December 21

What Do Lentils Taste Like? A Guide to Taste, Texture, and Cooking Lentils You’ll Actually Like

Written by: Savannah

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The lentil is often overlooked as an amazing way to add umami to a dish.

Many people are unfamiliar with lentils, or don’t pay attention when cooking them. This can result in water-logged, mushy lentils that are less than desirable.

However, given a bit of attention and a dash of salt, lentils can go from boring to amazing with very little effort. Let’s dive in.

The Different Types of Lentils

big-bags-of-colorful-lentils

There are many types of lentils and they tend to fall into four categories:

Common Lentil Categories:

  1. Green
  2. Red/Yellow
  3. Brown
  4. Specialty


Specialty Lentils:

  1. Beluga Lentil (Black lentils)
  2. Le Puy Lentils (French Green)
  3. Horse Gram (Muthira Dal)
  4. Masoor Dal (Red Lentils; Falls under “Specialty” and “Red”)
  5. Chickpea (Garbanzo Bean) 
  6. Green Moong/Mung Dal (Green Gram)
  7. Urad Dal (Split Black Gram Lentils, different than Beluga)


What Can I Expect When Trying Lentils?

Green Lentils

dried-green-lentils

Different from French green lentils, the common green lentil can be found in most grocery stores for a very affordable price.

Soaking - Not necessary. Rinse and sort before use.

Taste - Savory, earthy, can be slightly bitter if not rinsed well or if cooked with other bitter, green vegetables.

Texture - Tender, creamy and very easy to overcook. They will cook away to a purée if you let them go a few minutes too long. This is sometimes desirable as it can be used to thicken soups or stews. Cooked lentils are often purposely used as a purée under a protein or a vegetable.

Uses - A green lentil soup is a marvelous thing. Add lots of sautéed onion, a good broth, and plenty of salt. Fresh or dried herbs make a fantastic addition. Green lentils are also excellent with pork, chicken, or lamb.

Cook Time - Approximately 20 minutes. 


Red Lentils

red-lentils

Also known as Yellow Lentils or Masoor Dal, red lentils are very common, easy to find, and very affordable. Red lentils will often turn yellow when cooked, or may appear slightly yellow in the package.

Soaking - Not necessary. Rinse and sort before use.

Taste - Savory, bright, and slightly sweeter than green lentils. Think of the difference in taste between red and green lentils as similar to the difference in a red and green bell pepper.

Texture - Nearly identical to green lentils: Tender, creamy and very easy to overcook. They will cook away to a purée if you let them go a minute too long. This is sometimes desirable as it can be used to thicken soups or stews. Cooked lentils are often purposely used as a purée under a protein or a vegetable.

Uses - Commonly used in Indian cuisine, try this recipe for Masoor Dal to mix up the flavor profile of red lentils. For a more French take on red lentils, simmer them in a good broth with finely diced carrot, celery, onion, and a bay leaf. Add plenty of salt and a squeeze of lemon. Eat them as a soup or a purée. Excellent with beef, pork, or chicken.

Cook Time - Cooks in approximately 20 minutes.


Brown Lentils

bowl-of-brown-lentils

Probably the most common type of lentils, these vary from a light brown to nearly black. They are very similar to red and green lentils in price, cooking methods, and texture.

Soaking - Not necessary. Rinse and sort before use.

Taste - Savory, mild, and earthy. A great source of umami, but not as distinctive as the bright red lentil, or as bitter as the green lentil.

Texture - Very similar to the red and green lentils: Tender, creamy and  very easy to overcook. They will cook away to a purée if you let them go a minute too long. This is sometimes desirable as it can be used to thicken soups or stews. Cooked lentils can often be used as a purée under a protein or vegetables.

Uses - Brown lentils can be used as a substitute for red or green lentils in any recipe. Their mild flavor makes them ideal for many uses. Cook them in an Indian Dal, or pair them with mustard, herbs, and lemon.

Cook Time - Cooks in approximately 20 minutes.


Beluga Lentils (Black Lentils)

black-lentils

Differing from Urad Dal (split, black lentils), Beluga lentils are tiny, round, black lentils that get their name from their close resemblance to Beluga caviar.

Soaking - Not necessary. Rinse and sort before use.

Taste - Deep, earthy, similar to black beans. 

Texture - Beluga lentils have a firm shell that holds their shape much better than the common lentils. They will maintain a bit of chew after cooking, rather than being completely soft. These lentils are not ideal for a purée.

Uses - Beluga lentils can be used as you would use beans in a soup, but they really shine when used for a salad. Cook them, chill them, and toss them in your favorite salad dressing. Excellent when braised and served alongside beef, chicken, or fish as well.

Cook Time - Approximately 20-25 minutes.


Le Puy (French Green Lentils)

french-lentils

French Green Lentils are a dusky green, and often speckled with flakes of yellow and brown. While these lentils may be grown in several different regions, Le Puy French green lentils are always grown in the Le Puy region of France. Le Puy lentils will have a distinctive flavor because they are grown in volcanic soil.

Soaking - Not necessary. Rinse and sort before use.

Taste - Earthy, peppery, zippy.

Texture - Firm and slightly chewy when cooked. They will not cook down like the common green, red, or brown lentil.

Uses - Very popular as a side dish when cooked with wine, carrot, celery, onion, and broth. Cognac and butter are often used for finishing. You can use these lentils in soups, but they are highly prized for their chewy texture in salads or side dishes. Excellent with fish and chicken.

Cook Time - Cooks in approximately 20 minutes.


Horse Gram (Muthira Dal)

High in fiber, protein, and vitamins, Horse Gram is the most nutrient-dense of the lentils. It looks very similar to brown lentils and can be used interchangeably with them, though Horse Gram is quite a bit chewier than brown lentils when cooked. Horse Gram was initially used to feed horses before a race due to its high nutritional value, hence the name.

Soaking - It is recommended that you soak Horse Gram lentils for up to 12 hours before using. 

Taste - Strong, earthy, whole-meal flavor, with an aroma of freshly cut hay.

Texture - Chewy, whole-meal texture after cooking. 

Uses - Commonly used in Indian dals, Horse Gram can be used interchangeably with brown lentils, though it's a bit stronger, requires a longer cook time, and the final texture will be much chewier. Popular for long-cooking soups or stews as horse gram will retain a chewy texture while imparting flavor.

Cook Time - Cooks in approximately 40 minutes.


Chickpea (Garbanzo Bean)

dried-garbanzo-beans

Most everyone is familiar with the chickpea or garbanzo bean. Though it is often thought of as a bean, it is actually in the lentil family.

Soaking - Encouraged, though not strictly necessary. Rinse and sort before use.

Taste - Savory, bright, slightly earthy.

Texture - Very creamy, but holds its shape well.

Uses - Commonly used in making hummus, or as additions to soup, salads, and stews. The chickpea has become very popular for desserts like these chickpea blondies.

Cook Time - Cooks in approximately 90 minutes - 2 hours.


Green Moong/Mung Dal/Green Gram

green-moong-beans

Green Moong goes by many names and can be purchased in many forms. Green Moong is a small bean in the lentil family that is pale green in color, and has a pale, white and yellow interior. You can buy them whole, split (yellow), or ground. A split moong dal will not have the skins. This makes the cooking time quicker but you will lose some nutritional value.

Soaking - Soak for 3 - 12 hours. Rinse and sort before use.

Taste - Slightly earthy, sweet.

Texture - Soft, easy to digest.

Uses - Split and whole moong dal are used in a lot of Indian dishes such as dosas and curries. The ground moong dal is used as a seasoning and can thicken dishes, depending on how much is used.

Cook Time - For whole, soaked moong dal: Approx 35 - 40 minutes. For split moong dal: Approx 30 minutes. 


Urad Dal (Split Black Lentils/Black Gram Dal)

dried-urad-dal-lentils

Similar to the Moong Dal, Urad Dal is a small bean, but it is black in color with a pale, white interior. It is often sold split, peeled and split, or ground.

Soaking - Soak for 4 - 18 hours. A longer soak is recommended for better texture. Rinse and sort before use.

Taste - Slightly sweet, bland, and mildly bitter.

Texture - Chewy, with a gelatinous texture once cooked. It will leave a starchy texture in the cooking liquid, similar to if you were cooking potatoes or rice noodles.

Uses - Split and whole urad dal are used in a lot of Indian dishes such as dosas and curries. The ground urad dal is used as a seasoning and is fried (tempered) in oil before it's added to a dish.

Cook Time - For whole, soaked urad dal: Approx 35 - 40 minutes. For split urad dal: Approx 30 minutes. 


Dry vs Canned Lentils

Some lentils are available pre-cooked and canned at the grocery store. These are typically the common brown lentil, and the chickpea.

Canned lentils can be a fantastic way to cut down on prep time and avoid over-cooking your lentils, as they are already perfectly cooked and ready to go. 

Eat them right out of the can (rinsing is recommended for best flavor), or heat them up in your desired dish. They do not need to be cooked any further, just heated through. Ideally to a temperature of 165°F.


Why Do Lentils Need to Be Rinsed and Sorted?

bowls-of-different-lentils

Dried lentils will often be coated with a light dust that accumulates while they are being processed.

Additionally, though companies take great care in sorting the lentils, a small stone can occasionally slip through and end up in the bag of dried lentils.

It is very easy to break a tooth by biting down on a small stone. Therefore you rinse to remove the dust and debris, and you sort to remove any stones or bad lentils.


Why Some People Hate Lentils

When lentils are overcooked and not seasoned well they can become mushy, bland, and really quite undesirable.

This can easily be remedied by closely following the package directions while cooking, and taking care to thoroughly season your lentils.

Additionally, lentils can leave you with a gassy belly if you consume them too quickly, in large quantities, or fail to soak those that require soaking before you cook them.

Some people simply cannot tolerate them no matter the preparation.


Cooking Lentils You’ll Love

pot-of-red-lentils

Lentils should be cooked according to their package directions. Avoid overcooking your lentils for best results. 

To enhance the flavor of your lentils, cook them in a flavorful broth instead of water. If using water, add a bay leaf, salt, and some spices to begin the flavoring process.

If you want to keep your lentils simple, but flavorful, begin the dish by sauteing diced carrot, celery, and onion. This is known as the holy trinity of French cooking and will add a lot of flavor to your dish.

After the vegetables are sautéed, add your lentils, the correct amount of broth, and plenty of additional seasoning, such as garlic, herbs, and dried, ground spices.

Finish your lentils with a bit of fat, such as a good olive oil or a pat of butter. Always taste and check for seasoning before serving. Add more salt or pepper if needed, and note that a squeeze of citrus will rarely go amiss.

For simplicity, add a small amount of lentils to a pot of simmering soup to give it flavor, texture, and to thicken the broth. Don’t be afraid to use lentils as a flavor-booster rather than just as a dish on their own.


Avoiding Over-Cooked Lentils

If you’re not serving the lentils immediately, or you want to use them for a cold application, an ice bath can help to stop the cooking process.

When the lentils are cooked, drain them, and plunge them into a bowl of very cold water with some ice. Stir until the lentils are cooled, then remove any ice cubes that haven’t melted.

Drain the lentils again and store as desired.


Conclusion

There are a wide variety of lentils that vary in taste, texture, and cook time. Most lentils cook in 20 - 30 minutes, and do not require soaking.

Lentils generally have a savory, earthy taste. The common lentil is very creamy and tender when cooked, while specialty lentils tend to have a chewy texture when cooked.

Lentils are commonly used in French and Indian cuisine. In Indian cooking, lentils are often ground into a powder, which is then fried in oil with other spices (known as tempering), and added to a dish as a seasoning or a thickener.

Cook your lentils according to package directions and avoid overcooking them for best results. Season your lentils thoroughly and add aromatics to the cooking liquid to enhance the flavor.

Happy cooking!

Savannah


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About the author

Savannah grew up in Kansas City, where she learned to cook brisket and ribs from her Mom and Grandmother. She's spent the last 10 years in the restaurant industry where she worked her way up from prep cook to Chef instructor. In 2017, Savannah and her partner sold everything that wouldn't fit in their suburban and traveled the US where she got a job cooking in each city they stayed in. Savannah has trained under more than 50 chefs and done everything from running a food truck to making chocolate. She currently runs her own cottage bakery and teaches cooking classes in Northern Colorado.

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