Lentils are growing in popularity, thanks in part to their use in Indian and Middle Eastern dishes and to growing interest in healthier eating in general. Today you can find a variety of lentils sold in supermarkets and specialty food stores.
Although a wide variety of lentils are used in Europe, the Middle East, India, and Africa, in the US the most common types of lentils are red, brown, and green. Brown and green lentils still have their hulls on and thus hold their shape well after cooking.
Red lentils, which are often sold hulled, cook more quickly and work best in purées and other dishes where softness is an advantage. Hulled lentils, it should be noted, have less dietary fiber than those that are not hulled.
Black (beluga lentils): Tiny and jet-black, these lentils glisten once cooked, making them look like beluga caviar. Rich in flavor, they can be used in recipes calling for brown, green, or French lentils.
Brown (small Chinese, Persian): These small, plump russet-brown disks have an earthy flavor. They are not as flat as most lentils, tending toward the spherical, and are not hulled.
French (lentilles du Puy): Imported from France and also grown domestically, these are much smaller than brown or green lentils. Their color is a deep green going almost to black. Their cooked texture is somewhat firm and their flavor is slightly peppery.
Green: This is the type of lentil you find most readily in the supermarket. As the bags are simply labeled “lentils,” most people would be surprised to learn that these brownish-beige lentils are called “green.” And, just to confuse matters more, they are sometimes referred to as brown lentils. They hold their shape well when cooked.
Ivory white: These are black lentils that have been hulled. They also come split.
Red: Small salmon-colored disks, these lentils usually come hulled, but in Indian markets you can also find them in the hull or hulled and split. In their hulled form, they cook much faster than most lentils.
Other lentil products
Lentil flour: Indians use a flour made from a certain type of lentil called urad dal to make the dough for a crispy, fried wafer called pappadum.
Lentil pasta: Made from ground lentils, this pasta has a meaty, rich, slightly peppery lentil flavor.