Selecting and Storing Lentils

Split and puy lentils in bowls on wicker table.

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Lentils are a versatile bean or legume that can be stored indefinitely. They have even been found in Egyptian tombs dating back more than 5,000 years ago. Over time, a stored lentil bean's flavor may slowly degrade. So, try to eat your stored beans within the year you get them. 

How to Select Lentils

Lentils are only available dried. When halved, dried lentils resemble their split pea cousins. Lentils are actually seeds that grow two to a pod and are dried after harvesting. They are not used fresh. Select lentils that are dry, firm, clean, and unshriveled. The color of lentils you choose will depend on your usage, but in general, the color should be fairly uniform.

Canned lentils are available, but lentils are just as easy to cook your own. The seeds require a cooking time of 10 to 40 minutes, depending on the variety. Shorter cooking times are needed for varieties with the husk removed, such as the common red lentil.

Types of Lentils

Most varieties have a distinctive, earthy flavor. Lentils are used worldwide to cook many different dishes. Lentil dishes are most widespread throughout South Asia, the Mediterranean regions, and West Asia.

If your recipe calls for a lentil that will retain its shape when done, common brown lentils are the usual choice. Brown lentils still have their seed coat and have not been split. 

Most red, yellow, and orange lentils tend to disintegrate with long cooking because the hulls have been removed. Slightly sweet in flavor, these are best reserved for pureed soups or stew thickeners.

Other choices include French lentils which are olive-green and slate-colored. French lentils will be the firmest when cooked. Persian green lentils will turn brown as they cook and become tender while still retaining their shape. The most flavorful (and most expensive) lentils are the French Puy lentils, which also retain their shape.
You may be able to find lentil flour in some specialty markets. Lentil flour is used in India to make a fermented dough for bread making.

Lentil Storage

You will want to store lentils in a sealed package or airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place. Dried lentils are a staple food around the world due in large part to its indefinite shelf-life, high nutrition value, and because it is relatively impervious to drought-like growing conditions. A majority of the world's supply of lentils are harvested from Canada, India, and Australia.

Over time, the stored bean's color may fade a little, but the flavor will not noticeably deteriorate. Food experts suggest that for the best flavor and presentation, use dried lentils within one year. Discard any lentils that are exposed to dampness or insect activity.

Much like rice, lentils absorb water and double in size when cooked.
Cooked lentils may be refrigerated up to one week in a sealed container. Cooked lentils may also be frozen up to six months. If not handled gently, lentils may fall apart when reheated. This should not affect the taste, only the appearance.