Photo: Brian Woodcock

They even have different cooking times, nutritional values, and purposes.  

Arielle Weg
October 24, 2017

Lentils are one of the most nutritious and versatile plant-based proteins. The pulse is a cousin to peas and beans, and originated in Asia and North Africa. They're super low-fat and boast high amounts of protein, fiber, calcium, iron, and other nutrients. They're awesome in traditional dishes like curry or soup, but also delicious blended into veggie burgers, sauces, casseroles, and as a standalone vegetarian main. 

Dried lentils can be stored at room temperature, in an air-tight container, for up to a year. It's generally recommended to rinse lentils before adding them to dishes, and quickly sift through for any broken bits. You do not need to soak lentils like other dried beans or peas, but if you do you can cut the cooking time down by half. 

Here's everything you need to know about lentils, from their nutritional impact to cooking times and best uses. 

Black Lentils 

Often called beluga lentils, these are a hearty pulse that pair beautifully with other proteins or meaty vegetables. They get their nickname from their striking resemblance to beluga caviar, but the flavor is full-bodied and earthy like a black bean. They take approximately 25 minutes to cook and are the most nutritious variety of lentils. One half cup of uncooked black lentils provides 26g protein, 18g fiber, 100mg calcium, 8mg iron, and 960mg potassium, according to the USDA. Plus, they are full of anthocyanin, an antioxidant usually found in purple and blue foods. 

Try a black lentil recipe here: Whole Roasted Carrots & Black Lentils With Green Harissa 

Red and Yellow Lentils

You can often find these mild, sweet lentils in Indian and Middle Eastern dishes. They tend to become slightly mushy when cooked down, so this variety is often used for thickening soups, purees, and stews. Similar to red lentils, yellow lentils cook in about 15-20 minutes. They are used to give bright color to dishes and provide a sweet, nutty flavor. One half cup of uncooked red lentils provides 22g protein, 10g fiber, 40mg calcium, 6mg iron, and 600mg potassium, according to the USDA

Try a red lentil recipe here: Sweet Potato-and-Red Lentil Curry

Brown Lentils

Brown lentils are a variety that hold their shape nicely, and can be used similarly to green lentils. They are commonly used in North America and have a little more mild and earthy flavor. They're like the all-in-one lentil, because they are delicious mashed into veggie burgers, as a salad topper, or even blended into soup. Cook these for 35-45 minutes. One half cup of uncooked brown lentils brings 24g protein, 80mg calcium, 26g fiber, and 4mg iron, according to the USDA

Try a brown lentil recipe here: Lentil-Tahini Burger With Pickled Cabbage

Green and Puy Lentils 

Green lentils are rich in antioxidants, iron, and magnesium. They work particularly well over salads and as a warm side, because of their peppery taste. They do take the longest to cook of all the varieties, about 45 minutes, but hold their shape well. Puy lentils are the original green lentil that are actually harvested in the French region of Le Puy. They have the same grey-green color, and are known for having the best texture and flavor of all lentil varieties. Because of this, they tend to be the most expensive type. One half cup of dried green lentils provides 24g protein, 10g fiber, 80mg calcium, and 4mg iron, according to the USDA

Try a green lentil recipe here: Fall Vegetable and Lentil Salad