Top 5 Reasons Chefs Are Using Lentils to Upgrade Their Menus

An upgraded menu once meant elegance, refinement, and top-tier customer service of the old-school variety: linen napkins and discreet table service. But today’s consumer is juggling an ever-changing financial market, expanding global tastes, personal dietary preferences, and a desire for food that satisfies as well as it appeals. Where lentils were once mainly used as a humble base for a salmon filet or a pork tenderloin, they are now seen as a preferred ingredient to upgrade menu offerings in cost-effective modern applications that bring nutrient density, texture, and colorful consumer appeal.

If all you know about lentils is from culinary school or traditional fine dining, there’s so much more to love! Here are the top five ways that chefs are using lentils to upgrade their menus today:

1. Flavor

Taste is king today, with consumers looking for bold, vibrant flavors in globally inspired dishes and complimentary textures in varied dish components. Lentils offer an opportunity to rethink flavor development from the beginning of the cooking process — by layering spices or cooking lentils with a flavor sachet, you can create deeply flavorful lentils that can be used in dozens of versatile dishes.

On their own, lentils are neutral in flavor, but in meals they act as a flavor sponge, soaking up the spices, aromatics, and sauces that they are cooked alongside. As Foodservice Director magazine reports, the demand for global street food continues to increase, with consumers looking for more “authenticity and adventure” in their dining options. [1] Lentils are a great choice to provide plant-based protein and fiber in dishes that are rich in sensory appeal.

2. Affordability

Operators today have to be increasingly skilled at balancing labor demands, food costs, and supply chain disruptions while not skimping on menu innovation and appeal. Lentils can ease production pain points, as they are plentiful in the supply chain, available both as a dry ingredient that can be cooked from scratch in just 15-20 minutes or as a pre-cooked product. Lentils reduce dish calorie counts and help balance production costs when used in blends or crumbles. Lentils are one of the most affordable protein sources available to foodservice operations today, and in their dry state are shelf-stable.

With such a low food cost, lentils can improve the overall economics of a dish, or allow you to include more premium items to a dish as a garnish, increasing the perceived consumer value without necessarily increasing the overall production cost of the dish. James Bickmore-Hutt, corporate chef with, says to today’s operators, “upgrade” can mean not only adding quality and menu appeal, but also making menus more efficient from a food cost standpoint. “To some, the upgrade is how they make a dollar stretch further to be better business people and responsible stewards of food costs in a quickly changing market with diverse consumer desires.”

3. Versatility

You need ingredients that can work with you — and ideally help you meet more needs without expanding your SKUs. Lentils can help, working as a power ingredient in crumbles and blends, but also flexing across a variety of dishes and dayparts. From breakfast bowls to a protein-rich base for a salad to a crispy topping for an appetizer or a dessert, they can be incorporated in a myriad of ways across your menu. 

In terms of texture, lentils may be best known for that perfect al dente bite, which can make a great base for a power bowl or salad and can also be a way to extend or replace animal proteins in a crumble. Split lentils break down quickly when cooked – they’re a great ingredient to thicken a sauce and can be added to pureed dips like hummus.

Lentils also bring textural novelty to dishes by being fried to crispness or oven-roasted to provide crunch. They can be tossed warm with spice blends to absorb and amplify those flavors like in this Central Asian Garnish Topping, or this North African Topping. With snappier textures, lentils can really shine as crispy toppings for rice bowls, animal proteins, salads, or even breakfast dishes. 

4. On-trend: Global Flavors

Consumers show an increasing curiosity and preference for authentic global flavors, requiring you to innovate or refresh your menu offerings perhaps more than at any time previously.

Lentils have roots in many global cuisines, enhancing flavors in Italian dishes like pasta e lenticchie, anchoring savory Indian dal curries, and bringing plant-based protein to Mediterranean dips and grain bowls. In addition to being a staple ingredient in many global cuisines, as a flavor sponge, lentils can be the ingredient that drives local flavor. Globally inspired street food demonstrates how universal formats like handhelds (like burgers, wraps, sandwiches, etc) or stuffed doughs (like dumplings, samosas, pupusa, etc) can introduce consumers to new flavor profiles in a format that feels both approachable and exciting.

“We’re seeing amazing vibrant and colorful dishes. Food at chains like Sweetgreen and Cava is modernized with scoops and dollops, ladles and smears,” says Chef Bickmore-Hutt. “Consumers love these dishes because they are bursting with flavor and are identifiable and delicious.”

We can look to examples like sung choi bao crumbles from China and Egyptian koshari to see lentils accompanying the mouth-watering global herbs and spices that your consumers crave.

5. Health, Nutrition & Sustainability

In addition to delivering on flavor and cuisine appeal, you are also working hard to meet an increasingly sophisticated consumer demand for food that satisfies hunger while aligning with their personal health, nutrition, and sustainability values. Lentils can anchor menu offerings as a plant-based ingredient, as they are high in protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. They are low in fat and calories and provide other key nutrients and minerals. This combination of protein and fiber results in the satiating effect of lentils that keeps you full for longer and provides long-burn energy, rather than spiking blood sugar.

Approachable and identifiable, lentils can be trusted to keep consumers feeling full for longer while tasting great. They also appeal to consumers who make dietary choices based on sustainability concerns. Offering the combination of a powerful nutrition profile and negative carbon footprint, they’re a major contributor  to sustainable food production and regenerative agriculture. [2]

For more ideas about how you can use lentils to upgrade your menu, contact the team at

[1] Foodservice Director, “Street food evolves to keep up with changing tastes
[2] Datassential 2023 Food Trends Report