Toor dal - is it supposed to smell sweet?

I bought a bag of toor dal (split pigeon peas) at a local Indian market. The brand is Santos, which appears to be a local Bay Area brand of beans and such.

On cooking the dal for the first time, I was a bit put off by the smell. It smells sweet - somewhere between maple syrup and WD-40, and this is also a bit perceptible in the taste of the dal. Afterward, I did some googling and found that toor dal is sometimes coated in castor oil for preservative purposes. So before I cooked another batch tonight, I followed the recommendation for oiled dal and soaked it in multiple changes of water for about 24 hours to get rid of any oil.

It does not appear that this dal is oiled - there was no obvious oil slick in the soaking water when I discarded it, and it had no smell before cooking. So I boiled it again and yep, it’s releasing that same sweet smell again.

Is this just how dried pigeon peas are supposed to smell when cooked, or is something else going on to cause this odor?

@Saregama know by chance?

I haven’t bought split pigeon peas, but I buy and cook dried pigeon peas regularly, and have never noticed that.

I regularly buy Spices and Lentils from Santos and have never had any problems with adulterated products.
Toor Dal does have a hearty, slightly sweetishness to it. Not sweet to the taste though.
Are you adding anything to the Dal? Fenugreek has a distinctly Maple Flavor.

Sauteed onions and a little garlic, but that was pretty much it for this batch (plus salt and black pepper). It really does have that vanillin scent that they add to WD-40!

This time around I discarded much of the cooking water before eating, and cooked the dal down quite a bit longer than usual. Both of these seemed to reduce the odor quite a bit. I don’t hate the taste to the point I want to throw out the rest of the bag - mainly, I just want to make sure it’s not dangerous to keep eating the stuff.

Onions and garlic develop strange off-flavors (sweet and metallic) in the slow cooker if not sautéed first. Could that be a factor?

Oily toor dal is noticeably oily - its darker, and you can feel the oil when you rub the lentils between your fingers. It’s usually labeled as “oily”.

I buy regular (non-oily) toor dal often (I cook it every 10 days or so), and I’ve never noticed a sweet smell to it. I wonder if you are just smelling the natural odor of it and it seems sweet to you? It does have a smell to it but I wouldn’t say it was sweet.

Very unlikely in this case. I sautee onions in this same steel pot all the time and never notice this smell in other one-pot dishes that contain them.

The other possibility I’ve wondered about is whether this batch of lentils could have been split by a machine that had just been lubricated, and traces of lubricant ended up in the product. Odd that I smelled the bag before cooking this time around and didn’t really notice any smell until after cooking, though. It is certainly possible that this is the normal smell of the stuff; I am going to buy a different brand and see if there is any difference.

Adding to what others have said, I do think tuvar / toor / tuver has a slightly more distinctive flavor / aroma.

Oiled dal is obvious - oily and darker. It’s unusual to find outside an indian store.

Do you soak your lentils as a matter of course? I always do, and change the water at least once especially with heavier / harder to digest dals (toor, urad) and all beans. I won’t eat unsoaked versions (assuming I know - I have reacted after eating them when I didn’t know).

I do not discard cooking water after this, rather adjust the amount of water I add for cooking according to the consistency I’m going for - 1:1 for thick, all water absorbed, 1:2 for a thick dal that can then be diluted as needed. Almost always pressure cooked.

In terms of aromatics, I don’t have an issue with using raw onion / garlic - many recipes call for dal to be pressure cooked first with raw onion / chili / ginger / garlic, and tempered later with more of the same plus spices.

It is entirely possible you just don’t like toor dal or are sensitive to it. I have family members who discovered they are allergic to toor but not anything else. Of the “daily” dals - yellow moong, red masoor, toor - toor was considered the heaviest and hardest to digest, which in modern parlance may mean that there is broadly a higher risk of sensitivity / allergy.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold