When it is cold outside, there is nothing better to snuggle up on the couch with a good film and a fantastic, warm bowl of lentil soup.
However, lentils are not an easy food to cook, especially if cooking is not your best suit. For example, how do you know when lentils are done? And most importantly, what happens if you eat undercooked or raw lentils?
Follow this article to learn how to master the art of cooking lentils and how to avoid ending up with undercooked lentils.
How to tell if lentils are cooked?
Let’s not beat around the bush: the most effective and most straightforward method to determine whether your lentils are cooked thoroughly is to taste them.
Lentils should have a softer consistency when chewed, but be careful. They do not have to be mushy or too spongy.
As you may already realize, there is a small window of time while cooking, when your lentils are not undercooked but have not yet turned into a mushy mess. That’s what you should be aiming for when you cook lentils.
However, it might not be easy to determine this small window, so if you are not sure whether your lentils are undercooked, it’s better to cook them for a little longer rather than not.
Keep the lentils cooking on the stove on low heat for a few extra minutes. When they have finally achieved the texture you prefer, take them off the stove and be ready to serve them.
Keep in mind that different varieties of lentils cook at different times. Red and yellow lentils can be ready in 15 minutes, or sometimes less.
In contrast with other types of lentils, red and yellow lentils are incredibly popular in Indian cuisine.
That is why some traditional Indian dishes are recipes like creamy stews or curries, which include lentils that turned creamy during the cooking process.
What happens if you eat undercooked lentils?
Eating uncooked lentils will not do any harm in the short term, but it is best not to make a habit out of it.
Undercooked lentils, or particularly crunchy ones, should not be consumed for your safety. Lentils contain phytic acid, which makes it impossible to absorb the healthy minerals generally present in lentils.
On top of that, undercooked lentils are also incredibly difficult to digest and may give you an upset stomach.
As a result, if you happen to eat a spoonful of undercooked lentils as you taste them while you are preparing them, it is absolutely fine.
The problem is when you make a habit out of it, or when you simply do not let your lentils cook for the time required.
How do you properly cook lentils?
Lentils come in a range of different shades that go from orange to dark green, but there are also other colors like brown, black, and red.
They are an excellent meat alternative for those who are vegan, vegetarian, or those who are simply trying to cut out meat from their daily life.
Some types of prepackaged lentils only take twenty minutes or less to cook and do not need to be soaked before cooking.
But most of the time, lentils need to be washed thoroughly before cooking, as they might carry lots of germs and dirt.
On the odd occasion, they need to be soaked for a couple of hours, or even overnight to be sure they will cook properly on the stove.
Once you have washed and soaked your lentils (but remember, some kinds of lentils do not need soaking, always check the label!) you can cook them safely.
The cooking process varies depending on how you want to consume them. An enormously popular way of cooking them is to add them to soups.
When you add them to a pan, fill the pan with cold water, place the lid back and cook them on medium heat.
Once the water starts boiling, take off the lid and keep cooking them, stirring the lentils from time to time.
Remember, do not add salt during the cooking process because it will stop your lentils from softening. It will do the opposite, leaving you with uncooked lentils.
Preparing lentils might take from 20 minutes up until an hour. It depends on the variety of lentils you are using, so always check the details printed on the label.
When cooking a hearty and delicious lentil soup, you can add in all the ingredients you want to make it personalized and incredibly special.
How to fix undercooked lentils
As we already mentioned, there is a small window of time during which your lentils are perfectly cooked, just like it happens with pasta al dente.
That’s why cooking lentils might seem quite hard for those who are not used to the process.
This is when people start making crucial, yet solvable mistakes. Here is a list of some of these inaccuracies and how to solve them.
1. Cooking with old lentils
First things first, do not buy old-looking lentils. Yes, lentils have a long shelf life, and they can last for a few years on a shelf without making you sick.
On the odd occasion, depending on the variety of lentils, they are safe to consume even after their expiry date.
It seems like a sweet deal, except that the texture will be different after some time.
This is an issue that should not be overlooked. No matter how long you cook your aged lentils, they will never soften adequately.
Therefore always try to go for fresh lentils, or at least lentils that have been packaged recently. Therefore, if you have an old bag of lentils lying around in your cupboard, be careful when you cook them.
Another common mistake is not filtering your lentils before cooking them. Every so often, lentils may contain little stones hiding in the packages, which can be a nasty discovery later on.
So, examine your lentils and sift them from time to time, before soaking or cleansing them, depending on what the label of your pulses says.
3. Adding salt too soon
If you have already added salt to your lentils, there is not much you can do at present.
You could try adding some boiling water to the pan so that the salt dilutes in the water, but that’s about it.
Still, it will not give you the same result as adding salt at the very end of the cooking process.
Usually, salt and other spices are added to the lentils during the last ten to five minutes of cooking. Salt tends to stop the lentils from getting softer, so it will disrupt the cooking process.
4. Cooking your lentils on high heat
You should not cook your lentils on high heat. This method will disrupt the cooking course, and it will not make your lentils cook faster, on the contrary.
At high temperatures, lentils tend to split making it impossible to cook further.
Therefore, cook them on low to medium heat, so that the lentils have their time to simmer and cook thoroughly.
It is a relatively complex procedure, but with a little bit of patience, you will have a delicious and nourishing meal.
Can you eat lentils raw?
It is not good practice to eat uncooked lentils, but eating raw lentils should be completely off the table.
The dirt, and a few harmful components present in raw lentils, might provoke unpleasant and quite dangerous reactions.
It has been discovered that eating uncooked or raw lentils might be responsible for around 20% of all food poisoning cases globally.
On top of that, consuming these legumes, when raw or uncooked, will also induce vomiting and diarrhea as well.
Thankfully, these unhealthy components found in raw lentils are sensitive to elevated temperatures and are easily dissolved when cooked.
That allows you to enjoy your hearty and warm lentil-based dinner safely, without any other worry in the world, as long as you cook them properly.
The moral of the story, when you are cooking your lentils, is to always taste them and make sure they are soft to the palate, and not crunchy or hard to chew.
To answer your question: no, it is not safe to eat raw lentils. If you do not have enough time on your hands to cook them yourself, pick canned lentils instead.
You can also pick a different kind of legume that will take a shorter time to cook, is easier to clean, and does not require a long soaking period.