4 Popular Types of Lentils and What to Do With Them

published Apr 10, 2024
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Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Design: The Kitchn

Lentils are chameleons in the kitchen. They’re just as comfortable adding heft to a salad as they are as the base of a slow cooker curry. On top of being wildly versatile, they’re also inexpensive, pantry-friendly, and very easy to prepare. Their small size means that even dried lentils cook relatively quickly. That quick cook time, coupled with their versatility, has saved many a weeknight dinner in my house. It’s the reason why I always have a bag or two of dried lentils on hand. 

But what is the difference between the various varieties of lentils? And which should you use when? Here, we break down the four most common types of lentils and what to do with them.

Quick Overview

What Are Lentils?

Lentils are legumes, which are part of the bean family. More specifically, they’re pulses, the edible seeds of a legume plant. Common varieties include brown, green, red, and black lentils.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Styling: Tom Hoerup

Brown Lentils

These common lentils can range in color from khaki-brown to dark black, and have a mild, earthy flavor. They generally keep their shape during cooking without breaking down. Brown lentils make a great vegetarian substitute for ground meat.

Cook time: 20 to 40 minutes

Best for: Just about anything — add to soups, stews, braises, bowls, salads, or pastas

Brown Lentil Recipes

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Styling: Tom Hoerup

Green Lentils

Green lentils can range in color from pale green to darker, more speckled shades and have a slightly peppery flavor. Try soaking them for a few hours or overnight to cut down on cooking time. They’re also a great variety to use in the slow cooker. Their slight peppery flavor lends itself well to all kinds of dishes. 

One popular variety of green lentils are French green lentils or lentils du Puy (which are grown in the Puy region of central France). These small, dark green lentils have a slightly nutty, earthy flavor. They also hold their shape, possibly the best of any lentil variety, and are a favorite in dishes where their hearty texture can shine, like French lentil salad

Cook time: 35 to 45 minutes

Best for: Soups, salads, braises, and bowls

Green Lentil Recipes

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Styling: Tom Hoerup

Red Lentils

Red lentils are actually brown or green lentils that have been hulled and split. Due to their lack of skin, they break down fairly easily during cooking and become mushy when cooked through.

With colors ranging from gold to orange to actual red, these are the sweetest and nuttiest of the lentils. They’re the star of Indian dals and other curries, or for thickening soups. You’ll often find them in Indian or Middle Eastern markets labeled as masoor (red lentils) or channa (yellow lentils).

Cook time: 20 to 30 minutes

Best for: Dal, soups

Red Lentil Recipes

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Styling: Tom Hoerup

Black Lentils

Also called ‘beluga’ lentils because of their resemblance to beluga caviar, these glossy black lentils have a rich flavor and distinctive texture. They’re less common than the other types of lentils covered here, but we think they’re worth seeking out

They hold their shape when cooked and have a smooth, buttery interior. Because of their thicker skin, black lentils lend well to a soak or brine before cooking.

Cook time: 30 to 45 minutes

Best for: Soups, stews, braises, salads

Black Lentil Recipes