The lentil is a staple food in many cultures around the world. If you’re curious what lentils taste like and what types there are, we’re here to help. The taste of lentils varies from variety to variety, but most can be described as mild and earthy. Red lentils taste sweeter, while green and black lentils taste peppery. Get to know the different types of lentils, their taste, texture, how to cook them, and which seasonings they pair well with.
What Are Lentils?
The legume family includes lentils as well as green beans, black beans, brown beans, and red-orange beans. Pulses, which are small, pea-shaped legumes, are one of the most ancient domesticated crops. As a vegetarian protein source in the US, lentils are considered a staple of Indian cuisine due to their versatility. They can be used for soups, stews, salads, and side dishes.
For vegans and vegetarians, lentils are a great source of protein, iron, folates, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins K, B2, and B6 as well. As a result of their fiber and protein content, they are known to significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and obesity.
Different Types Of Lentils
It is important to choose the right lentil based on what you intend to make. Lentils come in a variety of colors, sizes, shapes, flavors, and textures.
Lentils can be classified into four types:
Lentils in brown color
Lentils of red color
Lentils in green
Lentils of black color
What Do Lentils Taste Like?
A lentil has a mild, earthy flavor and turns mushy when cooked. Its taste varies depending on the type and the seasoning, from sweet to nutty to hot peppery. Here are the four main types of lentils and what they taste like:
Mild and earthy brown lentils
Generally, brown lentils range in color from khaki brown to deep, dark brown. If you find lentils in the grocery store without specifying the type, they will be brown lentils. Brown lentils have a mild, earthy flavor and maintain their shape well during cooking. Because they do not break down when cooked, brown lentils are great for salads, soups, and stews.
Cooking brown lentils takes about 20-30 minutes, with the biggest varieties taking longer. There are several varieties of brown lentils, including Spanish brown, German brown, and Indian brown.
Red Lentils – Sweet And Nutty
In Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, red lentils range in color from golden yellow to red. Their flavor is somewhat sweet and nutty, and they are the only type of lentil that is split, or processed into smaller pieces. This property makes split lentils ideal for curries, soups, and stews because they cook very quickly and disintegrate when cooked.
Green Lentils – Robust And Slightly Peppery
It has a glossy exterior and firm texture, and its color ranges from pale green to a green-slate color with hints of blue and black. In addition to having a robust and slightly peppery flavor, it has a glossy exterior and firm texture. Known as Lentilles de Puy or Puy lentils, they are a great and less expensive substitute for French green lentils.
In addition to taking the longest to cook, green lentils retain their shape well, making them great for salads and side dishes. They also emit a spicy aroma, making them ideal for lentil chili.
Black Lentils – Rich And Earthy
Known as Beluga lentils, black lentils are the most nutritious variety of lentils. They have a pitch black color, look like caviar, and come in several varieties such as whole, hulled, or hulled and split. While the hull of black lentils has a black color, the flesh is actually light and creamy in color, similar to the flavor of black beans. When cooked, they look shiny, hold their shape well and have a beautiful appearance, making them an excellent choice for salads or to accompany protein dishes.
What Is The Texture Of Lentils?
Perfectly cooked lentils are soft and somewhat firm without being crunchy, gritty, or mealy when they are dry. The exact texture of lentils depends on their type and cooking method. The brown lentils are starchier and have a flat texture when cooked. Red lentils become mushy, whereas green lentils remain firm and remain the most durable. When cooked for an extended period of time, black lentils can get mushy and make excellent soups and stews.
How To Cook Lentils
In order to add more plant-based options to your diet, lentils are a great option! These tiny legumes are packed with nutrients and have a delicious earthy flavor. Furthermore, lentils are extremely easy to prepare. You don’t need to be a professional chef to prepare them. Don’t believe us? Check out these step-by-step instructions for preparing lentils:
Drain the dried lentils into a colander and pick out any dirt or odd-shaped lentils. Then rinse the remaining legumes under cold running water.
When the lentils are washed, transfer them to a pot with water to cover them by about 3 inches. Add your choice of seasonings.
Make sure you cook the lentils thoroughly as undercooked lentils can cause stomach distress. Bring the water to a boil and lower the heat to simmer.
After the lentils are cooked, drain them and strain them using a fine colander or strainer (like this one on Amazon).
Whether you eat lentils right away or store them in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, lentils taste best when they are hot.
Check out this YouTube video from Lentils for a visual tutorial.
Does Soaking Affect The Taste Of Lentils?
Unlike many dried beans, lentils do not require soaking before cooking. Soaking does reduce the cooking time, but not as much as beans. Cooked properly, lentils will taste just as good whether they are pre-soaked or not. If you prefer to soak them, allow them to soak for two hours. The lentils should be left on the counter, covered with a lid. Do not soak them for more than 12 hours, or they will sprout.
Make sure you keep an eye on the texture of the lentils before they are finished cooking. Once they have soaked, cook them in water with your choice of seasonings. It is also possible to add the dried lentils straight to the pot without soaking them; they will turn out just as tender, but may require more time to cook.
How To Make Lentils Taste Better
On their own, lentils are rather bland. However, when paired with other ingredients and seasonings, their earthy flavor will really shine through. Depending on your preference, these healthy legumes can be prepared several ways, and you can season them with a variety of herbs and spices. Making lentil dishes taste great is as easy as following these steps:
Tip 1: Use Broth Instead Of Water
In most recipes, lentils are cooked by boiling them in plain water. However, substituting broth for plain water can make a huge difference!
Tip 2: Use Fresh Herbs
The addition of fresh herbs enhances the flavor and nutritional value of any dish and adds a lot of flavor. Herbs like cilantro, parsley, and lemongrass can enhance lentils’ flavor, as can bay leaves, rosemary, oregano, and dill.
Tip 3: Use A Variety Of Spices
To elevate the flavor of your lentil soup or stew, you can incorporate some Indian flavors by using a variety of spices. Add cumin for a robust, smoky flavor, coriander for a subtle spiciness, paprika for color and flavor, cinnamon for an extra layer of flavor, or cayenne pepper for heat.
Tip 4: Mix With Other Foods
Add some flavorful and colorful vegetables to your bland lentil dish to make it more interesting. Pairing lentils with vegetables can enhance your dish immensely. Cooked lentils can be cooked with shredded leafy greens, such as kale and spinach, to make a tasty and healthy soup or stew. For a textural contrast, combine lentils with crunchy vegetables such as carrots and red peppers, or cook lentils with garlic cloves, raw ginger, or lemon juice.
Tip 5: Change The Cooking Method
You can boil, drain, and serve lentils, but there are a few more steps you can take to make them taste and feel different. Cooked lentils can be stir-fried for a filling and nutritious cold-weather dish after they have been boiled and drained. Alternatively, you can puree the cooked lentils to make hummus-like dip or add them to a casserole bake, where their richness will add another layer of depth.
Popular Lentil Dishes
In Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines, lentils are served in a variety of ways. Here are some of the most popular lentil dishes:
Middle Eastern Spiced Rice (Mejadra)
Due to cumin and coriander, mejadra is a combination of spiced rice and brown lentils. You can serve it as a main dish or as a side dish. It is a hearty, filling dish topped with crunchy fried onions.
Middle Eastern Lentil Soup
Red or yellow lentil soup is another popular Middle Eastern lentil dish made with onions, carrots, spices, and vegetable stock. A combination of lentils and carrots is simmered until the lentils and carrots are soft and tender. Pureed with an immersion blender until smooth, the soup is served with warm flatbread.
Green lentils are cooked similarly to mejadra, except they are spiced with mint and coriander and topped with fresh lemon juice. In addition to serving them with flatbread, they can also be served as a side dish with rice.
In India, dal refers to soups, stews, and curries made from lentils and is popular among vegetarians. Depending on the ingredients used and the method of cooking, there are several local and regional variations. Dal recipes generally contain cooked lentils, garlic, onions, and spices such as cumin, red chili powder, turmeric, and garam masala. The dish can be flavored with tomato, mango, and coconut according to regional variations.
Western-Style Lentil Soup
Lentil soup is typically made with brown lentils and vegetables and flavored with garlic, onion, salt, and pepper. The recipe can be adjusted according to your choice of vegetables and herbs. It is best served hot with crusty bread.
Here are a few additional questions we thought you might have after learning all about the most common types of lentils and how they taste:
Do lentils taste like pinto beans?
Like pinto beans, lentils have an earthy, mildly beany flavor, but not as strong as kidney beans.
What are the best ways to eat lentils?
As a soup or stew, as a filling for burritos or parathas, as a salad dressing, in a casserole, or in desserts such as cookies, pudding, or pies, lentils can be used in a variety of ways.
What happens if you overcook lentils?
If you overcook lentils, they become mushy, but their taste isn’t affected. This can actually be a good thing if you’re making soups or curries, which demand soft, mushy lentils.