Yucky Or Yummy: What Do Lentils Taste Like?

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

What do lentils taste like? Lentils are not known for their widely delicious taste like pizza is, or for their extra creamy nature like lasagna, or for crunchy, spicy meat like hot dogs, or for the family fun meal like burger and fries. But lentils are exactly all of these and even more!

You’re probably ready to disagree with me. I understand. It’s a vegetable (technically) and so you’re not naturally inclined to it. But give me a couple minutes of your time, and I will completely change your mind.

The taste of lentils differs with the person being asked, the species of lentil in question (I bet you didn’t know it has species) and even the mode of preparation. On a general note, lentils have a mild earthy, nutty, peppery flavour to it and a somewhat mushy texture when cooked.

Did you know I just described three different lentils? Do not worry, I’ll explain in detail but before we get into the details, what exactly is a lentil?

Time to find out what is a Lentil

The first thing to know about lentils is that they’re edible. Meaning that it is food, and anything that is food is good. Lentils are heart healthy, high fiber, low fat legumes that are in the same family ship as beans and peas.

The lentil is a bushy annual plant known for its seeds that are shaped like lens from where it gets its name. Lentils look like little beans with curved, smooth almost glossy, lens shaped exterior. The plant is about 40cm tall and the seeds grow in pods, with either one or two seeds in each pod. It comes in different shapes and sizes, some round or heart shaped.

This legume is local to Asia, mostly Central and Western Asia.

In South Asian cuisine, lentils with their hulls removed are known as dal. Indians, Sri Lankans and Nepalese people consider it a dietary staple and often eat it with rice or rotis.

Lentils, with botanical name Lens culinaris, are among the oldest pulse crops known. They are among the first to be domesticated, having been discovered as carbonized remains beside human habitations way back in 11,000 B. C. in Ancient Greece.

Lentil artifacts have been found during archeological digs on the banks of the Euphrates River. This has been dated back to 8,000 B.C. and there is also evidence of the Egyptians, Romans, and Hebrews eating this pulse crop. So lentils have been around for quite a while, satisfying and nourishing prehistoric man (I wonder if the dinosaurs met the lentils, lol).

One very important thing about lentils is that it contains so much protein it can be used as a meat substitute for vegan recipes. That should be music to some ears.

Lentils are sold whole or split, and come in different colours. The most common colours are red, green and brown but there’s also yellow, black and orange. Some argue that these are just variants of the most common colours – I agree with them.

The brown and black lentils come whole while the red lentils are split. This probably explains why the red breaks down and loses its shape and the brown doesn’t. Or maybe it doesn’t. Anyways, let’s move on.

What Does A Lentil Taste Like?

Here we are, it’s time. We know what a lentil looks like now. We know where it came from. We know the different colours. Now we need to find out what it tastes like. There’s no way you’ll know for yourself what a lentil tastes like unless you put it in your mouth and chew it. It’s something you need to find out for yourself. But if you’re scared, I can help.

It has a delicious and earthy flavour and the texture is just like that of beans when cooked properly. The earthy flavour is just like the smell of the earth when it rains after a prolonged dry spell. Just imagine that sweet scent translated into food. Aristophanes, the historic Greek comedian, declared lentils as the sweetest of all delicacies.

The taste differs with each lentil colour though.

Brown lentils: Colour ranges from khaki brown to dark black. It has a mild, earthy flavour and holds its shape really well. It doesn’t break down when cooked and is perfect for salads, soups, stews and sides.

Brown lentils are of different variants; there’s the Spanish Brown, German Brown and Indian Brown. The blackest and tiniest are the Beluga lentils. Brown lentils cooks in about 20-30 minutes. The time lentils take to cook depends on their size – the bigger, the longer.

Red lentils taste: nutty and sweet. The red colour ranges from gold to orange to actual red, and when cooked, it appears yellow. It’s the sweetest and nuttiest of all three types.

Red lentils cook in 30 minutes and lose their shape. This means that they break down and become mushy. This mushy state makes it perfect for making curries and thickening soups. Some of the most common varieties are Red Chief and Crimson.

Green lentils: have a glossy exterior and a firm texture. The colour is pale green or mottled green-brown. They have a peppery taste and give off this spicy aroma, and this makes it perfect for making chili. It’s also great in salads and sides because it keeps its shape and firm texture when cooked, just like brown lentils.

It takes the longest time to cook, about 45 minutes. Green lentils are the most expensive and are considered to be the caviar of the lentil family. It is a French variety called Lentilles de Puy, Puy Lentils or French Green Lentils.

How to Eat Lentils

The prospects for the use of lentils are so many, it literally goes as far as your imagination goes. From soups to stews to dips to chili, there’s a lentil for every craving.

Let’s look at them closely.

The first thing to do before you can use lentils is to cook it. Yes, I know, that’s so obvious. Sift through your lentil seeds to remove any debris that might be innit and then soak in a bowl. Soak your lentils for a couple of hours like 5-7 hours or overnight before you use. This is to enable the outer layer to detach when you rinse.

So when you’re ready to use, rinse out the water and boil. For the brown and green lentil, use two parts water to one part lentil. That is, if you’re cooking a cup of lentils, use two cups of water. Be mindful of the water though as you might have to top it off. For the red lentils, use three parts water to one part lentil.

The boiling time depends on the lentil you’re using – remember that red lentils turn mushy so be mindful of this when you’re planning your recipe. After boiling, add salt. Do not add salt before you boil as this makes the lentils toughen up.

Some people say that the lentils taste so bland and are unappetizing. Well, if you find the lentils bland, here are some ways to spice it up. When you want to cook it, you could use broth instead of water. This will improve the taste. Vegetables are always a good idea. They will add more nutrients and improve the outlook of the meal (you may not realize it yet, but what a meal looks like plays a very important role in a person’s like or dislike).

Use fresh herbs to boost the flavour. Finally, do more than just boiling them. Be creative! There’s lots of things lentils are good for: salads, sides, soups, stews, spreads, chili, dips, the list goes on. Here’s an example. It’s a lentil soup recipe with cooked lentils.

One of the must haves is lentil soup. Lentil soup taste especially with the brown lentils is just out of this world. So the soup recipe I’m gonna share here is for a Hungarian lentil soup, but do not feel restricted. You can totally use your own recipe, all you need do is incorporate lentils into it.

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 cup of dried lentils (brown or green)
  • 2 large onions chopped
  • 3 carrots diced
  • 2 celery stalks diced
  • 2 tbspns of olive oil
  • 1 tsp of minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp of paprika
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • Diced meat (optional)
  • 3 1/2 cups of blended tomatoes
  • 7 cups of chicken stock
  • 2 bayleaf
  • 1/2 tsp of ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup of white wine

How to Make

  • Boil your lentils in the manner described above.
  • While it’s boiling, sautée your onions with the olive oil and garlic in a large pot.
  • Then add the carrots, celery, diced meat and paprika. Cook for about 10 minutes.
  • Add the blended tomatoes and the chicken stock.
  • Now add your lentils. Make sure that they’re tender enough to bite through but not so soft to be eaten because we’re still cooking.
  • Add the bayleaf and ground black pepper and stir well. Then add the white wine. Reduce the heat and cook for about 20-30 minutes.
  • With 10 minutes left on the clock, add salt.
  • For garnishing, you could sprinkle each bowl with some Parmesan cheese before serving.

There’s nothing like a hot soup on a cold day. Yum yum. Here’s a quick tip: after your boil your lentils, you do not have to use it right away. You could boil and store it in the freezer for future use. This will reduce the workload when you want to use it in a recipe.

A few amazing benefits of Lentils

As always, the health benefits of any food we eat is very important. It’s good to know the nutritional value of everything that goes into our mouths and lentil is no exception. So here are some of lentils health benefits:

Lentils are low in calories, full of fibre, low fat proteins, contains folate, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin B6, manganese, iron, selenium, all of which improve our health and are great for cancer fighting. Folate lowers your homocysteine levels, this is a serious risk factor for heart disease. Magnesium improves the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients round the body.

The glycemic index of lentil is between 22-45 (good G.I is less than 50) and it contains 16-18g of proteins per cup!

It’s tasty and healthy, what more could you ask for?

Lentils also help to reduce blood cholesterol because of it’s high levels of soluble fiber. Low cholesterol levels reduces risk of heart disease. The fiber also helps to prevent constipation and irritable bowel syndrome and it traps the carbohydrates and helps reduce the blood glucose level which is really good for people with diabetes.

Lentils are a great way to keep energy up and combat fatigue. Iron deficiency is a common cause of fatigue and a cup of lentils provides over one-third of your daily iron needs.

In spite of all the nutrients contained in lentils, they still have a significantly low amount of calories and contain virtually no fat. One cup of cooked lentils contains only about 230 calories, but still leaves you feeling full and satisfied.

So whatever your cravings might be, be it soups or salads, stews or dips, spreads or sides, or even chili, there’s a lentil for it. The next time you’re asked ‘what do lentils taste like?‘ be sure to remember that it is delicious and can be made even more delicious. Stay lentified!

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Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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