What is Barley?

Barley may be one of the well-known grains, as it is an ingredient in Grandma’s meat and barley soup and plays a crucial role in beer production. However, it has a far more varied role on the menu. It is the world’s oldest cultivated cereal and grows in various climates, making it an essential ingredient in many cuisines. Barley, one of the world’s top five portions of cereal, has existed since prehistoric times. It is believed that this versatile grain originated in Ethiopia or possibly western Asia.


Pearl barley, the most prevalent kind in the United States, technically does not qualify as a whole grain due to the removal of the outer bran layer. It is affordable, readily available, and simple to prepare, and it may be substituted for rice in various meals. The cooking time for the whole grain from barley groats is significantly longer.

Barley Nutrition Facts

Barley Nutrition Facts

What is Barley?

Barley is an essential food for both humans and animals. It is grown in over 100 countries and is one of the most common cereal crops, only surpassed by wheat, corn, and rice in popularity. Although barley is quite versatile and can be cultivated in numerous places, it is a delicate grain that must be harvested with care at all stages of its life.

In over half of the states in the United States, barley grows in dry areas and those that require commercial irrigation. It is a short-season crop that matures quickly. Primary applications include animal feed, seed, and malt production. A tiny proportion of barley is utilized in food products in the United States, including bread, cookies, soups, and pilafs. Malted barley is used to make whiskey and beer.

As a whole-grain food, barley delivers numerous health benefits when consumed. It is rich in soluble fiber, can lower cholesterol and glucose levels in the blood, and is low in fat.


Like brown rice and farro, barley has a somewhat chewy texture and nutty flavor when cooked. It serves as a neutral base for various recipes, including stir-fry, casseroles, protein bowls, and breakfast porridge.

What are the Different Kinds of Barley?

Even though there are only a few types of barley, the fact is that there are many different kinds of barley because of how it can be processed.

Hulled Barley

This is the real deal. Most of the hull is left on, so the bran layer remains intact. It’s also called whole wheat barley. This variety of barley is very nutritious and high in fiber and protein. It’s considered a whole grain in this form. It requires a longer cook time and is chewy, having a distinctive taste.

Hulless Barley

This is the barley that has the bran still intact, and just the outer shell or hull has been removed, and it’s still considered a whole grain.

Barley Grits

This form of barley consists of kernels that are toasted and then cracked into small pieces. They are similar to hominy grits, buckwheat grits, or oat groats. They can be used as a side dish or made into cereal. The determinations are considered a whole grain if the spirits come from hulled or hulless barley, and they come from pearl barley and are not considered a whole grain. This form of barley cooks in relatively shorter periods because the bits are more diminutive.

Barley Flakes

This type of barley is similar in appearance to rolled oats. The barley kernels have been sliced, steamed, rolled to become flakes, then dried. They are much like quick-cooking oats and cook for a short period. They have different levels of nutrition and fiber depending on whether they came from whole grain barley or pearl barley.

Barley Flour

This is also called barley meal. It has a low gluten content, so it is slow to rise. It’s usually mixed with other flours like whole wheat if used in something that needs to increase. It can also be used as a thickener. Again, if the flour is made from hulled or hulless barley, it will be whole grain, but if made from pearl barley, it cannot be considered a whole grain flour.

Pearl Barley

This is the type of barley most commonly used in the United States. It is also the most processed, and it is highly processed. If you have a choice to buy tan pearl barley over white barley, though, tan barley is “less” processed than white barley. This barley has been refined, so they are no longer considered whole grains.
This barley cooks faster and is a favorite for soups and stews.

It can also be used for any barley dishes, but again, most of the nutritious elements have been refined. Roughly two-thirds of its nutritional value is lost by converting it to pearl barley. Pearl barley is therefore considered a refined grain. Just remember that pearl barley is like white rice—it may have great flavor but is not substantially nutritious.

Quick Barley

This is pearl barley taken even further so that it cooks in 10–15 minutes. There is relatively little nutritional value left in the barley at this stage, having been refined to the max.

How to Cook Barley?

Cook pearl barley in the same manner as rice. Before serving, fluff 1 cup of barley with a fork. Additionally, you can use a rice cooker. Add two and one-half cups of liquid per cup of barley. Pre-soaking barley in plenty of water reduces the total cooking time. Barley can be pre-soaked for up to twelve hours, and soaking decreases cooking time to around 15 minutes. Barley can also be cooked in a pressure cooker; however, cook times can vary slightly between models, so be sure to follow the specific directions for your machine.

Although barley soup (including this variation with lentils) is likely the most common and well-known way to consume barley, it can be prepared similarly to couscous, quinoa, or rice. Serve a vegetarian curry or vegetable stir-fry over barley instead of rice, make a barley pilaf or a barley salad (just as you would with quinoa or rice), or add a handful to your favorite soup or salad.

Things to do with Barley

  • Try it in cabbage rolls, pilafs, soups, stuffing, side dishes, and salads. Give this beet and barley salad a try!
  • Enjoy barley as a hot cereal. Heat leftover plain barley with fortified soy or milk, or use barley flakes. Top with any fruit, nuts, or seeds on hand.
  • For a hearty breakfast, top leftover barley with a fried egg.
  • Replace ½ the all-purpose flour with barley flour in the muffin, pancake, scone, waffle, and quick loaf recipes. If the batter is a bit dry, you can add more liquid.
  • For yeast pieces of bread, replace ¼ of the all-purpose flour with barley flour.
  • Beef, mushrooms, onions, frozen green peas, sage, pepper, barley
  • Green lentils, celery, carrots, kale, onions, thyme, lemon, pepper, barley
  • Slivered almonds and chopped dried apricots
  • Lemon zest, grated parmesan cheese, chopped sautéed kale
  • Sliced cooked mushrooms and chopped parsley

What are the Health Benefits of Barley?


Here are the health benefits of barley:

  • As an excellent source of fiber, barley keeps the body clear of toxins. Its grass, high in dietary fiber, provides food for the beneficial bacteria in our big intestine. These bacteria aid in fermenting the barley’s fibers, producing butyric acid, the principal fuel for intestinal cells. It is extraordinarily good at preserving a healthy colon.
  • Barley is particularly beneficial since it enhances the body’s immune system and lessens the likelihood of catching a cold or the flu. Iron enhances blood volume and protects against anemia and weariness. Barley contributes to the healthy functioning of the kidneys and the formation of body cells.
  • Selenium is abundant in barley, which helps maintain skin suppleness and protects it from free radical damage and loosening. Additionally, it helps the functioning of the heart, pancreas, and immunological system. A selenium deficit can lead to skin, colon, prostate, liver, stomach, and breast cancers.
  • The barley’s insoluble fiber produces propionic acid, which aids in lowering blood cholesterol levels. In addition to being an excellent source of soluble and insoluble fibers, experts recommend it for its naturally low-fat content and absence of cholesterol.
  • Barley helps to manage Type 2 diabetes efficiently. However, this form of diabetes can be avoided by decreasing weight, engaging in intense physical activity, and eating a diet rich in whole grains. Therefore, these diabetes individuals should include high-fiber meals in their daily diet.

Where to Buy & Store Barley?

Find pearl barley at most grocery stores beside the dry beans and lentils. It is also frequently available in bulk bins. Barley groats, from which only the exterior hull has been removed, may be packaged and sold as hull-less barley, but they are not as widely available. You may need to visit a health-food store or search online to find them. Changing the cooking time properly makes switching one for the other simple.

Dry barley should be stored in an airtight container free from moisture and light and can be stored indefinitely, making it an excellent alternative for an emergency food supply. Refrigerate cooked barley and consume it within three to four days. It is possible to freeze plain cooked barley for up to six months, making it a perfect addition to a quick-cook dish or beverage.


Barley is a cereal grain that has a robust, nutty taste. Although hulled barley is more nutritious than pearled barley, both types are healthy and good sources of fiber, selenium, and several vitamins and minerals.

Since it is a thicker grain, barley requires a longer cooking time than most other grains and can be used as a pasta and risotto substitute. The texture of polished barley is delicate and fluffy. In addition, barley is a vital component in pastes and beverages like Japanese miso and whiskey.

As one of the ancient cereals, barley has been consumed by humans for approximately 10,000 years. Therefore, the next time you have a taste for a dish that our forefathers would also have appreciated, grab some barley and get cooking!