What are the Different Types of Lentils? (and what are they good for?)

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This post looks at the main colours / types of lentils, how they differ, and what sorts of recipes they can be used for!

A collage showing 3 different lentil recipes with a text overlay.

It’s no secret that I love lentils – I post lentil recipes all the time, and I’ll sing their praises every day of the week. They’re the versatile little disc that can be used in pretty much any cuisine you can think of.

But there are several different types of lentils, and this can sometimes be confusing to lentil newbies. It’s not always possible to swap one type of lentil for another – so read on to find out more about the different types of lentils, and what they can be used for!

Packets of green, red and brown lentils next to each other.

Different types of lentils

There are quite a few different types of lentils, including:

  • red lentils (my favourite, and my most commonly used)
  • brown / green lentils (which I tend to group together as they can be used pretty much interchangeably)
  • black (beluga) lentils
Green, red and brown lentils spread out on a surface to compare the differences.
Left to right: green lentils, red lentils, brown lentils

What are the differences between different colours of lentils?

There are several ways in which the different types of lentil differ. For example:

  • their colour (obviously)
  • their size
  • the time they take to cook
  • their firmness once cooked
  • the ways they can be used

To a certain extent, one type of lentil in a recipe can be swapped for another, but depending on the recipe, this won’t always work – or at the very least, it may give a different texture. Red lentils, in particular, behave in a different way to brown and green lentils, so you’ll need to assess a recipe individually to decide whether you can make a switch.

Let’s start with my favourite of all the lentils!

Cheesy lentil pasta.

Red lentils

Red lentils (which are actually more of an orange colour, and almost yellow when cooked) are my favourite type of lentil to cook with.

They’re slightly smaller than many other types of lentils, and cook more quickly – they take just 15-20 minutes to become nice and soft.

They cook down nicely, and they can end up quite mushy and soft if you want them to, like in lentil soup, or in my tarka dal recipe. A lot of the time, this is exactly what you want to happen – they can become creamy and luxurious.

Red lentils are great for making lentil soup, dal, and anything where you want the lentils to break down, such as in this veggie slice, or my cheesy lentil pasta.

Goat's cheese and potato lentil gratin.

Brown and green lentils

Brown and green lentils aren’t identical, but I’ve grouped them together here since you can pretty much use them interchangeably. Green lentils are a little larger than brown lentils, but otherwise, the differences are minimal.

Because of their size, brown and green lentils do take a little longer to cook than red – more like 30-40 minutes to become nice and tender.

They also keep their shape when cooked, so they’re great to use when you want the shape of the lentils to be visible in the finished dish – scattered across a salad, for example.

Slow cooker lentil and quinoa tacos.

Puy lentils are a type of green lentil that are specifically grown in the Puy region of central France. They tend to be thought of as a superior (and therefore more expensive!) lentil.

Brown and green lentils are great to use in the slow cooker, as they won’t end up turning to mush when they’re cooked for a long time. They’re also brilliant for lentil curry, lentil stew, and lentil salads.

Smoky lentil carbonara.

Black (beluga) lentils

Black lentils are the richest type of lentil, and have the most flavour. Just like brown and green lentils, they tend to keep their shape when cooked.

Unfortunately, they’re also the hardest to find, at least here in the UK. You may be able to find sachets of cooked beluga lentils in the supermarket if you’re lucky, but to find them dried, you’ll probably have to go online (Amazon US / Amazon UK).

Walnut and bean bolognese.

Tinned (canned) lentils

As well as dried, you can also buy green lentils pre-cooked in a tin, which makes lots of recipes even easier!

I tend to use dried lentils if I just want to throw a handful into a soup or something, but tinned lentils are a great time saver if a recipe begins with already-cooked lentils.

For example, when I made my cheesy lentil burgers, I needed to blend cooked lentils with the other burger ingredients, so it was really handy to start with a tin of lentils that were already cooked.

Just be aware that some brands of tinned lentils have added salt, so you may prefer to find lentils that are just tinned in plain water.

Cheesy lentil burgers.

Are lentils good for you?

In short – yes!

Lentils are full of all sorts of good things. In particular, they’re rich in fibre, protein and iron – which are important things for everybody to make sure they’re getting in their diet, but are particularly key for vegetarians to pay attention to.

They’re also packed with vitamins and minerals like magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins.

Close up of brown lentils.

Lentils nutrition

One cup of cooked red lentils (a reasonable portion, assuming the lentils are forming the bulk of your meal) contains:

  • 230 calories
  • 0.8g fat and 0.1g saturated fat (~1% of your recommended daily allowance)
  • 15.6g fibre (~ 56% of your RDA)
  • 17.9g protein
  • 37% of your RDA of iron
  • 20% of your RDA of potassium
  • 17% of your RDA of magnesium
  • 20% of your RDA of Vitamin B-6
    (source: USDA)

Those are pretty impressive stats!

If I’ve convinced you that lentils are worth trying, check out my post all about how to cook lentils:

How to cook lentils.

And also make sure you take a look at my bumper collection of vegetarian lentil recipes for inspiration:

27 vegetarian lentil recipes.

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  1. How long should I cook red lentils for, I always over cook mine, which hasn’t been a problem as I’ve used them mainly in soups?

    1. Hi Anne, there are some more details about how to cook lentils here: https://www.easycheesyvegetarian.com/how-to-cook-lentils/

      Red lentils do cook down pretty mushy – green or brown lentils are firmer and keep their shape more. I quite like it when red lentils break down as they make soups and stews nice and thick and creamy. If you do want firmer red lentils you’ll just need to keep an eye on them and try to catch them when they’re just soft enough but not yet losing their shape – probably 15 minutes or so.

    1. Absolutely! Brown and green lentils are very similar to each other and cook in around the same time, so those could easily be combined – although I wonder whether it would even be worth it, since they’ll give a very similar end result anyway. You could combine brown/green with red lentils, as they have different textures, and will bring something different to the soup (if you cook red lentils for long enough they will start to break down into the soup, which makes it a bit thicker and creamier, for example). Brown and green lentils take longer to cook, so make sure you add those at the beginning, and then either add the red lentils a bit later on if you want them to hold their shape, or just cook them for longer if you want them to cook right down.

      I hope that all made sense!!

  2. Thank you for this information. I was trying to find a substitute for brown lentils that aren’t available for a recipe so I’ll use green 😋.

  3. I also love lentils, especially red lentils. So versatile, quick to cook and less earthy tasting. Very veggie lentil bake is a firm favourite in our house.