Lentils: They’re easy to make, packed with protein and nutrients and they taste delicious. The only problem? Sometimes you’ll chow down on a bowl of lentil soup, only to feel a little meh afterward. But why?
As healthy as they are, lentils have the potential to cause some, um, tummy troubles—bloating and gas, to be specific. While medical experts (like those at the Cleveland Clinic) agree that the primary cause of this digestive upset is their high fiber content, some dieticians and nutritionists purport that “anti-nutrient” compounds are the culprits behind the gas. These substances—which are naturally found in many plant- and animal-based foods—can potentially block the absorption of nutrients. The good news? Many of the so-called anti-nutrients found in lentils (like lectins and phytates) can be deactivated by soaking the lentils in water.
Benefits of Soaking Lentils
Before you go soaking lentils with abandon, keep this in mind: There’s no definitive research that proves anti-nutrients are the number one reason you get gassy after eating lentil soup. It’s far more likely that the increase in fiber is causing you to bloat, and that can be mitigated by slowly increasing the amount of fiber in your diet. (Alternatively, you may have a food allergy.)
Soaking lentils isn’t a guarantee that you won’t get gas, and fad diets that claim lectins are the root of all evil are a little misguided. Phytates and lectins may actually be beneficial, lowering cholesterol and acting as antioxidants. That being said, it won’t hurt to try, and according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, soaking and or boiling foods that contain lectins and phytates can neutralize these compounds and potentially reduce your digestive upset, if they are the cause.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, “no studies have yet shown that a particular method of soaking or cooking [legumes] prevents flatulence.” But if you want to try it, here’s how.
How Long to Soak Lentils
Lentils are tiny, so they don’t need to soak at all to cook in a reasonable amount of time; unsoaked lentils will cook in 15 to 30 minutes depending on the type. But if you want to soak them to potentially ease digestion, aim for a minimum of two hours and a maximum of 12. (Two to four hours is a good starting point.)
And while you’ve likely heard that other larger pulses (aka beans) benefit from soaking before cooking to cut down on cooking time, you also don’t have to soak these guys. The amount of time you’ll save cooking soaked beans versus unsoaked beans is minimal (about an hour) compared to the amount of time they’ll spend soaking. But soaking can ensure a more tender final product, so if you want to soak, aim for eight hours in well-salted water. (As a shortcut, you can bring the beans to a boil, turn off the heat and soak for one hour before cooking.)
How to Soak Lentils
If you want to take the plunge (or rather, your lentils do), here’s exactly how to soak any type of lentil.
Pour the lentils into a large saucepan or bowl and cover them completely with cold tap water. Soak the lentils for 2 to 4 hours.
Drain the lentils, then rinse them once more with fresh, cold water before using in your recipe.
Ready to cook with lentils? Here are 10 of our favorite recipes:
- Radicchio, Lentil and Apple Salad with Vegan Cashew Dressing
- Lemon-Tahini Salad with Lentils, Beets and Carrots
- Easy One-Pot Lentil Kielbasa Soup
- Creamy Vegan Lentil and Roasted Vegetable Bake
- Cauliflower Rice Bowl with Curried Lentils, Carrots and Yogurt
- Immune-Boosting Turmeric Golden Milk Daal
- Indian-Inspired Kitchari Bowls
- Vegan Lentil-Mushroom Burgers
- Yotam Ottolenghi’s Roasted Butternut Squash with Lentils and Gorgonzola
- Mujaddara with Spiced Lemon Yogurt