(Last Updated On: March 9, 2022)

What Are Lentils?

Get answers to the question, What are Lentils?, including nutrition information, recommended lentil recipes, and frequently asked questions.

Lentils…how we love thee.  We eat these delicious legumes on a regular basis in our casa. And we aren’t alone. Lentils have been around for over 9,000 years and were one of the first domesticated crops.

Lentils are considered a ‘pulse’, which are part of the legume family, but the term “pulse” refers only to the dried seed. Pulses are pretty incredible as they are drought resistant, nitrogen-fixing crops that improve the environmental sustainability of annual cropping systems.  More and more farmers are being asked to plant them for this reason.  Look for my book review of ‘Lentil Underground’, coming to the blog soon, which gives a look into this effort.

  • Lentils are high in protein and fiber, but low in fat, and contain many essential nutrients.  Nutrients include high levels of folate, thiamin, B6, iron and zinc.
  • We love that lentils keep us full for quite a long time after just a small amount due to their high levels of slowly digestible starch.  Adding these to a budda bowl alongside some veggies makes for an incredibly satisfying and satiating lunch.  Make them ahead of time when you meal-prep on Sunday, and you will have them around all week to munch on!
  • There are many tasty types of lentils, but I often cook with red lentils, as their cooking time is much shorter than green or brown lentils.

See more about the nutritional content of lentils below, along with a few interesting facts and 3 recipe ideas!

Basic Nutritional Information

Calories Total Fat Cholesterol Sodium Fiber Carbohydrates Protein
130 0.5g 0mg 0mg 5g 21g 10g
Low Low Low Low High Medium High

*1/4 cup of dry red lentils (1/2 cup cooked).

Frequently Asked Questions

Where are lentils most frequently used?
South Asia, Mediterranean and West Asia.  They are a dietary staple in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal.  They are produced most readily in Canada, Australia and India.

Are lentils good for me?
Yes!  One of the world’s healthiest foods.  Some of our favorite features are that they contain cholesterol-lowering fiber and keep blood sugar levels steady.  They have very high nutritional content at a low-calorie cost, including high levels of essential vitamins and minerals. High in iron, they replenish your iron stores and increase your energy.  What a bargain for such an inexpensive legume.

Are lentils difficult to cook with?
Not at all, especially the red lentils.  These are our favorite for every day because we like them al dente so they take only 5-10 minutes to cook this way.  Brown and green take a bit longer, but are similar to cooking brown rice. Brown and green are also good as a meat replacement such as in this Spicy Red Lentil Pasta recipe by Minimalist Baker.  When cooking lentils, you may see what looks like sprouts.  It will look like the little sprouts in the image on the right.  This is simply the seed germination and is completely normal!

Where can I find lentils?
They can be found either in bulk or in packaged form in your grocery store.  They are found in red, green, brown and black colors most commonly.  Stored in a cool, dry place out of the sun they keep up to 12 months.


Now to the Good Stuff: Recipes

Red Lentil Dal

1. Simple Spring Salad

We started making this in the spring, when switching over from using lentils in heavier soups and stews.  A great way to get your protein and fiber in, while also taking advantage of lovely spring vegetables such as radishes.

2. Red Lentil Dal

This Lentil Dal from Forks Over Knives is a straight forward recipe to ease you into cooking with lentils and making Indian cuisines.  We prefer a bit more spice and flavor, so we added some heat at the end with chili flakes and amped up the cumin and other spice levels. We suggest starting with this base and adjusting to your taste preferences.