What are lentils? Turns out, they’re one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. Here’s everything you need to know, including recipes!
Want to eat more lentils? Turns out, they’re one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. But what are lentils? Here’s all you need to know about lentils, and some fantastic ways to eat them.
What are lentils?
Lentils are small dried lens-shaped seeds called legumes, which is a plant family that also includes beans, peas, and peanuts. They’re full of plant-based protein and are a staple of diets around the globe, from India to France to Ethiopia.
There are many different varieties of lentils, brown, red, green, yellow, black, and French lentils. See the sections below for more on each variety! Lentils are very versatile and feature often as a stand-in for meat and vegan and vegetarian dishes.
Related: Lentils vs Beans: A Breakdown!
Lentils are not only tasty: they’re full of nutrition benefits and are inexpensive to buy! Here are a few of the major nutritional benefits of lentils:
- Protein & Fiber: Lentils have a large amount of plant-based protein. 1 cup of cooked lentils has about 18 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber. (Source)
- Low in Fat & Calories: Lentils have virtually no saturated fat and are low in calories.
- Protect Against Heart Disease: Lentils are rich in polyphenols, micronutrients thought to help protect against cardiovascular disease. (Source)
What are brown and green lentils?
These are the most “standard” varieties when you think of lentils — and the type featured in the recipe below! They cook quickly (in 20 to 30 minutes), and tend to fall apart when cooked instead of hold their shape.
- Best Damn Lentil Soup or Curry Lentil Soup (or Instant Pot Lentil Soup)
- Seasoned Brown Lentils (or Instant Pot Lentils)
- Vegan Sloppy Joes
- Quick Lentil Curry
- Lentil Tacos
- Easy Green Lentil Tacos
- How to Cook Brown Lentils
- Butternut Squash Lentil Soup
- Sweet Potatoes with Moroccan Lentils
What are red lentils?
These lentils are a bright orange color most commonly found in Indian curry dishes like daal. They take about 20 minutes to cook and break down easily into a “mush”. When you’re looking for a cozy pile of mushy soup or curry, think red lentils (they break down even faster than brown and green).
What are French lentils?
French lentils are small and greenish-gray. They hold their shape when cooked, making them very different from brown, green and red lentils. Instead of using them in soups, these lentils are great for salads or stuffing baked sweet potatoes.
- Easy French Lentils
- French Lentil Salad
- Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie or Vegan Shepherd’s Pie
- Rice & Lentil Salad
- Instant Pot Tacos with Smoky Lentils
- Smoky Instant Pot Lentils and Rice
- The Best Vegan Nachos
What are black lentils?
Black lentils also called Beluga lentils, are very small and dark. The most flavorful lentils around, they’re like a combo of French lentils and brown lentils. That means they’ll hold their shape when cooked which works for salads, but if you cook longer they’ll also fall apart like in curries.
About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.