Lentils: Learn About Different Types and Health Benefits

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Lentils are small, round legumes that come in many colors and flavors. They’re a great source of protein, fiber, and minerals and are often used in Indian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean cuisines.

In this guide, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about lentils, including their health benefits, how to cook them, and how to use them in your meals.

What are lentils

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Understanding Lentils: A Comprehensive Guide

What are Lentils?

Lentils are an annual plant that belongs to the legume family. They usually grow up to 40 cm tall and are the largest producer of pulses in the world. Lentils are grown and produced all over the world, but they are most frequently associated with South Asia and West Asia. They are a culinary staple in many cultures and feature prominently in main dishes. Lentils are often referred to as a vegetarian protein source and are known for their nutrient-rich composition.

The History of Lentils

Lentils are an ancient crop that has been eaten for thousands of years. They are actually one of the oldest plants to be cultivated by humans. Lentils are surrounded by an outer coating that is usually sold split in half, making them easier to cook and store. Lentils were a main source of food for many ancient civilizations, including the Greeks and Romans.

The Nutritional Value of Lentils

Lentils are incredibly rich in vitamins and minerals, including phosphorus and essential amino acids. According to Melanie Fincher, one of the Allrecipes editors, lentils are also a great source of resistant starch, which delays the absorption of carbohydrates and results in lowered blood sugar levels. Lentils are highly nutritious and are considered a healthy alternative to meat.

The Different Types of Lentils

There are several types of lentils available in the market, including brown, green, red, and black lentils. They are relatively firm and take about 20-30 minutes to cook. Lentils can be purchased in bags or offered in bulk at grocery stores.

How to Cook Lentils

Cooking lentils is easy and requires little effort. Here are some steps to follow:

  • First, rinse the lentils under running water to remove any dirt or debris.
  • Next, soak the lentils for a few hours to reduce the cooking time.
  • After soaking, drain the lentils and add them to a pot with water or broth.
  • Bring the lentils to a boil, then reduce the heat and let them simmer for about 20-30 minutes.
  • Once the lentils are cooked, drain any excess water and they are ready to be eaten fresh or added to your favorite recipe.

Types of Lentils

Brown Lentils

Brown lentils are the most common type of lentils found in grocery stores. They are small and round, with a brown exterior and a yellow interior. Brown lentils hold their shape well when cooked, making them perfect for soups, stews, and salads. They have a mild, earthy flavor that pairs well with a variety of seasonings and spices.

Black Lentils

Black lentils, also known as beluga lentils, are small and round with a black exterior and a creamy interior. They have a slightly sweet flavor and a firm texture, making them a great choice for salads and side dishes. Black lentils are also a good source of protein and fiber.

Red Lentils

Red lentils are a smaller type of lentil that are pale in color and speckled with red. They have a slightly sweet flavor and a soft texture that turns mushy when cooked, making them a great choice for soups, stews, and dals. Red lentils are also a good thickening agent for curries and sauces.

Double Duty Lentils

Some lentils, like petite crimson and green lentils, can stand in for grains like quinoa or rice. They work well in traditional dishes like meat or tomato pie and reduce the number of grains you need to take. They are also a good source of protein and fiber, making them a filling veggie option.

Where to Find Lentils

Local Grocery Stores

Most American grocery stores carry lentils in their bean or soup sections. Larger stores like Walmart, Safeway, and King Soopers usually have a broad selection of lentil varieties available, including popular types like green, red, and brown. However, if you’re looking for more specialty lentils like beluga or yellow, you may need to consider shopping at ethnic markets or specialty grocers.

Ethnic Markets

Ethnic markets, particularly those that cater to Middle Eastern or Indian cuisine, offer a particularly broad selection of lentils. These stores often have lentils available in bulk bins, which can be a great way to save money if you’re planning on purchasing a larger quantity. Some possible locations to consider include Lucky, Giant, and Whole Foods.

Online Retailers

If you’re having trouble finding a specific type of lentil in your area, consider shopping online. Online retailers like Amazon and Thrive Market offer a wide variety of lentil options, including harder-to-find varieties. However, keep in mind that shipping costs can add up, and you may end up paying more than you would at a regular grocery store.

Discount Stores

If you’re on a budget, consider checking out discount stores like Trader Joe’s or Aldi. These stores often have lower prices on lentils than regular grocery stores, and you may be able to find some great deals. However, keep in mind that the quality of the lentils may not be as high as what you would find at a regular grocery store.

Tips for Buying Lentils

When purchasing lentils, consider the following tips:

  • Look for lentils that are labeled and clearly marked with their variety.
  • Check the average cost of lentils in your area to ensure you’re not overpaying.
  • Consider the yield of the lentils – for example, one cup of lentils typically yields around seven cups of cooked lentils.
  • Avoid lentils that appear discolored or have any signs of mold.
  • Keep in mind that some lentils may require soaking before cooking, while others can be cooked right away.
  • Unlike other beans, lentils do not require pre-soaking before cooking.
  • To reduce the salt content of lentils, drain and rinse them with cool tap water before cooking.
  • Allow lentils to drain in a sink or colander before cooking.
  • Keep in mind that consuming high amounts of lentils can increase the risk of kidney and blood problems, so it’s important to consume them in moderation.


Expert Tips for Lentil Storage

Here are some additional tips from experts on how to store lentils:

  • Keep them away from dampness: Lentils, like other dried foods, can absorb water and become moldy if exposed to dampness. Store them in a dry place and avoid storing them in a damp basement or garage.
  • Store them in a cool place: Lentils should be stored in a cool place to prevent them from spoiling. A temperature of 60°F to 70°F is ideal.
  • Store them in a dark place: Exposure to light can affect the flavor and color of lentils. Store them in a dark place to maintain their quality.
  • Store them away from insect-like foods: Insects are attracted to lentils and other dried foods. Store them away from other insect-attracting foods like grains, flour, and sugar.

Health Benefits of Lentils

Loaded with Nutrients

Lentils are a nutritional powerhouse containing a variety of essential vitamins and minerals. They are a great source of protein, fiber, zinc, and iron. Lentils are also low in sodium and saturated fat, making them a healthy addition to any diet.

Antioxidant Properties

Lentils contain a group of chemicals called antioxidants that neutralize free radicals in the body, potentially reducing the risk of conditions such as cancer and heart disease. Researchers led by Blair and Comp explain in a journal that lentils boast similar antioxidant properties to other beans.

Increases Satiety

Lentils are a superb food for those following vegan or vegetarian eating styles. Erica, a registered dietitian and founder of Listen, explains that the fiber in lentils plays a role in muscle health and increases satiety, making them a filling and satisfying food.

Improves Digestion

Lentils are packed with fiber, which absorbs water and creates a bulking effect in the stool, making it easier to pass. This can help those who are prone to constipation or have trouble with bowel movements. Wilcox explains that lentils are a type of legume that can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals in cells.

Fights Against Diseases

Lentils contain a multitude of active compounds that fight against disease-causing agents. They are a great source of zinc, which is essential for immune function and wound healing. Lentils are also a good source of fiber, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

How to Cook Lentils

Basic Cooking Method

Cooking lentils is a simple process that requires minimal effort. Here’s how to cook lentils using the basic method:


  • 1 cup of lentils
  • 3 cups of water or vegetable broth
  • Salt to taste

1. Rinse the lentils in a fine mesh sieve to remove any stones or debris.
2. In a large pot, combine the lentils and water or vegetable broth.
3. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat.
4. Reduce the heat to low and let the lentils simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until they are tender.
5. Add salt to taste.

Flavorful Lentil Recipes

Lentils are a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes. Here are some tasty lentil recipes to try:

1. Tangy Lentil Salad: In a jar, mix together 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss the cooked lentils in the marinade and add chopped parsley and a pinch of sea salt.

2. French Lentil Soup: In a large pot, sauté chopped onion, carrots, and celery in olive oil until tender. Add 1 cup of uncooked lentils, 4 cups of vegetable broth, and a bay leaf. Let the mixture simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Rainbow Lentil Bowl: Cook lentils according to the basic method and set aside. In a separate pan, sauté your favorite vegetables (such as bell peppers, zucchini, and mushrooms) until tender. Serve the lentils and vegetables together in a bowl, topped with chopped parsley and a dusting of freshly ground black pepper.

Tips and Tricks

  • Lentil cooking times can vary slightly based on the variety of lentils, so be sure to watch them closely as they cook.
  • To add extra flavor to your lentils, try cooking them in vegetable broth instead of water.
  • If you’re short on time, canned lentils are a great option. Just be sure to rinse them thoroughly before using.
  • Lisa Bryan from Downshiftology recommends adding a piece of kombu (a type of seaweed) to the pot of lentils to help with digestion.
  • Lentils are a nutrition-packed, inexpensive staple for vegans and vegetarians. They are loaded with protein, fiber, and other essential nutrients.
  • Split lentils require less cooking time than whole lentils, so adjust your cooking time accordingly.
  • Many recipes call for excess liquid to be reserved after cooking lentils. This liquid, known as “lentilpot,” can be used as a base for soups and stews.
  • Lentils are a great addition to veggie burgers, adding texture and protein to the mix.

In conclusion, lentils are a versatile and delicious addition to any meal. Whether you’re looking for a hearty stew, a refreshing salad, or a quick appetizer, lentils have the ability to connect you to new worlds of flavor and fill your body with positive energy. So go ahead and experiment with different types of lentils and cuisines, and share your newfound inspiration with others!


So there you have it – everything you need to know about lentils. They’re a great source of protein, fiber, and vitamins and have been a part of the human diet for thousands of years.  Now you know everything you need to know about lentils, so go out and buy some!

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Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.