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Yuck Or Yum: What Do Lentils Taste Like?

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

What do lentils taste like? Lentils may not be widely known for their delicious taste like pizza is, or for an extra creamy nature like lasagna, or even as a family fun meal like burgers and fries. But at the same time, lentils deserve all of these descriptors and more!

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

The taste of lentils differs depending on the person being asked, the species of lentil in question (I bet you didn’t know it had species), and the method of preparation. On a general note, lentils have a mild earthy, nutty, and peppery flavor to them and a somewhat mushy texture when cooked.

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

Time to Find Out What a Lentil Is

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

The lentil is a bushy annual-yield plant known for its seeds that are shaped like a lens from which it gets its name. Lentils look like little beans with a curved, almost glossy, lens-shaped exterior. The plant is about 16 inches tall and the seeds grow in pods, with either one or two seeds in each pod. They come 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 the lentil a dietary staple and often eat it with rice or Roti.

Lentils, with their 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 from all the way back to 11,000 B. C. in Ancient Greece.

Lentil artifacts have been found during archeological digs on the banks of the Euphrates River. These have 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).

One very important thing about lentils is that they contain so much protein they 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 colors. The most common colors are red, green, and brown, but there’s also yellow, black, and orange. Some argue that these are just variants of the most common colors, and I agree with them.

The brown and black lentils come whole while the red lentils are split. This probably explains why the red ones break down and lose their shape while the brown don’t. Anyways, let’s move on.

What Do Lentils 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 colors. Now we need to find out what it tastes like. There’s no way you’ll be able to answer the question of what do lentils taste like? unless you put one 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 flavor and the texture is just like that of beans when cooked properly. The earthy flavor 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 the sweetest of all delicacies.

The taste differs with each lentil color though.

Brown lentils: Colour ranges from khaki brown to dark black. They have a mild, earthy flavor and holds their shape really well. They don’t break down when cooked and are 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 cook 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 color ranges from gold to orange to actual red, and when cooked, they appear 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 them perfect for making curries and thickening soups. Some of the most common varieties are Red Chief and Crimson.

Green lentils: A glossy exterior and a firm texture. The color is pale green or mottled green-brown. They have a peppery taste and give off a spicy aroma, and this makes them 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.

The green lentils take 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. This type 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, they literally go 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 them. Yes, I know, that’s so obvious. Sift through your lentil seeds to remove any debris that might be on them and then soak in a bowl. Soak your lentils for 5-7 hours or overnight before you use them. This is to enable the outer layer to detach when you rinse.

When you’re ready to use them, 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 lentils taste bland and are unappetizing. Well, if you find lentils bland, here are some ways to spice them up. When you want to cook, you could use broth instead of water. This would 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 opinion of it).

Use fresh herbs to boost the flavour. Finally, do more than just boil 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 when brown lentils are used, is just out of this world. So the soup recipe I’m going to share here is for a Hungarian lentil soup, but don’t 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 tbsps 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 bay leaves
  • 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 they’re boiling, sautée your onions with the olive oil and garlic in a large pot.
  • 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. Here’s a quick tip: after your boil your lentils, you do not have to use them right away. You could boil some and store them 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 lentils health benefits:

Lentils are low-fat proteins are low in calories, full of fiber, and contain folate, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin B6, manganese, iron, and selenium, all of which improve our health and are great for cancer-fighting. Folate lowers your homocysteine levels, which are serious risk factors for heart disease. Magnesium improves the flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients around the body.

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

They’re tasty and healthy, what more could you ask for?

Lentils also help to reduce blood cholesterol because of their high levels of soluble fiber. Low cholesterol levels reduce the 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.

Whatever your craving 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 they are delicious and can be made even more delicious with some creative cooking.

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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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