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  • Writer's pictureThe White Punjabi Bride

A Comprehensive Guide To Indian Dal

Updated: Mar 8, 2020

A Comprehensive Guide To Indian Dal

There are an overwhelming number of different varieties of dal that it can be confusing to know the difference between them, especially when they all look so similar. It also doesn’t help when many websites actually give you the wrong information. The amount of websites that had the wrong information was actually surprising. Many so called experts had incorrectly identified the different types of lentils that they had pictured.

I’ve done a lot of research to put this visual guide together with the most commonly used names. If I’ve incorrectly identified a lentil or if any of the Indian names are incorrect or not listed, then please leave a comment. My husband only knows Punjabi and Hindi therefore those are mostly the names included.

So here is your go to guide of the most common lentils for your reference, as lentils are a great staple to keep in the pantry. In this article you’ll find pictures of each lentil with its English and Indian name, the differences between lentils, cooking guidelines and a downloadable quick reference guide.

What exactly is dal? Essentially it’s the Indian word for lentil and it also refers to a lentil based dish. Though technically Dal is only used to refer to split lentils. Lentils are a pulse, and pulses are the dried seeds of legumes such as beans and peas. For example a pea pod is a legume, the peas found inside the pod are considered a pulse once dried. Gram seeds are also part of the pulse family as they come from legumes just as peas and beans do. They slightly differ in terms of texture and shape of the seeds. However, it should be noted that a gram is more often than not referred to as a bean nowadays.

A Visual Guide To The Different Varieties Of Lentils
Pin Me For Later! A Visual Guide To Indian Dal/ Lentils

Lentils can be purchased whole, with husk, dehusked or split just to add to the confusion. Dehusked or hulled simply means that the outer skin has been removed. You can easily identify if a lentil is whole, with husk, dehusked or split by its Indian name. Typically the term dal is used to refer to split lentils, while the term sabut refers to the whole lentil, dhuli refers to a dehusked lentil and chilka refers to the lentil with the husk still on.

I’ll use black gram as an example as they’re commonly sold in all four varieties. There are multiple ways to spell the Hindi name of these lentils and the order of the name can also be different. From what I researched I can only hope this is the correct order I’ve used as I’m no expert at Hindi. But all you really need to know is the key words to identity whether the lentil is whole, with skin, without skin or split and the type of lentil.

A whole black gram is known as sabut urad, urad chilka dal is the split with skin on version, urad dhuli dal is the split hulled version and you can also buy whole hulled black gram which are known as sabut dhuli urad.

So if we take sabut dhuli urad and break it down, sabut refers to it being a whole lentil and dhuli refers to the skin being removed, or hulled. While urad is the type of lentil which is a black gram. Therefore no matter the spelling or order of the lentil name you can easily identify what you are buying.

Dal - Split Sabut - Whole Dhuli - Without husk Chilka - With husk

How should lentils be stored? What makes lentils such a great pantry staple isn’t just their versatility in cooking, nor their affordable price, but they’re easy to store and have a long shelf life. If you store them in an airtight container in a cool dry place they’ll last probably as long as it takes you to empty the jar. Typically they stay fresh for up to a year after they’ve been harvested and dried. They’re still edible after this timeframe however they will take longer to cook and may loose some of their freshness. Using an airtight container ensures that no creepy crawlers will be able to get in and it will keep the moisture out.

How do I cook lentils? When you use lentils in a recipe the cooking time allows for the lentil to be thoroughly cooked. So there’s really no need to worry too much. But if you’re learning to cook from scratch it’s difficult to know how to cook lentils.

As a rule of thumb any split lentil typically are quick to cook and will be soft and pulpy in texture once cooked. Most split varieties take approximately 30 minutes or more to cook. Whole lentils with their husk tend to be much firmer in texture and hold their shape when cooked. Whole lentils generally take 60 minutes or more to cook thoroughly.

The larger the lentil the longer it will take to cook, such as chickpeas which need over a couple of hours to become soft. Whole and dehusked lentils will cook slightly quicker and be a little less firm in texture. This is just a rough guideline as it does depend on the method of cooking and the temperature. If you use a pressure cooker that will cook a lot faster than boiling in a saucepan.

What if I don’t have the right lentil that a recipe requires? Substituting lentils is easily done as many have similar cooking times and textures. However depending on the lentil they will vary in flavour, but not dramatically.

Any of the smaller varieties of split dehusked lentils can easily be substituted as they have similar cooking times. For instance petite yellow lentils, split red lentils, split white lentils, or split yellow lentils. The larger varieties of split dehusked lentils such as split green peas or split chickpeas have similar cooking times and textures therefore can easily be substituted. Then any of the whole lentils hulled, again, are similar so can be substituted. Any whole lentil with it’s husk can be substituted based on size such as green mung beans, black gram, adzuki beans are all similar in size therefore have similar cooking times.

Essentially you can substitute any lentil with any lentil, though as a rule of thumb to achieve the same result stick to substituting soft lentils for soft and firm lentils for firm. I refer to the texture once cooked when I say soft and firm. As you wouldn’t want to use a soft pulpy lentil if you’re making a salad or a firm lentil in a curry when you want to achieve a smooth and creamy texture.

So what are the different types of lentils? Given that there are an array of different pulses from peas, grams to beans and they come in an array of options from whole, split, dehusked, husk on and a combination of these. I’ve listed the more common varieties used in Indian cooking and what’s commonly sold at your grocery or specialty store. These are all the varieties I keep in my pantry, as it’s great to mix up what lentil you use in recipes. That way there’s less chance of becoming bored!

Note that there are multiple ways to spell the Indian names of these lentils so I may not have used the correct or the more common way of spelling. I’ve written the Punjabi names how they are pronounced in English and the Hindi names are what I’ve researched. If you believe any of them are incorrect or if you know any of the names I’ve missed then please leave a comment.

Some of the Indian languages can cross over for example a Punjabi name by origination, may also be commonly used in Hindi. Or sometimes both Hindi and Punjabi have similar words in their language. Though what also happens is that some Punjabi Indians speak both Punjabi and Hindi, though refer to their language as Hindi even if it’s actually Punjabi. Simply because the national language is seen to be elite. So you might come across some websites with the Punjabi names referred to as Hindi. Though all that doesn’t matter as long as you can learn to identify the different dals.

Indian Dal Names

In English, Hindi & Punjabi

Whole Brown Lentils

Hindi: Sabut Masoor

Whole Brown Lentils
Whole Brown Lentils

Also known as sabut masoor, these lentils are smooth and brown in colour with a reddish tint. Given the reddish tint they are also referred to as whole red lentils by some. Though brown lentils have a red interior therefore the hulled variety of brown lentils are actually what is known as whole red lentils. Brown lentils can easily be substituted for green or french lentils given their similarities in texture and cooking times. These lentils hold their shape once cooked so are perfect to use for salads and other recipes that require a firm lentil.

Hulled Brown Lentils Split

Hindi: Masoor Dal

Hulled Split Brown Lentils
Hulled Split Brown Lentils aka Red Lentils

Known as masoor dal in Hindi, these split red lentils are simply brown lentils hulled and split. These are one of the more common lentils and are typically referred to as split red lentils. When cooked they become soft and pulpy so are a popular choice for cooking lentil curry or soups. Red lentils can be substituted for any other split hulled lentil as they all have similar cooking times.

Whole Black Gram Hindi: Sabut Urad Punjabi: Ma Di

Whole Black Gram
Whole Black Gram

These small round black beans are scientifically known as vigna mungo, or can also be known as sabut urad in Hindi, mah di in Punjabi, black matpe bean, black lentils, black beans or black gram. They’re one of the more common varieties used in Indian cuisine and can be purchased hulled, hulled and split and split.

Black gram is a closely related species to the mung bean, but with dull grey-black seeds, and pods borne throughout the bush. It is relatively more difficult to harvest as pods are set lower on the plant and maturity is often uneven.

Whole black gram also mustn’t be confused for black turtle beans as they’re almost identical in appearance and are both often referred to as simply black beans. Though black gram are smaller in size and when side by side can easily be differentiated. Black gram is also often mistaken for black beluga lentils or French black lentils which are both flat and disc like in shape.

Split Black Gram With Husk

Hindi: Urad Chilka Dal

Split Black Gram With Husk
Split Black Gram With Husk

Split black gram are simply the whole variety with their husk on, split. They’re known as urad chilka dal in Hindi, split black gram with their husk, or split black beans with their husk.

Whole Hulled Black Gram

Hindi: Urad Gota

Whole Hulled Black Gram
Whole Hulled Black Gram aka White Lentils

These whole white lentils are simply whole black gram hulled. They are known as urad gota, sabut dhuli urad, white lentils or whole black gram hulled.

Split Hulled Black Gram

Hindi: Urad Dhuli Dal

Punjabi: Ma Di Dal

Split Hulled Black Gram
Split Hulled Black Gram

White lentils split are simply black gram hulled and split. They’re known as urad dhuli dal in Hindi or ma di dal in Punjabi. Split white lentils are similar in appearance to sesame seeds. They’re soft when cooked but don’t go as pulpy as petite split yellow lentils or split red lentils.

Whole Green Mung Bean

Hindi: Sabut Moong

Punjabi: Moongi

Whole Green Mung Bean
Whole Green Mung Bean

Whole green mung beans are scientifically known as vigna radiata, sabut moong/mung, green gram, hara moong or moongi in Punjabi. (pronounced mun-ghee) They are one of the better known varieties in the west and are also popular in India.

In the pulse industry, the term ‘mungbean’ refers to mainly green-seeded types with pods borne toward the top of the plant. Although the whole green mung bean does appear similar to the black gram.

The mung bean is another popular pulse used in Indian cuisine and is versatile as it is used in both sweet and savoury dishes. It can easily be substituted for any other whole lentil of similar size as they all have similar cooking times and texture. Such as black gram, black eyed peas or adzuki beans.

Split Green Mung Bean With Husk

Hindi: Moong Chilka Dal

Split Green Mung Bean With Husk
Split Green Mung Bean With Husk

Green mung beans are also available split with their husk on and are known as moong chilka dal. They have a green exterior and yellowish white interior.

Split Hulled Green Mung Bean Hindi: Moong Dal

Punjabi: Moongi Dal

Split Hulled Green Mung Bean
Split Hulled Green Mung Bean aka Petite Yellow Lentils

Petite yellow lentils are split and hulled green mung beans, which are also available whole. They’re more commonly known as mung/moong dal in Hindi or moongi dal in Punjabi. (pronounced mun-ghee) Split hulled mung beans are yellow in colour and are small round like lentils.

They shouldn’t be confused with other yellow lentils given they can all be known as yellow lentils. Split pigeon peas, split yellow peas and split chickpeas are also known as yellow lentils but are larger in size. Split pigeon peas are flat and disc like in shape. While split chickpeas are chunky and are a rough semi circle shape, as are split yellow peas.

When cooked petite yellow lentils become soft, pulpy and rather creamy in texture so are great for cooking lentil curry. They can easily be substituted for any other hulled split lentil as they all have similar cooking times and texture once cooked

Split Pigeon Peas

Hindi: Arhar Dal

Punjabi: Toor Dal

Split Pigeon Peas
Split Pigeon Peas aka Yellow Lentils

Split pigeon peas are another one of the more common lentils and are known as arhar dal, toor dal or yellow lentils. As they’re typically retailed as yellow lentils in western grocery stores they’re easily mistaken for split hulled green mung beans or split chickpeas. They’re slightly larger than split hulled green mung beans, and are flat disc like in shape.

Green Lentils

Hindi: Laird

Green Lentils
Green Lentils

Green lentils are known as laird in hindi and are more of a moss green, almost brown colour and are large and flat shaped. They’re one of the larger lentils so take a little longer to cook. When cooked they keep their shape and have a firm texture which makes them perfect for salads.

French Lentils

Lentilles Du Puy

French Blue Lentils
French Blue Lentils

These are a blueish greenish black colour and can also be referred to as either black, blue or green lentils, but officially they’re known as lentilles du puy. Whilst these aren’t a commonly used lentil in Indian cuisine I thought I’d include them to help differentiate between other black lentils. When cooked they’re perfect for salads as they hold their shape and are firm to the bite. Out of all the lentils these would be my first choice for use in salads as they hold their shape the best and have a pop in your mouth like texture.

Split Green Peas

Hindi: Hara Matar Dal Punjabi: Hara Matar Dal

Split Green Peas
Split Green Peas

Split green peas are not only one of the more common varieties in the west but also across India. The common green pea is versatile, it’s used in an array of dishes as it’s always readily available and affordable. They’re easily identified, as the name suggests, they’re green and look just like the common green pea. Peas are known as matar in Punjabi (pronounced muh-tar) and Hindi, while the split variety are known as hara matar dal.

Whole White Chickpeas Hindi: Chana

Punjabi: Cholay

Whole White Chickpeas