A client recently asked me whether she should soak lentils before cooking them.
This question generally arises because there is confusion about whether lentils should be soaked or not — compared to whole, dried beans (such as chickpeas), which definitely need pre-soaking.
What I find helpful is knowing your dried beans from your lentils — because even though they are all part of the legume family, they are different from each other, as indicated by their different cooking times and levels of digestibility. (Hint: cooking times using give an idea of digestibility).
Here are some examples of the common dried beans and lentils:
- Dried beans — soybeans, chickpeas (garbanzo), kidney beans, adzuki beans, cannellini, whole mung beans, lima, and black (turtle) beans.
- Lentils — red (masoor), brown, and Puy (French green)
Once you know your dried beans from your lentils you can apply this general rule of thumb:
- Dried beans need pre-soaking and longer cooking times (1–5 hours)
- Lentils do not need pre-soaking but may be pre-soaked (see below) and have a shorter cooking time (15–45 minutes)
This is because dried beans are larger and have higher amounts of oligosaccharides (long-chain sugars that are difficult to digest) than lentils. So the larger the legume, the harder it is to digest.
So the larger dried beans (such as soy, chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans and lima) will need the longest soaking times — preferably overnight, for at least for 8–10 hours. Chickpeas, along with soybeans, are one of the hardest of the beans to digest — so the longer you can soak them, the better. I usually soak chickpeas for 12+ hours. And soy is best eaten soaked and fermented.
Smaller beans, such as adzuki and whole mung beans don’t need long soaking times. I find 4–6 hours is enough. Split, husked mung beans (yellow mung dhal) is an exception. Because it’s not the whole bean and the skin is removed, the cooking time is much quicker and it’s easier to digest. I actually don’t soak it before making my dhal.
Now, getting back to my client (and lentils), I told her she might like to soak lentils for an hour or so if she finds it difficult to digest them (signs of improper digestion include developing gas, bloating, cramping, IBS-type symptoms). It really does depend on the individual.
However, despite soaking lentils and taking other measures to help digest them (more on that next Tuesday), some people may find they still can’t tolerate these little pulses.
In a nutshell:
- Dried beans need pre-soaking and longer cooking times
- Lentils do not need pre-soaking but can be pre-soaked to improve digestibility and reduce cooking time
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