MINOT, N.D. - Sure, lentils are increasingly popular with consumers for their affordability and nutritional value. And, yes, lentils are found in a growing number of food products ranging from cereal to dog food.
But now lentils are being used as an ingredient in a high-profile food product that could enhance awareness of the crop among people who know little, if anything, about it now.
"Any time you can take an agricultural product, process it and sell it domestically, agriculture benefits. We really think that's true for beer made from lentils," said Ryan Edinger, Bismarck-based head grain buyer for AGT Foods USA, which is involved in the project.
Lentil beer was available at the exhibitors' social Jan. 22 during the first day of the two-day annual convention of the Northern Pulse Growers Association in Minot. About 300 people, most from North Dakota and Montana, were expected to attend.
Pulses are the collective name for a dozen crops that include lentils, chickpeas, dry peas and dry beans.
Edinger was among the AGT contingent at the pulse event. His company wanted to give attendees, many of whom hadn't tasted the lentil beer, an opportunity to sample it.
"It's good. I really like it," said Bryan Boyeff, manager of Viterra's Minot plant, who attended the convention and sampled the lentil beer.
Reaction to the lentil beer at the exhibitors' social was very positive, said Brian Gion, marketing manager for the Northern Pulse Growers Association.
The pale-yellow Lentil Cream Ale is produced by Rebellion Brewing Co., based in Regina, Saskatchewan, using lentils from AGT. Only a handful of companies worldwide are thought to make beer from lentils.
Lentil Cream Ale was introduced in late 2015. Though it has drawn some coverage in Regina and Saskatchewan publications, as well as in Canadian ag media, it's unfamiliar to many people, even some in the pulse industry. For example, Jerry Schillinger, a Circle, Mont., farmer and president of the Northern Pulse Growers Association, said he wasn't aware the beer existed until he learned of it during preparations for the annual convention.
AGT is one of the world's largest pulse companies. With global headquarters in Regina and U.S. headquarters in Bismarck, it operates facilities in many countries, including Canada, the United States, China and Australia, and sells its products in 120 countries.
Lentils - a small, lens-shaped seed - are popular with farmers on the Canadian prairie and in western North Dakota and eastern Montana, where the climate favors the crop. Canada is the world's largest producer and exporter of lentils, the majority of which are grown in Saskatchewan.
Given that, "It seemed very natural for us to use lentils to make beer," Edinger said.
Beer generally is made from barley, which is grown in many of the same areas in Canada, Montana and North Dakota where pulses are popular. But Lentil Cream Ale is produced on a small scale and hasn't cut meaningfully into barley sales for use in beer, Edinger said.
For more information on lentil beer, go to www.lentilbeer.com.