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We've all heard the advice: don't add salt when cooking lentils, because they'll toughen or not become soft or variations on that theme. For example, on lentils.org:

Be sure to season with salt after cooking – if salt is added before, the lentils will become tough.

The thing is, the same advice is given for basically all dried legumes, but Serious Eats debunked that - at least for beans (specifically, cannellini beans). But lentils aren't much like beans, neither in size, cooked texture, nor even really in cooking processes.1 So I'm not sure if the Serious Eats experiment really applies to lentils.

Has anyone either confirmed or debunked the don't-add-salt thing specifically for lentils?

1For example, soaking lentils in my experience just adds to the preparation time: it doesn't seem to make an appreciable difference in how long it takes to cook them, but it adds the time you had to take to soak them.

2 Answers 2

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I can only answer based on personal experience. I salt my lentils lightly at the beginning of cooking, and have never had an issue with them failing to soften or with the skins being tough. This goes for grey lentils, puy lentils, beluga lentils, and various types of dal.

That said, I haven't done a scientific test of cooking times; if it takes 10% longer for my dal to cook because I salted the water, I don't know that I'd notice.

I recommend against salting them heavily just because you might end up with lentils that are too salty.

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If you look at lentil recipes, there is not agreement on whether to salt or not. In fact, this one begins with a salt brine...others say salt makes beans tough. I think the salt making beans (lentils included) tough is a myth has been debunked. This post refers to Harold McGee, who I would trust on the issue. It is acid that keeps beans from softening. The real issue with salt is that evaporation during cooking will increase your salt concentration. If you don't keep track of this, you can end up with overly salty beans. That, in and of itself, might be a good reason to wait, almost until completion, to salt your beans.

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  • Thank you for your response, but with respect, did you even read my question? I know people have debunked the salt thing for beans. I'm asking specifically about lentils. Not beans. Lentils. You know, tiny little lens-shaped things, come in various colors? So small that soaking isn't needed and nobody in their right mind is gonna sit there counting burst vs. unburst like Serious Eats did?
    – Marti
    Jan 1, 2023 at 18:35
  • @Marti I read your question. Lentils are legumes, along with many other variety of beans...small beans, but beans none-the-less.
    – moscafj
    Jan 2, 2023 at 1:23
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    The fact that lentils are a type of legume is about as culinarily useful as saying that tomatoes are botanically a fruit: perfectly true, but also completely irrelevant.
    – Marti
    Jan 2, 2023 at 6:24
  • Also, I covered all of this in my question, so again: did you even read it?
    – Marti
    Jan 2, 2023 at 6:26
  • @Marti I'm not here to argue, take the info I provided and make use of it, or don't. From what I've learned salt does not make lentils (or any other bean) tough. That seems to be in agreement with FuzzyChef, another person on here with quite a bit of experience. I'm really not sure what more you want from me.
    – moscafj
    Jan 2, 2023 at 12:23

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