Lentils Shelf Life: Can It Go Bad?

So you’re just back from India and fascinated by lentil curry there. You decided to cook at home. Now, you have a half pack of dry lentils in the storage and wondering: how long can I keep dry lentils? Do dried lentils go bad?

Or, you prefer getting canned lentils. It’s practical and time saver. Surprisingly, you have some cans that have passed the best by date. Are expired canned lentils okay to use? How do I know that lentils have gone off?

Whether you are new or a regular user of lentils, this article is what you need to learn more about lentils’ shelf life, storage methods, and common symptoms of lentils going bad. If that’s what you’re looking for, read on!

What Are Lentils?

Lentils are a type of pulses (or edible seeds) from legumes family that are a staple in South Asia, Mediterranean, and North Africa.

Lentils are packed with nutrients, primarily protein, fiber, vitamin B, and some minerals. These edible seeds are also known as a good source of iron. This nutrient profile makes lentils favored by vegetarians who are usually lacking in iron in their diet.

There is a bunch of lentils variety⁠—with green, brown, red, yellow, and Puy are the most popular ones in the market. The standard preparation methods of lentils are either boiling, baking, or frying.

In India, lentils are used to prepare dal, soup, and curry, and typically eaten with rice or Indian flatbread (roti).

How To Store Lentils

We can find both dry (or raw) and canned in the store. Or maybe you prefer to cook in bulk and store cooked lentils for coming dinners? No worries, we’ll address each one of them.

Let’s start with dry lentils. No matter which color you pick, the storage guidelines are easy and straightforward. You can store raw lentils similarly to how you store other dry seeds or grains, such as quinoa. The crucial part is to keep it dry and limit access to excess moisture.

Store lentils in the original package in a dry, cool area, away from the source of light and heat. Your pantry is preferable, but a kitchen cupboard or cabinet is excellent as well.

Once opened, seal the package tightly or transfer the remaining into a sealed container. Store it in a similar spot like unopened packages.

Now, let’s move to canned (or tinned) lentils. In short, the storage conditions for canned lentils are also similar to other canned foods. It means, as long as the can is not opened, you can keep it in a dry, cool area, away from the source of light and heat, such as your pantry or cupboard.

After opening, if there’s still any leftover, transfer it into a sealed container and keep refrigerated.

Cooking stuff in bulk and storing some during the week is a time saver. If that’s including cooked lentils, you should store them similarly to how you keep other prepared foods.

Let the cooked lentils cool down before placing them into an airtight container. Seal the container, label it (in case you forget), and keep refrigerated. It’s advised to use a shallow container to allow a quicker cooling process.

Can You Freeze Cooked Lentils?

Yes, if you prepare much more than you eat for a week, freezing cooked lentils can prolong the shelf life up to 3 to 6 months. However, the flavor and texture may degrade over time.

As usual, let the cooked lentils cool down before transferring into a freezer-safe container or a freezer bag. Divide them into a portion size for easy defrosting.

Add a label on the container and freeze it for later use. When you need to defrost, simply move it into the refrigerator the night before. If you’re short in time, quick thawing in the microwave also works perfectly. Or, put the frozen lentils straight into your cooking pot for making lentil soup or curry.

How To Tell If Lentils Have Gone Bad or Spoiled

Most times, you can rely on your senses to tell if lentils have gone bad. The rule of thumb is to check the visual signs, smell, and taste.

Let’s start with unopened packages. For both dry and canned lentils, make sure that the package is in perfect condition. Any small holes in dry lentils packaging mean an entrance for bugs and insects.

Don’t use canned lentils if the can is damaged in any way⁠—if it is leaked, dented, bulged, rusted, or spurted liquid after opening.

Dry lentils are a durable food item and have a long shelf life. But, if the seeds start to smell off, are discolored, grow molds, or infested with insects, these are alarming signs that lentils are no longer safe for consumption.

If you think the lentils look okay, but not quite sure yet, try cooking a small amount. Assess the cooked lentils to decide whether to keep them or not. If lentils smell unpleasant or taste bad, there’s no better option than discarding the rest.

Cooked lentils and leftovers of canned lentils only stay fresh for a few days in the fridge. If usual signs of spoilage are spotted, such as off-smell, molds, unpleasant taste, you know what’s best to do. Plus, if you have kept them in the fridge for more than a week, it’s better not to use it.

If you have old canned lentils that still look perfectly fine, that’s good. But, it’s worth giving a thorough check. Check if there are any spoilage signs similar to cooked lentils. If that’s the case, they should not be on your dinner plate. 

How Long Do Lentils Last?

Both dry and canned lentils are a shelf-stable product. They can last for several years, with proper storage. Like other packaged products, a “best before” or “best by” date is stamped on the label. Respect this date for your purchase and consumption.

Of course, lentils won’t instantly go bad after the date. As long as the products are stored in ideal conditions and the packaging is still perfect, you can expect that they last for a few more months to a year after the date.

Once opened, dry lentils are best to use within a year. Meanwhile, leftovers of canned lentils should be treated like home-cooked lentils, which only stay fresh for a few days in the fridge.

Dry lentils (unopened)2 to 3 years after production date, orBest by + 6 months to 1 year
Dry lentils (opened)1 year 
Canned lentils (unopened)Best by + 1 to 2 years
Canned lentils (opened)3 to 4 days
Cooked lentils3 to 5 days

This table is a general estimate. The real shelf life depends on the preparation method and storage condition. For old lentils or when in doubt, it’s always worth inspecting signs of spoilage.


Are lentils gluten-free?

Lentils are naturally gluten-free. But, lentils can be processed in a facility that also processes ingredients containing gluten. Hence, there is a possibility of cross-contamination. As usual, it is worth checking the allergen information or consulting the manufacturer for further details.

Should I soak lentils before cooking?

Unlike other legumes, lentils only take around 10 to 30 minutes to cook, depending on the type and variety. Split lentils cook faster for only 5 minutes. Hence, soaking is usually unnecessary before cooking. Check the cooking instruction since every kind of lentils may require different cooking times.

Can you eat canned lentils raw?

Technically, canned lentils have been processed and are ready to eat. Follow the serving suggestion on the label.

Usually, reheating before consumption is recommended to better enjoy the food. You can reheat canned lentils in a microwave or a stovetop. But, heating is not necessary if you’re planning to add lentils into your salads. Either way, rinsing them before use is suggested to reduce the amount of salt.

Final Thoughts

Lentils are not only packed with nutrients but also make tasty dishes. Although lentils are a stable product that can last for years, they will go bad at some point.

Keep dry and canned lentils in a cool, dry place, such as your pantry or kitchen cupboard. Both lentils products can stay edible after the best by date. Cooked lentils and leftovers of canned lentils only last for a few days in the fridge.

Bugs and molds are signs that dry lentils shouldn’t be consumed, while any damages on the can mean that canned lentils are no longer safe to eat.

Off-smell, unpleasant taste, and molds are common symptoms that cooked lentils are spoiled. If any of these signs are spotted, you know what’s best to do.

lentils shelf life

*Photo by Anjela30/depositphotos

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