Lentils are a type of legume, similar to peas and beans. They have been grown for human consumption for thousands of years, and originate from wild lentils found in India, Turkey, and other areas of the Middle East. Lentils are found in many international cuisines, and they are considered very healthy and low fat. Lentils are known to easily absorb the spices and herbs used in a dish. Here's how to store lentils properly so that they will last for as long as possible and remain delicious:
- Understand lentils. Lentils are grown in pods, similar to beans. Although usually less than 1/4 inch in diameter, they may be classified as large or small lentils; there are also several differently colored varieties, including green, brown, and black.
- Buy lentils. They are always purchased dry, not fresh. Lentils can be purchased whole or split, in the hulls or with the hulls removed. Most common types of lentils can be found in supermarkets, while specialty types may be found in ethnic food markets. Lentils are found prepackaged or in bulk form. Make sure that the lentils have not been damaged and there is no sign of moisture in the package. Look for insect damage, which shows as small pinholes in the lentils. The lentils you purchase should look fairly uniform in both size and color. If you are buying bulk lentils, make sure that the bins are covered and that the lentils sold are as fresh as possible.
- Sort the lentils. Once you get the lentils home, spread the lentils in a single layer. Look for dirt, small stones, or damaged lentils, and discard these pieces. While this can be done as you use the lentils, removing any damaged lentils now can help ensure that none of the other lentils are affected.
- Store in an airtight container. Lentils should be stored in an airtight container, and can be kept for up to a year. Although they can be used past this date, the color will start to fade, and the lentils will take longer to cook. In the past, lentils were considered a staple food in many areas because of their extremely long shelf life. Keep the container in a cool area away from sunlight. If you purchase prepackaged lentils, keep them in this package until you're ready to use them. Once opened, transfer to a container.
- Do not mix in other lentils. If you purchase more lentils to replenish your stock, do not mix them in with the lentils you bought months ago. The older lentils will be drier and take longer to cook. Your lentils will cook unevenly, so some will end up overcooked while some are still hard.
- Store the cooked lentils. If you have leftover cooked lentils, keep them in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They can last up to four or five days.
- Avoid freezing lentils. Dried or cooked lentils should not be kept in the freezer. Freezing lentils will affect their texture.
Lentils are easy to prepare and can be used in a wide variety of dishes. When stored correctly, their flavor should not be affected even after several years of storage.