You have some leftover cooked lentils, and no plans for using them in the next couple of days. How long do cooked lentils last?
Or your dried lentils are way past the date on the label, and you’re wondering: do dried lentils ever go bad?
Dried and canned lentils come with a very long shelf life, but once you cook the legumes, the clock starts ticking.
You only have a couple of days to eat the leftovers. Or you can freeze them if that’s not long enough.
Want to learn everything you need to know about the shelf life, storage practices, and going bad of lentils?
Everything that we discuss below should work for your lentils, no matter if you have green, brown, or red lentils on hand.
If you’re in a hurry, jump directly to what you have on hand:
You took your dried lentils or opened a can, and cooked them. Now you have some leftovers you have to deal with.
How Long Do Cooked Lentils Last?
Cooked lentils last for up to a week in the fridge in a sealed container. If that’s not long enough for your needs, you can freeze them for at least 3 months without any huge quality loss.
If the mentioned 7-day period seems like a bit of a stretch, you can go with the standard USDA guideline of using any leftovers within 3 to 4 days. Nothing wrong with that approach, and that’s what I suggest for lentil soup and cooked chickpeas, too.
For me, the best option is to leave in the refrigerator whatever you’re going to use within the next 3 to 4 days and freeze the rest. This way, you keep the risk of spoilage to a minimum.
Speaking of lentils going bad, let’s talk about the typical signs of spoilage.
How To Tell if Cooked Lentils Are Spoiled?
Discard your cooked lentils if:
- There’s mold or discolorations on the surface or sides. If any microbes get into the container before you put it in the fridge, your lentils will go moldy. Signs of mold might show up even the very next day, so always check the food before reheating.
- The lentils smell off. Sometimes, there are no visible signs of spoilage at first. Fortunately, your sniffer often comes to the rescue. If there’s something wrong with the odor of the lentils, discard them right away.
- They sit too long in the fridge. Keeping cooked food in the fridge for over a week is quite iffy. That means if your lentils already celebrated their one-week anniversary in the refrigerator, it’s time for them to go. No ifs or butts.
If your lentils don’t fall under any of the points above and seem to be perfectly fine, you can cook them.
One more thing to do before serving them is tasting a small amount. 99 out of 100 times, the lentils will taste just fine. But if there’s something off about the flavor, don’t hesitate to throw them out.
How To Store Cooked Lentils
You should refrigerate cooked lentils, either in a food container or at the very least in a lidded pot.
That applies no matter if it’s a lentil soup, the lentils are a part of a side dish, or you have a pot of cooked lentils.
Before you chuck them into the refrigerator, let them cool down a bit. If you cooked a big batch, spread it over a large surface, like a couple of plates, to cool it faster.
Make sure the leftovers find their way into the fridge within 2 hours of cooking. Or sooner, if possible.
Can You Freeze Cooked Lentils?
You can freeze cooked lentils, both in the form of a dish and lentil soup, and they freeze well.
There are no extra steps involved. Once you have the dish cooked, all you need to do is to portion it into freezer containers and place them in the freezer.
If you’re going with freezing a lentils-based dish, make sure the rest of the ingredients freeze well too. Otherwise, you might not be pleased with the results.
When it comes to lentil soups, most of them freeze just fine. Nevertheless, it always pays to check the recipe you’re using for any extra info regarding freezing.
If you’re freezing lentil soup, leave out any fresh herbs you usually add at the end. Instead, wait until you defrost and reheat the soup, and add the herbs right before serving it.
When it comes to thawing, place the container in the fridge the night before you need it. It should be (mostly) defrosted in the morning.
When reheating, you might need to add some extra water, especially if it’s a lentil soup. Add a tablespoon at a time and give the whole thing a good stir before adding more.
You have a package or container of dry lentils and a question or two about the legume. Below are the answers to the most frequently asked ones.
How Long Do Dried Lentils Last?
Dried lentils retain quality for at least 2 to 3 years, if you keep them sealed and away from moisture and heat.
They stay safe for months and even years longer, but their nutritional value diminishes over time. After about 5 years, most of the vitamin content is pretty much gone.
If you buy them packaged, dried lentils usually come with a best-by date, which indicates how long the product should retain peak quality. It’s not an expiration date and has nothing to do with food safety.
And when it comes to dry lentils (similar to dried beans), they keep well for months or even years past that date, depending on storage conditions.
Before you cook the lentils, sort through them to pick out any debris, and then rinse them to remove dirt. No need for presoaking, though.
If the package or the lentils you bought in bulk are a couple of years old, and there’s nothing wrong with them (more in the next section), feel free to use them.
You will cook the lentils before serving, so any bacteria that might be there will be killed anyway. The realistic worst-case scenario is that you end up with not-that-great lentils, and perhaps a couple of really nasty farts.
Do Dried Lentils Go Bad?
While dried lentils last for a really long time, in some cases, they are no longer safe to eat. Discard yours when:
- Insects in the package. Okay, pantry bugs don’t magically make the lentils spoiled or bad, but I’m pretty sure you don’t want to eat those lentils (I don’t). Unless you’re keen on getting some additional proteins from an unusual source.
- Signs of mold. If that happens, it’s most likely because water got into the package, allowing microbial growth. Throw out the whole thing instead of scooping the bad part.
- Strong or off smell. Lentils have a specific, pretty mild odor. If it turns sour, off, or particularly strong, discard them.
When it comes to discarding dry lentils that are older than X years but seem okay otherwise, that’s your call.
How To Store Dried Lentils
Store dry lentils in a cool and dry place, sealed tightly. The pantry is perfect, but a cupboard in the kitchen works well too.
Once you open the plastic package, it’s best if you transfer the leftovers into an airtight container or freezer bag. This way, your lentils are safe from any smells and moisture.
Truth be told, I often omit this step and keep the lentils in the original bag with just the top wrapped, and they stay just fine this way for months on end.
The same practices work for other dry foods, such as rice or quinoa.
Canned lentils are a great option if you want to add some lentils to your diet, but you can’t be bothered with cooking dry lentils.
Do Canned Lentils Go Bad?
Canned lentils generally last for months (if not years) past the date on the label.
As long as the can looks perfectly intact, the contents of the can should be okay as well. That’s true even if the product is a couple of years past the best-by date on the label.
It happens very rarely, but canned lentils can go bad. Here’s when you should discard them:
- The tin is rusting, leaking, or dented. If there’s something wrong with the can, you should get rid of it, even if the contents seem to be just fine.
- There’s something wrong with the lentils. If the package is okay, you open it up and see what’s inside. The food inside should look like, well, cooked lentils in salty water. That means no mold, off discolored parts, or funny smell. If it’s an old package, give the lentils a proper check when rinsing to be sure everything is okay.
When it comes to leftovers, follow the advice I gave in the cooked lentils section.
Storing Canned Lentils
You treat them the same way you treat other canned foods. That means the can should sit in a cool and dry place, and that’s about it.
Once you open it up, refrigerate the leftovers in a food container if there are any.