Lentils are small legumes that are a staple food in many cultures around the world. If you’re curious about the different types of lentils and what they taste like, we’re here to help.
So, what do lentils taste like? The taste of lentils depends on the variety, although most can be described as mild and earthy. Red lentils taste a bit sweeter, while green and black lentils have a peppery kick to them.
Read on to find out more about the different types of lentils, what they taste like, their texture, how to cook them, what seasonings they can be paired with, and much more.
What Are Lentils?
Lentils, also referred to as pulses, are part of the legume family and are one of the earliest domesticated crops. They are small, pea-shaped legumes that come in a variety of colors ranging from yellow to green, black, brown, and red-orange.
They are incredibly versatile and can be used for soups, stews, salads, and side dishes. Lentils are a prominent feature in Indian cuisine and are associated with vegetarian cooking as a non-meat protein source in the US.
Lentils are an excellent source of protein and a great alternative to meat in terms of nutrition for vegans and vegetarians. They are also rich in essential amino acids, iron, folates, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins K, B2, and B6.
They are packed with plenty of fiber and protein and are known to significantly reduce the risk of many illnesses such as heart disease and obesity.
Different Types Of Lentils
Lentils come in different types based on their color, size, shape, taste, and texture. You need to choose the right one depending on what you are making.
The four most common types of lentils are:
- Brown lentils
- Red lentils
- Green lentils
- Black lentils
What Do Lentils Taste Like?
Lentils have a mild, earthy flavor and turn mushy upon cooking. The taste differs based on the type of lentil you are cooking and the seasonings you decide to pair it with, ranging from sweet to nutty, and a hot peppery flavor.
Let’s look at the four main types of lentils and what they taste like:
Brown Lentils – Mild And Earthy
Brown lentils are the most common type and range in color from khaki brown to deep, dark brown. If you find a bag of lentils in the grocery store that doesn’t specify the type, chances are that they are brown.
They have a mild, earthy flavor and hold their shape well during cooking. Since they don’t break down when cooked, brown lentils are perfect for salads, soups, and stews.
Brown lentils are available in different varieties – Spanish brown, German brown, and Indian brown – and take about 20-30 minutes to cook. The total cooking time depends on the size, with the bigger variety taking longer.
Red Lentils – Sweet And Nutty
Red lentils range in color from golden yellow to red and are the most common type of lentils used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine.
They have a somewhat sweet and nutty flavor and are the only type of lentil with a “split” nature, meaning that they are processed into smaller lentil bits.
Split lentils cook very quickly, usually in about 15-30 minutes, and disintegrate when cooked. These properties make them ideal for use in curries, soups, and stews.
Green Lentils – Robust And Slightly Peppery
Green lentils are similar to brown lentils but have a more robust and slightly peppery flavor. They have a glossy exterior and firm texture and their color ranges from pale or spotted green to a green-slate color with hints of blue and black.
They come in a range of sizes and are a great and less expensive substitute for French green lentils, also called Lentilles de Puy or Puy lentils.
Green lentils take the longest to cook and retain their shape well, making them great in salads and side dishes. They also give off a spicy aroma which makes them the perfect choice for making lentil chili.
Black Lentils – Rich And Earthy
Black lentils, also called Beluga lentils, are the most nutritious variety of lentils. They are tiny, pitch black, and look a lot like caviar. They are available in several varieties such as whole, hulled, or hulled and split.
Black lentils are about the size of a peppercorns and are rich in taste, similar to black beans, with an earthy flavor and soft texture. While the hull is black in color, the flesh is actually light and creamy.
They take around 20-30 minutes to cook and look shiny when cooked. They hold their shape well during cooking and have a beautiful appearance, making them an excellent choice for salads or as a feature for your choice of protein.
What Is The Texture Of Lentils?
Lentils are hard and smooth when dry, but turn soft and creamy when cooked. Perfectly cooked lentils are tender and somewhat firm without being crunchy, gritty, or mealy.
The exact textural properties depend on the type of lentil you are cooking and your cooking method.
Brown lentils feel starchier when cooked and have a flat texture compared to the other varieties. Red lentils take on a mushy texture when cooked, whereas green lentils are firm and remain the sturdiest out of the lot.
Black lentils have a thick texture and work great in salads. If cooked for longer, they can get mushy and are an excellent choice for soups and stews.
How To Cook Lentils
If you wish to add more plant-based options to your diet, lentils are a great way to do so! These tiny legumes are packed with nutrients and have a delicious earthy flavor that adds to all sorts of dishes.
In addition to that, they are super easy to cook. You don’t have to be a professional chef to prepare the best lentil dish.
Lentils are one of the most easy-to-prepare dishes out there. Don’t believe us? Follow these step-by-step instructions:
- Rinse the lentils. Empty the dried lentils into a colander, pick out any odd-shaped lentils and dirt you may find, and rinse the remaining legumes under cold running water.
- Add the lentils to a pot with water. Transfer the washed lentils to a pot and add water to cover them by about 3 inches. Add your choice of seasonings at this point.
- Bring to a boil. Bring the water to a boil and lower the heat to simmer. The total time to cook the lentils may vary depending on the type of lentils and the final consistency you want. Make sure to cook them thoroughly as undercooked lentils can cause gastric distress.
- Drain the lentils. Once they are cooked, remove the lentils from heat and strain them using a fine colander or strainer (we love this one available on Amazon).
Eat right away or store for later use. Lentils taste best when they are hot. Either eat them right away or transfer them to an airtight container and store them in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
For a visual tutorial, take a look at this video from Lentils on YouTube.
Does Soaking Affect The Taste Of Lentils?
Unlike many dried beans, you do not need to soak lentils before you cook them. Soaking does cut down on the cooking time, but not as much as with beans.
The lentils will taste just as tender if cooked properly, regardless of whether they were pre-soaked or not. If you prefer to soak them, 2 hours is a good rule of thumb.
Let the soaked lentils sit on the counter with a lid on top. Do not soak them for more than 12 hours, as they may begin to sprout.
Once they are done soaking, cook them in a pot filled with water and your choice of seasonings. Make sure to keep a check on the texture of the lentils to avoid overcooking them.
Alternatively, you can add the dried lentils straight to the pot without soaking, where they’ll turn out just as tender, but may require additional time to reach the desired texture.
How To Make Lentils Taste Better
Lentils are a powerhouse when it comes to nutrition and a great meat-free option to consider for your meals. On their own, they taste rather plain. However, when paired with other ingredients and seasonings, their earthy flavor really shines.
These healthy legumes can be prepared in several ways, depending on your preference, and you can season them with a variety of herbs and spices.
Here are a few ways you can make your lentil dishes taste great:
Tip 1: Use Broth Instead Of Water
Boiling lentils is a major part of cooking them. While most recipes call for plain water, substituting it with broth can make a world of a difference!
Tip 2: Use Fresh Herbs
Fresh herbs add a boost of flavor to whatever they are added to and are an excellent way to enhance the nutritional value of your dish.
Some freshly chopped herbs such as cilantro, parsley, and lemongrass can do wonders in enhancing the flavor of lentils. Other options include bay leaves, rosemary, oregano, and dill.
Tip 3: Use A Variety Of Spices
You may incorporate some of the flavors of Indian cuisine by using a variety of spices to elevate the flavor of your lentil soup or stew.
Use cumin to give your lentils a robust and smoky flavor, add coriander for a subtle spiciness, throw in paprika for a dash of color and flavor, include cinnamon for an added layer of flavor, or add some cayenne pepper for a spicy kick.
Tip 4: Mix With Other Foods
Pairing your lentils with other foods, such as vegetables, can play a huge role in enhancing your dish. Adding some flavorful and colorful veggies is just what you need to turn your bland lentil dish into something more interesting.
Shredded dark leafy greens, such as kale and spinach, can be mixed with cooked lentils to make a simple salad or cooked with the lentils to make a flavorful and healthy soup or stew.
You may also combine the lentils with crunchy vegetables, such as carrots and red peppers, for textural contrast, and add garlic cloves, raw ginger, or lemon juice to the lentils when cooking them.
Tip 5: Change The Cooking Method
While you can boil, drain, and serve lentils, it is not the only way to cook them. You can add a few extra steps to alter their taste and texture.
After boiling and draining the cooked lentils, you can stir fry them for a comforting cold-weather dish that is both filling and nutritious.
You may add the lentils to a casserole bake, where their richness adds an extra layer of depth to the dish. You can also puree the cooked lentils to make a nutritious, hummus-like dip.
Popular Lentil Dishes
Lentils are a staple in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines, where they are served in a variety of ways. Some of the most popular lentil dishes that you may want to give a try include:
Middle Eastern Spiced Rice (Mejadra)
Mejadra is a combination of spiced rice and brown lentils that is rich in flavor due to cumin and coriander.
It is a hearty, filling dish topped with crunchy fried onions that can be served on its own or as a side.
Middle Eastern Lentil Soup
Lentil soup is another popular Middle Eastern lentil dish made from red or yellow lentils and onions, carrots, spices, and vegetable stock.
The ingredients are combined and simmered until the lentils and carrots are soft and tender. Pureed with an immersion blender until it turns smooth, the soup is served with warm flatbread.
Greek lentils are cooked in a similar way to mejadra, except that they use green lentils and are spiced with mint and coriander and topped with freshly squeezed lemon juice.
They make a delicious main course when served with flatbread and can also be served as a side dish with rice.
Dal is a broad term used for Indian soups, stews, and curries made from lentils and is a popular vegetarian choice in the country.
There are several local and regional variations depending on the ingredients used and the choice of cooking method.
All dal recipes are simple to prepare and generally use cooked lentils, garlic, onions, and spices such as cumin, red chili powder, turmeric, and garam masala.
Regional variations use tomatoes, mangoes, and coconut to add a different layer of flavor to the dish.
Western-Style Lentil Soup
In the West, lentil soup is made with brown lentils and vegetables and flavored with garlic, onion, salt, and pepper.
You can adjust the recipe according to your choice of vegetables and herbs. It is best served hot with crusty bread on the side.
Now that you know all about the most common types of lentils and what they taste like, here are a few additional questions we thought you might have:
Do lentils taste like pinto beans?
Lentils have an earthy, mildly beany flavor that is not as strong as kidney beans and can be compared somewhat to pinto beans.
What are the best ways to eat lentils?
Lentils can be eaten as a soup or stew, as a filling for burritos or parathas, tossed in salads, baked in a casserole, or used to create dessert recipes such as cookies, pudding, or pies.
What happens if you overcook lentils?
Overcooking lentils will make them mushy, but their taste will remain unaffected. It can actually be a good thing if you are making soups and curries since the recipes call for soft and mushy lentils.