both surveys are part of a larger grant that Selena Ahmed, MSU assistant professor in Sustainable Food Systems, and director of the Food and Health Lab, is co-investigator for.

The grant is from the National Science Foundation EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement Program on the water-agriculture-food-energy nexus.

Ahmed said a key goal of the grant is to identify solutions to slow the progression of climate change by reducing the production and release of greenhouse gases.

“In this regard, lentils deliver several important services to the environment and society,” Ahmed said.

For the consumer study, Warne went to grocery stores in the state and other places to find consumers to participate in the survey.

“The consumer survey is designed to understand the lentil market in Montana,” Warne said. “We are also looking to understand current knowledge and/or perceptions of lentil consumption, and some of the barriers to lentil consumption.”

She handed out a lentil brochure with the survey that informed about the nutritional benefits of lentils.

“I hope the survey can be used to promote lentil consumption in Montana and greater region. Recipes would be great, yes, but many folks simply do not know about lentils,” Warne said.

Warne believes targeted education efforts on lentils would be a great start in lentil promotion.

“I received such positive feedback from my lentil consumer survey, and folks were genuinely excited learning about the nutritional, economic, and environmental benefits associated with lentils,” she said.

Most of the survey respondents, despite their current frequency of consumption (zero to frequent consumption), all agreed that they would increase their lentil consumption after being presented with the lentil brochure.

“That highlights tremendous opportunity in lentil (and pulse crop) education efforts,” Warne added.

Ahmed said they are promoting the message about lentils supporting the environment, while at the same time, supporting human well-being.

“Lentils are a relatively affordable and nutritious source of protein that can contribute to food security while supporting lentil producers in the region,” Ahmed said.

They would like to see more food banks and USDA-supported programs purchase more lentils for food and nutrition assistance programs, as well as for ‘farm to school’ lunch programs.

“I think there is a real opportunity to develop the local market,” Warne said. “It would be really nice to see locally produced lentils utilized in the USDA CACFP (Child and Adult Care Food Program) program, or the National School Lunch Program, or other federal programs that serve vulnerable populations.” 

They are currently compiling and analyzing the data from both surveys, and will submit the write-up to a scholarly journal.

The report will also be submitted to the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council and the Montana Organic Association for their research, marketing and promotion efforts.