Types of Lentils

You might be under the impression that lentils are a boring health food with a bland taste. Not true! These nutritious legumes are certainly healthy, but they're full of flavor too. Lentils are packed with protein, they're a great source of fiber, and they help to boost the nutritional value of your plant-based dishes. Not to mention, they cook up more quickly than beans and are easier to digest for most people. We’ll introduce you to the most popular types of lentils and explain what makes each kind unique so you can use them correctly in your recipes.

Shop All Lentils

What Are Lentils?

First of all, what is a lentil? Is it a type of bean? Not quite. Lentils are not beans, but they both come from the same type of plant. Lentils, beans, peas, and even peanuts belong to a family of seed-bearing plants called legumes. All lentils can be recognized by their small, round shape, which resembles a tiny disc or lens. In fact, the scientific name for lentil is Lens culinaris (cooking lens).

Are Lentils Good For You?

You probably already know that lentils are considered healthy, but why? Lentils are a nutritional powerhouse because they contain a variety of essential vitamins and minerals. Let's break down some of the nutritional benefits of lentils:

  • Protein - Lentils contain about 18 grams of protein per cup (when cooked).
  • Fiber - One serving of lentils contains 16 grams of dietary fiber.
  • Folic Acid - Folic acid, or folate, is a B vitamin that supports healthy cells. One serving of lentils contains 90 percent of the recommended daily intake of folic acid.
  • Potassium - A 3/4 cup serving of lentils contains more potassium than a banana.
  • Iron - Per serving, lentils contain more iron than beef, making them a smart dietary staple for vegans and vegetarians.

How to Cook Lentils

Brown Lentils in a cooking pot with water

The most convenient thing about lentils is how quickly they cook! Dried lentils don’t have to be soaked, and they soften quickly on a low simmer. Each type of lentil has a different cook time and ideal water ratio, so check out our lentil list for the details. Follow these basic steps to prepare lentils:

  1. Add lentils to fine mesh strainer and rinse with running water.
  2. Look for stones or shriveled lentils and remove.
  3. Add lentils, water, and seasonings to saucepan.
  4. Bring water to boil then reduce heat to low and cover.
  5. Simmer lentils for required cook time.
  6. Test lentils occasionally for the desired texture and don't overcook.
  7. Drain any leftover liquid and season lentils to taste.

Note: Longer cook times and higher heat will result in lentils with a soft, mushy consistency. If this is not your preference, keep a close eye on the lentils to make sure the simmer doesn't turn to a boil.

Lentils List

Some lentils become soft when cooked and others hold their shape. This means that some varieties work better in soups and some lentils work better in side dishes or salads. Learn more about the different types of lentils below:

1. Brown Lentils

Brown Lentils

Brown lentils are the most common type of lentil. If you imagine a lentil in your mind, you are probably picturing the brown lentil. But don’t be fooled by its humble appearance! Brown lentils have a pleasing earthy flavor and a texture that works well as a meat substitute. They can range from light tan to very dark black. These lentils are so common that they are often just labeled as “lentils”.

How to Use Brown Lentils

Brown lentils become very soft when cooked, which causes them to break down in recipes. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, it just makes brown lentils ideal for thickening soups or stews. They can also be mashed and used in veggie burgers, vegan meatballs, or other plant-based recipes. Brown lentils are not the best type of lentil when you want the legume to hold its shape, like in a salad or grain bowl.

Brown Lentils vs Green Lentils

Brown and green lentils can be similar in color sometimes, but they have some differences that set them apart. Brown lentils have dull skin, and green lentils are shiny. Brown lentils are smaller than green lentils, and they cook more quickly. Where brown lentils become mushy and break down, green lentils hold their firm shape.

You can identify brown lentils by these characteristics:

  • Types of Brown Lentils: German brown lentils, Indian brown lentils, Spanish brown lentils
  • Brown Lentil Flavor: Mild, earthy flavor
  • Brown Lentil Texture: Remains firm but will breakdown if overcooked
  • Brown Lentil Cook Time: 20 to 25 minutes
  • Best Water Ratio for Brown Lentils: 2 1/2 to 3 cups of water per 1 cup of brown lentils

2. Green Lentils

Green Lentils

Green lentils can be identified by their glossy skin, which ranges from pale green to a spotted gray-green. They are similar to brown lentils but have thicker skin that helps the lentils keep their shape during cooking. This also means they take longer to prepare, with a cook time of about 45 minutes. You can expect a more peppery taste from green lentils.

How to Use Green Lentils

Because they keep their shape, green lentils work well in any dish where you want to highlight their texture and color. Add green lentils to a plate of fresh greens and herbs, or combine them with diced cucumber, tomato, and peppers to make a lentil salad. You can also use green lentils in soups and stews.

  • Types of Green Lentils: Eston lentils (small), Richlea lentils (medium), Laird lentils (large)
  • Green Lentil Flavor: Peppery and nutty
  • Green Lentil Texture: Firm and starchy
  • Green Lentil Cook Time: 30 to 45 minutes (less for smaller varieties)
  • Best Water Ratio for Green Lentils: 2 1/2 cups water per 1 cup green lentils

3. Black Lentils (Beluga)

Black Lentils

Technically, black Beluga lentils are a type of brown lentil with a very dark color. But these tiny black pearls are so unique that we consider them a separate variety. A scoop of glossy black lentils looks very much like Beluga caviar, which is where they get their nickname. They cook up in about 20 to 30 minutes and hold their round shape.

How to Use Black Beluga Lentils

Beluga lentils stay firm and starchy when cooked, which makes them ideal for recipes that need some extra texture. Use them as a topping and scatter them across dishes to add some color contrast. Replace rice or quinoa with black lentils for a protein-packed grain bowl or burrito.

  • Black Lentil Flavor: Strong, earthy flavor
  • Black Lentil Texture: Firm and starchy
  • Black Lentil Cook Time: 20 to 30 minutes
  • Best Water Ratio for Black Lentils: 2 1/4 cups water per 1 cup black lentils

4. French Green Lentils

French Green Lentils

French lentils are classified as green lentils, but they have some special characteristics that set them apart. Of all the types of lentils, French lentils keep their shape the best. This gives them a toothsome bite in recipes, and they’re highly prized for this pleasing texture. They’re smaller than other green lentils and tend to be more expensive per pound. You can recognize them by their attractive dappled green color.

How to Use French Lentils

French green lentils are known for their texture, so you’ll want to use them in recipes where they can really shine. Don’t toss French lentils into a stew with a lot of ingredients. Instead, use them in a light soup that will benefit from small bites of starchy goodness. Braised French lentils make a satisfying side dish, or make a cold salad with lentils, olive oil, herbs, and lemon juice.

What Are Puy Lentils?

Puy lentils are a type of French green lentil that is only grown in the South of France. These lentils get their name (pronounced pwee) from the town of Le Puy. Puy lentils have a flinty, mineral-like flavor from the volcanic soil in this region.

  • Types of French Green Lentils: Puy lentils, Berry lentils, Champagne lentils
  • French Green Lentil Flavor: Peppery and mineral-like
  • French Green Lentil Texture: Firm and starchy
  • French Green Lentil Cook Time: 20 to 30 minutes
  • Best Water Ratio for French Green Lentils: 2 1/2 cups water per 1 cup French green lentils

5. Red Lentils

Red Lentils

Red lentils are unique because they are hulled and split, which means the skins are removed and the lentils are cut in half. Without the skins, these lentils are reddish-orange. If the skins remained, they would be brown.

How to Use Red Lentils

Red lentils soften quickly and are commonly used in Indian curries and stews. Because they are hulled and split, they break down into a creamy puree when cooked. Red lentils won’t hold their shape, so they aren’t suitable for salads or grain bowls. Instead, use these sweet, nutty lentils to thicken soups or to make an Indian dish called “dal”.

Red vs Green Lentils

Red and green lentils are very different and don’t make good substitutes for each other. Green lentils have thick skins and hold their shape when cooked. Red lentils are hulled with the skins removed and tend to become soft and mushy.

  • Types of Red Lentils: Egyptian lentils, Red Chief lentils
  • Red Lentil Flavor: Sweet and nutty
  • Red Lentil Texture: Soft and creamy
  • Red Lentil Cook Time: 10 to 15 minutes
  • Best Water Ratio for Red Lentils: 1 1/2 cups water per 1 cup red lentils

5. Yellow Lentils

Yellow Lentils

Yellow lentils, like the red variety, are hulled and split. They have a more mild flavor than other types, which makes them a good option for anyone trying lentils for the first time. Yellow lentils sometimes get mixed up with yellow split peas and split mung beans. All have a soft yellow color, but you can recognize yellow lentils by their flat, round shape. Split mung beans are cylindrical and split peas are not as flat as lentils. It’s common in India to see all three of these legumes marketed as “yellow lentils”.

How to Use Yellow Lentils

You can safely use yellow lentils in place of red lentils in your dishes because of their similar texture. They will become soft and disintegrate, thickening your stews, soups, and curries.

  • Types of Yellow Lentils: Golden lentils
  • Yellow Lentil Flavor: Mild and neutral
  • Yellow Lentil Texture: Soft and creamy
  • Yellow Lentil Cook Time: 15 to 20 minutes
  • Best Water Ratio for Yellow Lentils: 1 1/2 cups water per 1 cup yellow lentils

Lentils FAQ

If you still have questions about lentils, check out some common FAQs below:

Are Lentils a Grain?

No, lentils are not a type of grain. Lentils are a type of legume, which is a seed-bearing plant. But, you can use lentils in place of grains in certain recipes when you want to create a gluten-free dish.

Where Do Lentils Come From?

Lentils come from seed-bearing plants called legumes. To be more specific, lentils are called pulses, the seeds that grow inside legume pods. Legume plants grow all over the world and produce many types of pulses, including beans, peas, and soybeans.

How Long Do Dry Lentils Last?

Dried lentils are great to keep on hand because they have a long shelf life. When stored in a cool, dry place, they can retain their quality for 2 to 3 years.

How Long Do Cooked Lentils Last?

After lentils are cooked, they do become what is called a TCS food. This means they require as much care as other cooked foods in your foodservice kitchen. Leftover cooked lentils should only be kept in refrigeration for 7 days before being thrown out.

Can You Eat Lentils Raw?

No, you cannot eat raw, dried lentils. They would be too hard to chew, but they would also wreak havoc on your digestive system. Uncooked lentils contain a protein that can cause vomiting and diarrhea. The cooking process makes lentils safe to eat.

Can You Eat Lentils Straight From the Can?

Lentils in the can are pre-cooked, so they are safe to eat. Just remember that once you open the can, you must follow food safety guidelines and store the lentils correctly.

Lentils are not only packed with nutrition, but they also offer a range of health benefits. Eating lentils regularly can help reduce cholesterol, lower blood sugar levels, and even reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. Lentils are also an excellent source of plant-based protein, making them a great choice for vegetarians and vegans.

Posted in: Kitchen & Cooking Tips|By Michale LeRoy
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