Not all lentils are created equal. Learn about all of the differences, from cooking times to lentils' nutrition facts, right here. 
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Credit: Photo: Brian Woodcock

Lentils are one of the most nutritious and versatile plant-based proteins. Considered to be a pulse (a dry edible seed of legumes), lentils are a cousin to peas and beans that originated in Asia and northern Africa. They're super low-fat and boast high amounts of protein, fiber, calcium, iron, and other nutrients. When cooking, lentils are 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 to 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. 

There are several varieties of lentils: black, red, yellow, green, brown, and puy. If you’re unsure of the difference between all of them, you’re not the only one. Below, find 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. You can try them here, in our recipe for lentil and black bean salad. 

Credit: Photo: Caitlin Bensel

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. We love to use red lentils in curry dishes, like this tasty and satisfying sweet potato 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. Consider these to be 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. Want to put them to the test? Check out our recipe for Herby Lentil-and-Sausage Soup. 

Green and Puy Lentils 

Green lentils are rich in antioxidants, iron, and magnesium. Because of their zingy peppery taste, they work particularly well in salads or as a warm side dish. 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, and were harvested in the French region of Le Puy. They have the same gray-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. We use green (or brown) lentils as the base for our recipe for the perfect lentils, which can be transformed in a number of ways to make soup, salads, or even shepherd’s pie.