Swabian Alb Lentils Germany
Nestled between Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Germany’s Alpine foothills, the semi-mountainous Swabia Alb is one of the most volcano-rich regions in the world. Due to its poor soil and harsh climate, lentils were historically one of the most common crops here, along with peas, beans, barley, rye and others. Archeological remains show that legumes have been grown here since at least 500 BC. But it was only in the first half of the 19th century that lentils became the primary crop, and a food central to the region’s identity. Many streets and villages in the Swabian Alb are named after lentils (Linse or Leisa), and the legume can often be found painted on the façades of farms or restaurants. Many traditional recipes combine lentils with grain-based foods, like lentils with spätzle (local fresh noodles), the most representative regional dish.
However, in the 1960s, as in other European agricultural regions, the cultivation of legumes was gradually abandoned, because they are unprofitable and linked to an old-fashioned food model. As a result, the seeds of traditional lentil varieties were lost. For over 40 years, there were no traces of them, until in 2006 when two researchers found seeds from Albleisa 1 and Albleisa 2 in the genetic bank of the Vavilov Institute in Saint Petersburg.
The Swabian Alb lentil plant is about 40 centimeters tall and has stocky pods each containing two seeds, which ripen between the end of July and early September. Thanks to the favorable combination of soil, climate and local knowledge, the lentils are of excellent quality, but require a long drying and cleaning process.
The area’s two traditional varieties have different shapes and uses. One has a larger seed and is ideal for purees and soups, while the other one is smaller and best as a side dish. Both have an intense, hazelnut-like flavor.
At the end of the 1990s, lentils began to be grown in the area again, and in 2001 a consortium of producers was founded to coordinate the drying, cleaning, packaging and marketing of the Alb-Leisa (Alb lentil, in Swabian dialect). Growing numbers of farmers began cultivating lentils organically, though without being able to use the seeds of the native varieties. In 2007, Luitz Mammel, a local farmer and researcher, together with several Slow Food Germany members, travelled to Saint Petersburg to visit the Vavilov Institute, recover the original seeds and bring them back to Germany where, thanks to a research project at the University of Nürtlingen, they have been reintroduced.
Now, thanks to the project, around 60 local farmers have started cultivating lentils and selling them locally. The Presidium is working to promote the cultivation and consumption of these two lentil varieties in the region. Currently an application for a protected denomination of origin is being discussed.
From the town of Albstadt to the town of Aalen, Baden-Württemberg region, Swabian Alb
The growers are united in the association öko-Erzeugergemenschaft “Alb-Leisa”
tel. +49 7375922293
fax +49 7375922238
Tel. +49 7375922614
Slow Food Coordinator