Welcome to another installment of Lentils Through History! Lentils were a very common food in two of the most famous civilizations of the ancient world: Greece and Rome.
By 6,000 B.C., Lentils were cultivated in Classical Greece. Together, wheat, barley, and lentils were the agricultural staples of early Greek culture. Lentils were commonly enjoyed in a type of lentil soup called phake.
Wealthy Greeks viewed lentils as a poor-man’s food, and refused to eat them. However, Hippocrates, the father of medicine, recognized the health benefits of lentils and prescribed them to patients suffering from liver ailments. Modern medicine has shown that Lentils improve liver function because they contain high amounts of choline. Choline is a nutrient which enables the liver to rid itself of fat so that it can effectively filter toxins from the bloodstream.
In Rome too, lentils were considered a nutritious and tasty food for poorer social classes. Romans prepared a simple lentil soup called puls, from which our term “pulse” is derived. Anthimus, a physician in Rome around 500 B.C. wrote a book entitled On Foods, and included instructions for preparing puls. To read the ancient recipe and cook a modern version of Anthimus’ soup – visit our recipe for Roman Lentil Puls.
According to many classical authors, lentils were commonly served at funerals. It was believed, in the words of Appian of Alexandria, that “On eating Egyptian lentils, a man become happy and amused.” We’re not sure whether this claim can be scientifically supported, but the great taste and balanced nutrition of lentils sure make us smile!