Lentils have excellent macros and are one of few legumes that cook quickly without soaking. They can be used either as the base of a meal, or as a component to add flavor, texture, or nutrition.

Here’s the stats for red lentils:

serving cost calories net carbs fat fiber protein sugar
1/4 cup ~$0.181 190 18 1 14 13 1

And brown:

serving cost calories net carbs fat fiber protein sugar
1/4 cup ~$0.122 180 13 1 19 11 1

They come in a number of varieties. In the west, they’re usually labeled by color:

  • brown
    • most common; often just labeled “lentils”
    • larger and usually include skins
    • taste is earthy
  • red, orange, and yellow
    • smaller, usually split and without skins
    • taste a bit sweeter or nuttier
    • a bit more expensive
    • yellow are also known as “pigeon peas”
  • green
    • similar to brown, but more peppery
  • black (beluga)
    • smaller, usually include skins
    • taste similar to brown, but more intense
    • often labeled “white” when sold split

Varieties with skins are slower to cook, firmer, and higher in fiber. I tend to use red lentils like oatmeal and reserve brown lentils for soups.

Lentils should generally be rinsed before cooking, though I often skip this for higher-quality split varieties.

I haven’t noticed a difference between brands, and usually buy whatever’s cheapest in bulk. Since lentils are a staple in many types of Indian cuisine, you’ll often get better prices by searching in Hindi:

  • masoor: red
  • toor: yellow
  • urad: black
  • dal: split (eg “toor dal” means “split yellow lentils”)
  1. red lentils $1.69/lb (Trader Joe’s, Trader Joe’s) 

  2. brown lentils $3.13/3lb (Great Value, Walmart)