assisted by student worker David Hanson. (Photos by Linda Weiford, WSU News)
USDA plant geneticist Rebecca McGee blows the thin coating away
from just-picked lentil seeds.
“Lentils have an identity problem that they don’t deserve,” said USDA plant geneticist Rebecca McGee, an adjunct professor at Washington State University who oversees the nation’s lentil breeding program at the Pullman campus for the federal Agricultural Research Service.
“Unfortunately, a lot of Americans don’t realize how versatile they are,” she said, plucking pods off the spindly, honey-colored plants grown at WSU’s Spillman Agronomy Farm a couple miles from campus.
“I think we’re getting beyond that,” said McGee. Thanks to marketing efforts of the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council (http://www.pea-lentil.com/) in Moscow, Idaho, lentils are slowly earning a bigger place at the kitchen table, she said.
Object of desire
|The research farm is located two miles from the WSU Pullman campus.|
Inspecting her plant rows at the Spillman farm, McGee split a pod with two finger tips, removed two seeds and tossed them into her mouth. As one of the nation’s top lentil breeders, it’s clear that she savors the subject of her research. Moving from one variety of lentil plant to another, she bit into the seeds and chewed, sampling them the way a viticulturist might taste subtle differences between wine grapes.
Lentil as a team player
Lentils are the seeds harvested
from the plant’s pods.
Ah, and the flavor. Cooked, the seeds taste rich, nutty and earthy, easily melding with other ingredients.
The Next Big Thing?
Eventually, a new variety could emerge that’s the Next Big Thing on the Palouse, said Tim McGreevy, executive director of the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council.
Why does the tiny lentil flourish on the Palouse? First, credit our warm, dry summers – necessary to prevent mildews and soil-borne diseases that affect lentils.
But lentils still need moisture, and the region’s soil provides just the right support, explained McGee. Silty and high in organic matter, the soil retains water for long periods while sharing it with the roots of the plants.
“This makes it a great rotation crop,” said McGee, offering yet another example of how lentils are small, but mighty.