Lentils are packed with high amounts of protein, folate, potassium, iron and fiber, along with other valuable nutrients. Additionally, they contain low amounts of saturated fat. They’re also a source of polyphenols, a chemical that creates antioxidants in the body to protect your health.
They’re also easy and quick to prepare. After rinsing dried lentils thoroughly, you only need to boil them for 20 to 30 minutes, and they’re ready to go. You can use them in recipes or only add salt and other seasonings to taste.
That’s why lentils make a smart substitute for meat or an excellent side dish as part of any meal.
In this article, I’ll discuss how to store lentils, the difference in shelf life between dried, canned, and cooked lentils, if you can freeze them, and how to know if they’re no longer safe to eat.
Do Lentils Go Bad?
Yes, they certainly do. Whether pre-cooked, dried, or canned, lentils can go bad and be harmful to your health if consumed.
What is the Shelf Life of Lentils?
How long your lentils last depends on how you store them and whether they are dried, canned or already cooked.
How Long Do Dried Lentils Last?
Dried lentils can last for as long as two to three years if stored properly in a cool, dark and dry location in your kitchen or pantry. Even after three years, you can safely eat them.
Rather than expiration dates, lentils commonly have a “best if used by” date printed on the packaging. This date does not refer to safety. It only means that the quality of the dried lentils may start to decrease after the printed date. The color, texture and flavor changes, but they are still okay to consume.
After you open a bag of dried lentils, keeping them in a sealed container or plastic bag optimizes their shelf life. Exposure to light can compromise the color of the lentils but does not affect their longevity.
How Long do Canned Lentils Last?
Canned lentils have a long shelf life, too. Simply keep them in a cool, dry area like the kitchen pantry or a cupboard. Once you open them, place them in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. Stored in this way, canned lentils can remain edible for up to 2 months.
When unopened, canned lentils can last for up to 2 years.
How Long do Cooked Lentils Last?
Already cooked lentils, whether they were originally canned or dried, last for about three to five days in the fridge.
|Dried||Up to 3 years|
|Canned (Unopened)||Up to 2 years|
|Canned (Opened)||Not Recommended||Up to 2 months|
|Cooked||Not Recommended||Up to 5 days|
How to Tell if Dried Lentils Have Gone Bad?
Pour your dried lentils into a bowl and sift through them before cooking. If you see signs of mold, it means water somehow got into the package. In this case, throw the whole bag out.
Lentils usually have a slight smell that shouldn’t be unpleasant. If you smell something sour or foul, it’s best to discard them, as well. Additionally, if you find bugs or insects in the bag, throw them away.
How to Tell if Canned Lentils Have Gone Bad?
Start by examining the outside of the can. Any dents, leakage, or rust might indicate contamination. Even if the contents seem perfectly fine, exterior damage has possibly compromised inside quality.
Of course, the lentils inside the can should look and smell normal, too. That means no discolored parts, no mold, no harsh, off-putting smell. Look closely for these signs when rinsing them off.
How to Tell if Cooked Lentils Have Gone Bad?
First and foremost, always make sure you place your cooked lentils in the fridge within two hours so that you prevent a large number of bacteria and other microbes from forming on them. Cooked lentils won’t last as long if this happens, and the FDA is clear about the two-hour rule when it comes to safety with any perishable cooked item.
Usually, when lentils start spoiling, you’ll notice a white film begin to form at the top. The sour, foul odor most likely hits your nose, too. However, if none of that occurs, you’ll know as soon as you put the lentils in your mouth. Something tastes off when they start to turn. If you have to question the flavor at all, it’s wise to throw them out.
If they’ve been in the refrigerator for a week or more, you should discard them even if they don’t show any signs of going bad. Some amount of bacteria and other microbes may have made their way into the container when you first put them in the fridge. After several days, chances are they’ve significantly affected the quality and safety of your legume.
Is it Okay to Eat Undercooked Lentils?
Do not eat undercooked lentils that feel crunchy when you chew them. They are hard to digest and can cause gastric pain and upset.
The reason for this? They contain phytic acids, which bind minerals together, such as calcium, iron, and magnesium, and prevent your body from absorbing these valuable nutrients. You may have heard the same about certain nuts, seeds and grains as well because they also contain phytic acid.
How to Store Lentils
How to Store Dried Lentils
Storing dried lentils is simple. If you haven’t yet opened them, the best thing to do is keep them in a kitchen cupboard until needed. This, or your pantry, makes an ideal environment for dried lentils as it provides a cool, dry and dark space for them.
Once you’ve opened the package, the best way to ensure proper storage is by using an airtight container. This will help to prevent any moisture from seeping in, making sure that your dried lentils stay dry.
Keep the airtight container in a kitchen cupboard or pantry as you would with an unopened package if you can. This will help make sure that each lentil retains its taste and quality over time.
How to Store Open Canned Lentils
If you’ve opened a can of lentils and know you probably won’t eat them again for a few more days, make sure to rinse them thoroughly with cold water first, drain them and then put them in a tightly-sealed container.
Unlike their dried counterparts, canned lentils should be kept in the fridge once opened. They should last up to two months without a problem if done correctly.
Can You Freeze Lentils?
Yes, you can freeze lentils, but there is little need to freeze the dried variety since they last for a few years in a sealed, air-tight bag in your cupboard. Make sure you keep them in a cool, dark, dry place, and you should be fine.
However, freezing cooked lentils is a fantastic idea if you want them to keep longer than the three to five days they stay edible in the refrigerator. Sometimes you may not want to eat them four days in a row, so freezing is a logical step.
How Do You Freeze Cooked Lentils?
After rinsing lentils, checking for pebbles, and cooking for 20 minutes or so, let them cool and place them in a strainer to remove any excess water. Otherwise, the liquid makes the lentils stick together in a big clump when frozen.
Divide them into convenient portions if you want before placing them in air-tight plastic bags or containers. You’ll spend less time defrosting this way. It also prevents you from defrosting the entire package since once you thaw any food, you should not freeze it again.
Be sure not to overfill your bags or containers since the lentils or any food expands during the freezing process. Freshly cooked lentils maintain their quality for as long as six months in the freezer.
Want to freeze a recipe you’ve made using lentils? Check out our guide to freezing cooked lentil dishes!
How to Defrost Lentils
To thaw, I recommend taking them out and leaving them to slowly thaw in the fridge overnight. You can also use a microwave to quickly defrost, however, I find that the taste is better if you let them thaw properly before use.
Regardless of how long they spent in the freezer, always check your lentils carefully. If they look or smell unusual, discard them and start fresh.
Once defrosted, you should consume within 2 days. Do not re-freeze after thawing!
- Label your containers with the date to keep tabs on how long they remain in your freezer.
- Put each portion size on the labels in case you want to use the lentils in a recipe later.
- Boil lentils for a shorter amount of time before freezing so that they can finish cooking in your stew or soup recipe. They will defrost rapidly during the cooking process.
- Mix salt into your lentils after they cook so that they maintain their shape and don’t get too soft.