Lentils are low-calorie, high-fiber legumes. They can be cooked without soaking and be ready to eat in around twenty minutes. But, how long can they survive before you cook them? How long do they last after you cook them? Let’s find out!
How long a container of lentils lasts depends on the packaging they came in and whether you cooked them. Canned lentils will last one to two years after the “best by” date if the can isn’t opened. Dried lentils, the kind that can be found in a plastic bag, will still be good around a year after the “best by” date. An open can of lentils lasts three to four days in the refrigerator, and cooked lentils last up to a week there. Lentils will last around three to six months in the freezer.
So, how do we make lentils last longer? We know how long they last, but which way is the best for keeping them fresh? And how do we know when lentils should be thrown out?
Do Lentils Go Bad? How Long Do Lentils Last?
Let’s take a look at the places you can store lentils. The pantry or a cupboard, the refrigerator, and the freezer are the ones you’ll see most often.
How Long Do Lentils Last Outside?
A package of dried lentils lasts around a year after the “best by” date, while a can of lentils will survive around one to two years past that date. The lentils should be stored in a cool, dry place away from any heat or light, which could make them go rancid faster.
The problem with the dried lentils is that they’re usually stored in plastic packages, which are more susceptible to pests like insects. You can avoid this problem by putting the lentils in an air-tight plastic container or canning jar.
Cooked lentils should only be kept outside of the refrigerator for two hours. Any longer and you’re running the risk of the lentils spoiling.
How Long Do Lentils Last in The Fridge?
You can’t eat lentils unless they’re cooked, and once they’re cooked the refrigerator is the only place to store them. The fridge is also the only place to keep opened cans of lentils.
An open can of lentils will last three to four days while cooked lentils could last up to seven days at most. Three to five days is more common, though. Make sure you put them in a sealed container before they go in the fridge, preferably an air-tight container.
One thing to remember about cooked lentils is that they need to be cooled before you put them in the fridge or freezer. The cooling process takes about a half-hour to an hour.
How Long Do Lentils Last in The Freezer?
If you know you can’t use all your cooked lentils in a week, freezing them is your best bet. Frozen cooked lentils can last at least three to six months without taking any harm, while canned lentils last around two months. In theory, they could last even longer, but every time you open the freezer door you run the risk of the lentils turning rancid or getting freezer burn.
Lentils must be stored in freezer-safe bags with as much air squeezed out as you can get. Keep them in the body of the freezer, away from the door. This reduces any exposure to light or changes in temperature.
You can also freeze lentils in air-tight cans such as mason jars. It isn’t a good idea to freeze the original can if they came in one since the cold temperature affects the can’s structure. The problem with jars is that there’s no way to get any extra air out, running the risk of spoiling the lentils. With that in mind, the jars should only be used for a month or two.
One word of caution for all this: the dates given for these storage options are educated estimates. There is a chance that your lentils won’t last as long as I said they would. The trick is to always check your lentils before you use them for any signs of spoiling or going bad.
How To Tell If Lentils Have Gone Bad
Insects: If you see any insects, living or dead, in the lentils, it’s definitely time to throw them out. Not only do insects spread germs, but it could also mean that the package the lentils came in has a hole in it.
Smell/taste: Do the lentils smell a bit off when you sniff them? One of the major signs of lentils going rancid is the smell changing to something less appealing. Similarly, if you taste the lentils and they don’t taste quite right, it’s time to toss them.
Mold/discolorations: Look closely at the lentils. If you see any white, green, or other colored spots where the color should be uniform, that’s a sign that there could be mold on your lentils.
Damaged Package: If the lentils came in a can, check the can out before you open it. If you see any kind of damage to the can like leaks, rust, or dents, you probably want to get rid of it. The same thing goes for plastic packages. If you see any holes or tears in the package, that means that insects and contaminants can get inside.
Fading colors: Fading colors aren’t actually a sign that lentils have gone bad or spoiled, it just means that they haven’t been used in a long time.
How To Store Lentils
Now that we know about where lentils are stored, let’s check out how they should be kept.
- When you have multiple packages of lentils, you need to store them separately rather than combining them into one container. This way if one package spoils, it won’t affect the other
- Make sure that any containers used to store lentils are sealed tightly. It’s common sense, but it’s also worth remembering. This goes for the fridge and especially the freezer
- Keep the lentils away from any foods with strong smells. Lentils absorb odors and it will affect how they taste
- Cooking jars like mason jars are good for storing lentils, both in the fridge and outside of it
- Use a clean spoon or scoop to take out the lentils and don’t forget to rinse the beans before you cook them
- It’s not a good idea to leave cooked lentils in the fridge for longer than a week, even if they still look good. There’s too much risk that they might be spoiled
Can You Freeze Lentils? How?
Lentils are easy to freeze, and it’s the best way to make cooked lentils last the longest. Here are some tips to freezing them safely.
- Once your lentils have been cooked, put them in a strainer and get rid of as much excess water as you can. This will prevent them from sticking together once you freeze them
- Smaller portions are easier to thaw than large ones. Smaller portions are also good if you don’t want any leftovers
- When you put the lentils in a freezer-safe bag or container to freeze, remember that lentils expand when they freeze. Don’t pack that container too tightly
- Fully cooked lentils will turn mushy as they thaw out. If you want your lentils crispy, don’t cook them fully before you freeze them
- Different kinds of lentils have different textures that affect how they cook and freeze. Red and yellow lentils tend to come out mushier when they thaw out, while green and brown lentils tend to freeze intact
How To Thaw Lentils
Moving the container from the freezer to the fridge overnight is the easiest way to thaw out lentils, but there are faster ways.
- You can thaw out lentils directly by cooking them with a meal, like soup or a casserole. That way you won’t have to worry about making time to thaw
- If you have a microwave, you can put the lentils in for two to three minutes on a medium or high setting
Frequently Asked Questions About Lentils’ Shelf Life
Do different kinds of lentils have a different shelf life?
As far as I can tell, the different types only affect how they cook and freeze, not their shelf life. Brown and green ones are the ones you’ll usually find in stores. They’re usually used for soups and similar dishes because they tend to fall apart when fully cooked.
What is the shelf life of soaked lentils?
Some people soak dried lentils before they cook them to improve digestion and reduce cooking time. Opinions vary over whether this is a good idea or not, but we aren’t here to talk about that. Soaked lentils last around three days in the fridge, however freezing them isn’t a good idea since they’re already full of water and that could make the lentils disintegrate when thawed.
Lentils are often a staple food because they last so long, both in a can and in a package. In fact, they’ll last long enough that you’re more likely to be done with them than have them go bad.