A Guide to Indian Dal, Lentils, Beans, and Pulses

So many different Indian foods are made with lentils. From kichidi (simple rice and lentils) to soups, flat breads and even some Maggie noodles (think Ramen noodles) are made from lentils. Beans and lentils are a primary source of protein for many vegetarians, and India is full of vegetarians.

Assortment of Dal, Beans, Pulses and Lentils by Indiaphile.info

When I was a kid, my mom used to try to get me to eat mung dal (soup) by calling it “French soup” and trying to convince me I would like it because I liked Western food. As an adult, lentils are more of a comfort food for me and I even like mung dal now.

What is Dal?

I know there is a lot of confusion on the difference between lentils, beans and dals. So let me try to clear some of it up.

Lentils are legumes shaped like a lens (wide in the middle and narrowed at the ends). In Indian food, “Dal” means lentil, but it also refers to a whole category of dishes made with dal.

Beans on the other hand are larger. Mung beans are not lentils and used to belong to the species that we commonly call bean but have been reclassified and so are no longer technically beans. It’s confusing!

The better word for all these little gems is pulse. A pulse is a dry legume that grows in a pod of one to 12 seeds. It includes beans, lentils, peas and other little seeds I commonly (but incorrectly) refer to as lentils or beans.

Indian pulses are usually available in three types: the whole pulse, the split pulse with the skins on, and the split pulse with the skins removed.

Dal is often translated as “lentils” but actually refers to a split version of a number of lentils, peas, chickpeas (chana), kidney beans and so on. If a pulse is split into half, it is a dal. For example, split mung beans are mung dal.

A stew or soup made with any kind of pulses, whole or split, is known as dal. If the whole pulse is cooked into a dry curry or stir fried simply with spices but not much liquid, it’s called kathor in Gujarati. Just remember, wet is dal, dry is kathor.

Pulses are used to make a wide variety of food in Indian cuisine. Desserts are commonly made with pulses. Pulses are often ground into flour, such as besan (garbanzo bean flour).

This flour is used to make a huge variety of foods such as vegetable pakora, khandvi, kadhi, sev, puda and so much more (the list of things you can cook with garbanzo bean flour is literally endless!). Pulses are also soaked and then ground into a paste (often with soaked rice) to make dishes like handvo, dosa and idlee. 

Adding pulses to your diet is a great way to eat healthier. They are so full of protein, fiber, iron and so many other nutrients. 

Here are some of the most commonly eaten dals, lentils and pulses in India (India is a huge country with a large variation in diet from place to place. This list is specific to what is most commonly eaten in Gujarati cuisine but also translates to many other parts of India). And if you are interested in adding more lentils to your diet, here is a great list of common non-Indian lentils by Oh My Veggies. Check it out!

 

Mung Beans

Whole and Split Mung Beans Mug Lentils by Indiaphile.info
Whole and Split Mung Beans

Mung beans (also known as green gram, Hindi: moong, Gujarati: mug), are little green seeds that are yellow inside. They have been eaten by Indians for thousands of years. Mung beans are used for both sweet and savory dishes in Indian cooking.

They are eaten whole, sprouted, split with the skins on and split with the skins removed. In fact, mung dal (split with the skins removed) is one of the most commonly used lentils in my kitchen.

Mung beans with their skins on have a flavor reminiscent of green leafy vegetables but the mung dal with the skins removed has a mild sweet flavor and is often used for desserts as well as making kichidi and mung dal.

Urad Dal

Urad Dal Lentils at Indiaphile.info
Urad, Urad Dal Chilka (split urad with skin), and Urad Dal (split urad without skin)

Urad (also known as black gram, black lentil, Hindi: urad, Gujarati: adad), is a little black seed with a white interior. It is very similar to a mung bean in size and shape but tastes entirely different. It has also been eaten in India for thousands of years and is highly prized. Urad has an earthy flavor and an unusual mucousy texture (it’s a good thing!) when it’s cooked. The popular, and amazing, dal makhani is made with urad. Papad (or poppadums) are usually made with urad dal as well.

Garbanzo Beans

Split Chana Dal and Garbanzo Beans by Indiaphile.info
Chickpea (Channa) – Split Channa, Desi Chana and Kabuli Channa. Kabuli Channa is the familiar Garbanzo bean common in the Mediterranean diet.

Garbanzo Beans (also known as chickpea, Bengal gram, Hindi: channa, Gujarati: channa). Garbanzo beans are found in two forms, the smaller dark skinned beans known as desi channa and the larger white skinned beans known as Kabuli channa. Garbanzo beans are commonly eaten in India in as whole beans, as split lentils and a multitude of dishes are also made with garbanzo bean flour (known as besan). Channa Masala is the most popular dish made with Kabuli channa.
Channa are slightly nutty in taste. The brown ones are earthier in flavor and tend have a drier texture.

Masoor Dal

Whole Masoor Dal and Split Masoor Dal lentils by Indiaphile.info
Masoor and Masoor Dal

Masoor (also known as red lentil, Hindi: masoor, Gujarati: masoor) is a brown skinned lentil that is orange on the inside. Masoor dal has a pleasant earthy flavor and is very common in Northern India. It is commonly used to make dal, soups and stews.

Pigeon Pea (Toor Dal)

Split Pigeon Pea Toor Dal Lentils by Indiaphile.info
Split Pigeon Peas (Toor Dal)

Pigeon Pea (also known as tropical green pea, Hindi: toor, Gujarati: tuver), is a beige lentil with a yellow interior. This is the most important pulse in a Gujarati household. The fresh peas are highly prized and used for curries and stuffing in spicy handpies. They have a delicious nutty flavor that is very distinctive. The dried and split peas are a staple in everyday cooking as well. The famous “Gujarati Dal” is made with this pea where the balance between spicy, sweet and sour is most important.

Black-Eyed Peas and Azuki

Black Eyed Peas and Azuki Beans by Indiaphile.info
Black Eyed Peas and Azuki Beans

Black-eyed pea (also known as cow pea, Hindi: lobia, Gujarati: chora). Black-eyed peas have a distinctive flavor and are an all around pulse in Indian cuisine. They’re used to make curries, dals, papads and fritters.

Azuki bean (also known as red cow pea, Hindi: chori, Gujarati: lal chora). Azuki beans have a sweet nutty flavor and are another all around pulse. They are used very much like black-eyed peas.

Other

Pea (Hindi: matar, Gujarati: vatana). Although split peas are uncommon in Indian cuisine, whole dried peas have a mild earthy flavor and a hearty mouth feel and texture. They are used for one the most beloved street food stews called ragda.

Kidney Bean (Hindi: rajma, Gujarati: rajma). Kidney beans have a strong earthy flavor and nice silky texture. They are made into a delicious curry simply called rajma. It is delicious eaten with rice. It is important to note that kidney beans can be toxic if not cooked properly. They must be pre-soaked and boiled for at least 30 minutes to ensure they are safe for eating. Do not cook them in the slow cooker because that multiplies their toxicity.

BeanStove Top Cook TimePressure Cooker  or Instant Pot TimePressure Cooker WhistlesSlow Cooker TimeSoak Time
Mung, whole 65 minutes 9 minutes 5low: 5  hours4 hours (optional)
Mung, split with skin 20 minutes 7 minutes 3 low: 4 hours 30 minutes (optional)
Mung, split 20 minutes 7 minutes 3 low: 4 hours30 minutes (optional)
Urad, whole 65 minutes 11 minutes 6 low: 6 hours 4 hours (optional)
Urad, split with skin 30 minutes 8 minutes 4 low: 4 hours 30 minutes (optional)
Urad, split 30 minutes 8 minutes 4 low: 4 hours 30 minutes (optional)
Garbanzo, brown 80 minutes 20 minutes 8 low: 8 hours 8 hours to overnight
Garbanzo, white 80 minutes 20 minutes 8 low: 8 hours 8 hours to overnight
Garbanzo, split (channa dal) 80 minutes 15 minutes 7 low: 7 hours optional
Masoor, whole 45 minutes 8 minutes 5 low: 7  hours optional
Pigeon Pea, whole 80 minutes 18 minutes 8 low: 8  hours 8 hours to overnight
Pigeon Pea, split (tuver dal) 35 minutes 8 minutes 5 low: 5 hours 30 minutes (optional)
Black-eyed Pea, whole 65 minutes 18 minutes 6 low:  7 hours optional
Black-eyed Pea, split 35 minutes 9 minutes 4 low: 4  hours optional
Adzuki, whole 65 minutes 17 minutes 6 low: 7 hours optional
Pea, whole 65 minutes 16 minutes 6 low: 7 hours 8 hours to overnight
Kidney Beans, wholeBoil for 30 minutes then simmer for 30 to 60 more minutes. 14 minutes 6Toxic. Do not cook in slow cooker. 8 hours to overnight

Cooking Notes:

Before you cook the pulses, sift through them to take out any pebbles or debris. Then rinse them a few times.

Pulses taste best when they are cooked slowly. When cooking pulses on the stove top, bring to a boil and lower heat to medium low and let simmer. Start counting the cooking time once the pot has come to a boil and not before. In the case of kidney beans, boil for 30 minutes before lowering heat to simmer.

If your pulses are old, they can take double the time to cook. If they haven’t softened in the time indicated, don’t worry. Just cook until soft. Make sure to add more water as needed.

When cooking pulses, hold off adding salt or acids (such as lemon or vinegar) until the end, or the they will not soften.

Water: If you are cooking on the stovetop or slow cooker, use about 3 to 4 times the water. In the instant pot or pressure cooker, two times the water will do. Always keep an eye on the stove and add more water if it starts to look dry.

Indian pressure cookers are a little different from the ones available in the West. They usually release steam regularly in what is referred to as “whistles.” These whistles are counted to determine cook time. They are not always accurate and can vary from cooker to cooker. So use these whistle counts as a guide and figure out what works best for your cooker.

Soaking: In the cases where soaking is optional, if you soak the pulses, it will reduce the cooking time. The cooking time I’ve mentioned is for unsoaked pulses where soaking is optional and for soaked pulses where soaking is recommended prior to cooking.

Slow cookers can be a great, convenient way to prepare pulses, just throw everything in in the morning and when you get home from work your food is ready. But some beans, e.g. kidney beans, are toxic until they are boiled (for at least 30 minutes), and slow cookers can actually make them more toxic. If you want to use the slow cooker on these beans, boil them for 30 minutes before adding them to the mixture, or use canned beans which are already boiled.

161 comments

      1. Thank you so much for this! I’m an American vegetarian and am getting more into pulses, being home more in the pandemic. You gave me great information, thanks so much!

  1. This is an incredible resource. I learned so much about the different kinds of “pulse” and the differences between them. Working with beans and lentils has been a little daunting for me in the past so I am bookmarking this post for future reference. Thank you so much!

  2. Thanks for the in-depth guide. I just bookmarked it! I am most familiar with French lentils, but I am open to exploring the ones listed above. So many possibilities :)!

  3. Wow very informative Puja! One year in draft mode is a super long time! Also, can’t believe red beans are listed as toxic (though I usually don’t slow cook my beans at this time). I’ll make sure to come here when I need a bean guide!

  4. This was really helpful. I’ve been searching for a guide like this for a long while so thank you! One thing, though: Is a “gram” the same thing as a pulse?

    1. Thanks Liz. I’m so excited that so many people are finding this post helpful.
      The term gram is used for several Indian pulses like mung, garbanzo and urad. As far as I can tell it’s just a reference to pulses. Hope this helps!

    2. Gram is a pulse generally called chana. Split- it’s chana dal n its flour is gram flour or chana flour or BESAN.

  5. This is very helpful for my new business to understand different between pulses and lentils. Thank You very much.

  6. Your blog has inspired me to open a desi restaurant chain selling different dals only.. Dal-roti-chutni…like that of a McDonald/subway…

  7. Many Thanks Puja, I am into export of Pulses , where we need to explain our clients the varieties of pulses but how they should make it was issues, which I think you have sorted out. otherwise I was teaching them only how to make “Rajma Chawal”. Thanks a lot for such a blog! Fully agreed to Robin’s Idea to make Desi food court

  8. Just found your website recently and I have to say “What a great resource and information! I really want to expand my palate in Indian cuisine and this chart is helpful for those of use unfamiliar with Indian cooking. I looking forward making your recipes. Thanks..

  9. Thank you! Your post contains in a precise way β€” exactly what I was looking for. And I couldn’t figure out what “whistles” meant since I have a pressure cooker made in USA!

        1. A whistle is part of Pressure Cooker which produce sound when pressure in cooker is more than it can withstand. You have Pressure Cooker made in USA or made at Moon doesn’t matter. It will have a whistle.

      1. I was ready to throw out the whole urad dahl as a failed product. I treated them like mung beans. Thank you for your clarity and comprehensive review.

        Hello from Newfoundland Canada.

        Jim Andrews

  10. Extremely useful. I just moved to India and was amazed to see so many different types of beans and lentils. Now I know what they are. Cannot wait to try them all. Thanks.

  11. Thanks for clearing that all up letting me know I eventually got it right. I’m new to Indian cooking and cooking with pulses and have been piecing together little things for over a year and still wasn’t 100% sure about things.
    This is a great page and resource for others out there just staring out and a real time saver, as speaking from a personal perspective it can take a long time to work all this out yourself if you are coming in with zero knowledge like I did a year ago ( I wish I had this page back then!)

  12. Your post is fantastic! Unfortunately, being very new to cooking Indian food, I’m still unsure and maybe you can clarify for me. Are mung beans also referred to as moong dal? πŸ™‚

  13. Hello, I’m on a low oxalate diet and can have legumes but not lentils… do any daals fall into the legume category?

  14. Very useful post. I was thinking of writing one on pulses and searched to see if anyone had already done it. So, saved me lots of research and effort. Thanks.

  15. Thanks Puja, had been the look out for right combination of lentils to be added to my diet and your writeup opens up the possibility of keeping it Indian and still have the trim low glycaemic meals.

  16. Hi Puja,

    This is great. Do you think you could do a similar guide on Indian chilis for cooking. My kids don’t like too much heat but I want to add flavor where I can.

    Thanks,
    Seema

  17. This is the most helpful version. I was so confused as to what was split/non-split/legume/lentil.
    Thanks for the effort!

  18. I knew most of this but i had no idea lal chawli was azuki. Every time I made a recipe, i substituted, thanks for the list.

  19. Thanks very good information on various dals. If you add proten, minerals and vitamin contents I hope it is better. Similarly also mention vitamins and minerals distroid while cooking and how to retain them.

  20. Thank you for this! My husband is allergic to lentils, peas, and kidney beans, but not to chick peas or mung beans. I was pretty sure that Urad Dal wasn’t a “true lentil,” but your list clarifies things further; i.e., that “lentil” is a loose translation of “dal” and refers to the lens-like shape and NOT necessarily the species. If you have room on a later chart, the Latin names of the various pulses might prove quite helpful for those trying to avoid particular species. Thanks again from BC, Canada, where indian pulses and spices are very readily available.

  21. HI , My name is Karuna, m newly married and my mother in law is great cook but learning from her its difficult as every indian household has different ways of cooking. So I m new to cooking and specially Dal is difficult.. firstly to identify which dal is what called in gujrati is so different.. your articles is actually very helpful for new bahu in kitchen like me.. Thanks alot for you post.

  22. This is amazing..I asked my husband to bring Moong Daal and her got Toor, which was something very new for me, so I searched and after disappointed from Wikipedia, found this little but very comprehensive information…Good work!! Will visit your page over and over, have added in my fav.

  23. Tanks for giving valuable information’s on cooking.

    I have a doughty that some times you mention Lentils as beans or pulses, some times Lentils as Masoor dal, if Masoor is Lentils then don’t use the word Lentils at all. If Lentils is different, please give photograph and explain about Lentils.

  24. Your website about beans/legumes, dal, etc., is great. There is one big problem, I want to live in India now that I am retired, but I find it too expensive to travel there from the Philippines, originally from the USA. I like lentils, mung and all other legumes. Your fotografs are great and make a person hungry.

  25. I was looking to find info on how Pigeon Peas the are green turn to Yellow when dried. It led me to this article. Very informative, but yet it doesn’t answer my question. Please reply if anyone knows.

  26. Thank you Puja for this.. I’ve taken a photo of the cooking times for all the daals.. Extremely simple and informative.. I’ve been wondering about all these dals for years and slowly branching out to try new ones.. Given a great new boost of confidence. Thank you again

  27. Thank you for your thorough explanation of the dals! I’ve always wondered about the cooking times. Would it be possible for you to add the stove-top cooking times since so few of us in the U.S. have pressure cookers (us non-Indians anyways).

  28. Hey Puja! I find this quite informative. Thanks for sharing.

    In the article, you have mentioned “Pulses are also soaked and then ground into a paste (often with soaked rice) to make dishes like dosa and idlee”. I assume that you are referring to wet grinding of the soaked pulses and soaked rice together to make a paste. Is it possible to create the same paste by using ground pulses’ powder and ground rice powder?

  29. Great post!! I am allergic to lentils and chickpeas, and I can only have “pulses” like mung and urad. But after reading this post I am beginning to think maybe I can try pigeon pea also, since you wrote that its a pulse, or did I misread it? I will also try Black Eyed Peas and Azuki Beans as the shape of them are not round like normal lentils which I cant have. Thanks again!!! This is by far the best guide I have seen on lentils πŸ˜€

  30. I just found your site and wanted to thank you for such an enlightening post. I was looking for a recipe on rava upma and just happened along your blog. Looking forward to exploring it more. Thanks!

  31. I came here trying to figure out the Indian name for what are marketed in America as “yellow lentils.” I think it’s tuver dal? If true, it might be worth a reference in this post; I can’t easily find another place that does the translation.

  32. Excellent write up, I need to enhance the content i have truly.

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  33. The comment on age of the dried pulses and cooking time is critical. For western cooks that may make Indian food as well as non-Indian food, using these items may result in half a package of an item to sit in a larder for months after purchase. So the comment on cooking times and the need for soaking is probably most relevant for open packages. It does raise a couple of questions about, “how old is old?” for items that are described both in terms of storage in warehouses and retail stores as well as our larder. I’m now somewhat convinced that most dried items are older than we think and take longer than we think as well.

  34. I really appreciate the time and research taken to make this informative website. Being newly diagnosed with type II diabetes, I am sure this will help me to improve my diet.
    Cheers

  35. Thanks so much for posting this. You answered so many of my questions. Whenever I go to an Indian or Oriental market I’m like a kid in a toy store. Everything looks so wonderful. I buy buy buy and get home and don’t know half of what I have or what to do with it. This article helps a lot.

  36. I would love to see that table with images of the dals next to them so i could print and keep in my kitchen. Thank you for this eye opening read.

  37. Great resource! You mention that some beans are toxic if not cooked, but I don’t see a list of those or a reference to toxicity in each description or in the cooking chart. Please add this detail to make this the only page a person needs to visit for complete information on lentils, beans, and pulses. Thank you!

  38. Many thanks for this site. it really helped me to understand the difference between all the legumes. I have a great book on Ayurvedic foods but it didn’t give any info about the different types of dal.. quite confusing. You have cleared this up. Many thanks

  39. A recipe I’m looking at asks for ‘Thur Dahl’ – I”m confused and so is Google. πŸ™‚ Can you help? Is it possible the book has spelt it wrong and it should say ‘Toor Dahl’ or what exactly am I looking for? Thank you so much.

    1. Hi Isabel! That sounds like it would be toor dal. There is a huge variation in the English spellings of words that are originally in Hindi (or any of the other Indian languages) because the Indian languages are written phonetically.
      If you can tell me what the recipe is, I can further confirm what lentil it would traditionally call for.

  40. Thanks so much for this article. I cook Indian dishes all the time and have slowly worked some of this out for myself, but it is great to have all the information summarised in one place. The next recipe I want to try is a South Indian peanut podi, and the recipe calls for gram putani. I am having a lot of trouble finding our if this is a specific pulse or… What? Can you help?

  41. This is a FANTASTIC post! I’m getting deeper and deeper into Ayurveda, and so into a lot of marvelous Indian foods, spices, and ways of preparing food.
    The chart is one of the best I’ve ever come across online. Would you happen to have comparable soaking and cooking times for Pinto beans and black beans?
    Thanks again!

  42. Hi Pooja, thanks for this great article. After mom passed away I have had to learn to cook Indian food for my papa and this is a great help. One thing that has been bothering me about making dal-sometimes I am getting a skin forming on the top of the dal. Like how hot milk forms a skin on top. I’m guessing it’s from the spices (chilli, turmeric, etc) Any tips on how to avoid this? Thanks again

  43. Thanks for the guide. It is indeed a great job. My first time to try pulses yellow deal and a little confused on how to make a ditch out of it. This article has guided and equip me fully on the varieties and ways to do the culinary…….Blessings

  44. THANK YOU!
    This is the best of the assorted sites google offered when I searched for “urad dal” — you tell me everything I needed to know — and more.
    With no ads, even!! You rock! Thank you for your research, experience, and generous service to anyone who might need to know.

  45. Love the informative post! Great photos too. Would just like to mention that kidney beans only need to be boiled for 10 minutes to kill the toxicity. 30 minutes won’t harm them though since they take so long to cook anyway. Also it’s a myth that if you add salt prior to cooking the pulses they won’t soften. There are many experiments online if you are interested in the science behind it but it’s safe to salt while cooking and in fact is preferable! Lastly.. after finally getting my hands on a pressure cooker, I have to admit the flavour of all pulses is far superior when cooked with it. I used to cook my pulses on the stove top and along with taking an extremely long time, I find they loose a lot of flavour in the process. When cooked in the pressure cooker they retain so much of their flavour! It doesn’t leach out into the cooking liquid I guess. Each person should try for themselves πŸ™‚

  46. I have been trying to find the alternative name for Dal Maash, a standard Pakistani dish. My memory suggests it is Channa dal, but the only reference I have found is to White Dal ( which I imagine to be Urad ?).
    Can you help

  47. I have a question on on Urad (sp?) dal….I generally gring my own wheat and was wondering if it were possible to grind the black lentils myself for use in my wet/grindet. Or would it be cheaper to just buy the flour already ground? I found a brand new wet grinder, still in the box at an estate sale for $10.00…!! A tremendous deal, it had never been used…so sounds like a perfect time to learn how to cook some Indian basics?

  48. Brilliant, understand so much more than I did and won’t feel like such an idiot when I do my sop at In dian supply store!
    Thank you

  49. This is an excellent resource. Especially since the western names are often country specific and the Indian names vary in spelling and by language. I think the scientific names would make this list complete!
    Thanks for putting this together.

  50. HI,THANKS FOR ELABORATING ,THUS I UNDERSTAND THE LENTILS ARE ONLY MASOOR AND URAD RIGHT? BECAUSE I HAVE BEEN ADVISED TO BE OFF LENTILS AS IAM ALLERGIC TO THEM

  51. This site is worth it’s weight in gold…I am vegetarian/vegan and started shopping at Indian stores several years ago…Thankyou for simplifying the bean/pulse /dal questions…Wonderful information..I understand why it took a year….Thankyou again..

  52. I know that this blog post was published some time ago, but I wanted to print the cooking chart, and thought other people might also appreciate a printable version. Thank you for this resource!
    Google Doc of Table

  53. Thank you for the conversion help between pressure cooking and stovetop cooking, as well as the recommended soaking times. Extremely helpful to a western novice!

  54. Wow this is mind blowing article fully packed with factual information.

    Thank you so much for writing this.

    If you get some time to update this article with nutrition values of each of the pulses, it would be awesome too.

    Thanks again!

  55. Hello Puja. What pressure do you use for pressure-cooker? Mine will do 5, 10 or 15psi depending on which weights are used.

  56. What an amazing and informative post. Thanks for sharing Puja!
    I was confused between dal and lentils. I have noticed that nutrition values, especially protein for lentils is way more than that of dal. That suggests that vegans could prefer lentils over dal to hit their daily protein requirements. Also, interesting to learn cultural aspects of food.

  57. I just found your blog and I wanted to thank you for this table of cooking (stove-top) and soaking times! So often it is difficult to find out how long to cook on stove top if using a dal/lentil uncommon in the West.

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