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Beluga black lentils
Beluga black lentils.
Image courtesy Indian Harvest Specialtifoods, Inc.

New, Healthful Compound Discovered in Exotic Lentils

By Marcia Wood
September 16, 2005

Beluga black lentils glisten and shimmer when they are cooked, showing off the rich, dark-black sheen of their namesake--Beluga caviar. Although these attractive, nutritious members of the pea and bean family have been a culinary favorite for thousands of years, it is only recently that scientists have unlocked the secret of their appealing color.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) chemist Gary R. Takeoka and colleagues have determined that the color-imparting compound is a previously unknown, natural pigment known as an anthocyanin. And, like some other anthocyanins, it may benefit our health.

Anthocyanins are responsible for the attractive reds, blues and purples of many flowers, fruits and vegetables, according to Takeoka. He's examining Beluga black lentils and other legumes as candidate ingredients for an array of new, healthful and great-tasting snacks. A crispy, low-calorie, low-fat lentil snack that Takeoka and coinvestigators are working to create may offer a satisfying alternative to high-fat products.

Beluga black lentils are a tiny, quick-cooking, specialty food used in salads, winter soups or other dishes. Perhaps better known in Europe and Asia than in the United States, this mild-flavored lentil is high in protein and a good source of magnesium, iron, zinc, B vitamins and carbohydrates.

Takeoka, who is in the ARS Processed Foods Research Unit, did the lentil work in the agency's Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif. He and co-researchers described the new anthocyanin earlier this year in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

The compound's official chemical name is a lengthy tongue-twister: delphinidin-3-O-(2-O-beta-D-glucopyranosyl-alpha-L-arabinopyranoside).

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.