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Barley: A complete guide – sourcing, types, and cooking

One of the oldest cultivated wheats, barley is much more than just used for making fermented drinks! It's flexibility makes it a great choice for your pantry while it's fiber and minerals content can jazz up your next bread, soup, or even salad.

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When it comes to versatile grains, Barley goes way beyond beer. It’s a great whole grain to add to your kitchen pantry. Not only is it an ancient grain with a rich history dating back thousands of years, it is also a nutritional powerhouse packed with fiber and minerals.

In this guide, I’ll be diving into the world of Barley, from sourcing to the different types available, and sharing my favorite cooking tips to make the most of this hearty grain.

As one of the oldest cultivated wheats, Barley’s is so flexible. From adding it to soups and salads to using it as a base for a warm, comforting risotto, there’s no shortage of ways to incorporate barley into your meals. Plus, with its impressive fiber content, it’s an excellent choice for anyone looking to boost their overall health and well-being.

Let’s talk through the differences and provide helpful cooking tips, so you can master the use of this versatile grain in your own kitchen.

Barley nutrition

There are two main types of Barley, hulled barley and pearl barley, with the third type, pot barley, less common. There is also barley grits, barley flakes, quick barley, barley flour, and black barley, which I talk about below.

  1. Whole (Hulled) Barley, sometimes called “nude” Barley, has the inedible outer hull removed from the grain, but retains its fiber-rich bran and endosperm layers, which makes it a healthy and nutritious option.
  2. Pearled Barley is more processed, as both the outer hull and the bran and endosperm layers are removed, making it less nutritious than hulled barley. It still has some nutritional value and a delicious taste, so I use it occasionally for variety.
  3. Pot (Scotch) Barley is pearled, just liked Pearled Barley, but Pot barley has been pearled for a shorter amount of time and still has most of the barley bran intact

Here is a handy chart to see the differences in the most common types of Barley. In a 100 g (or 3.5 oz) serving of Barley, you’ll find:

NutrientWhole (Hulled) BarleyPearled BarleyPot (Scotch) Barley
Calories354 kcal352 kcal350 kcal
Total Fat2.3g1.2g1.5g
– Saturated Fat0.5g0.3g0.3g
– Polyunsaturated Fat1g0.6g0.7g
– Monounsaturated Fat0.2g0.2g0.2g
Total Carbohydrates73.5g77.1g76g
– Dietary Fiber17.3g15.6g16g
– Sugars0.8g0.4g0.5g
Thiamin (B1)0.65 mg0.19 mg0.23 mg
Riboflavin (B2)0.11 mg0.08 mg0.09 mg
Niacin (B3)4.6 mg4.2 mg4.4 mg
Folate (B9)32 mcg25 mcg28 mcg
Vitamin E0.6 mg0.1 mg0.2 mg
Calcium32 mg29 mg31 mg
Iron2.6 mg2.1 mg2.3 mg
Magnesium80 mg65 mg72 mg
Phosphorus221 mg221 mg220 mg
Potassium280 mg280 mg275 mg
Zinc2.8 mg2.3 mg2.5 mg
Copper0.4 mg0.4 mg0.4 mg
Cholesterol0 mg0 mg0 mg
Sodium8 mg9 mg9 mg
Remember that Barley is a naturally occurring grain and these values are approximate and can vary based on factors such as the specific variety of Barley and growing conditions.

How to cook Barley

Cooking Barley is easy and straightforward as you need Barley, salt, and water:

  • Combine the barley with water in a saucepan, adding a pinch of salt, and bring the mixture to a boil
  • Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer, and let it cook until it achieves a chewy but tender texture
  • For pearl barley, it usually takes around 25-30 minutes, while hulled barley needs 40-50 minutes to cook properly

Types of Barley

There are different types of barley to suit different culinary needs. In this section, I’ll explore the different types.

Whole (hulled) Barley

  • Description: The outermost hull is removed, but the bran and germ layers remain intact
  • Cooking Time: Longer (around 50–60 minutes)
  • Nutritional Profile: Higher in fiber and nutrients than more processed forms
  • Uses: Salads, soups, stews, and as a side dish

Hulled barley, also known as whole grain or dehulled barley, is the closest to its natural form. This type of barley has had the tough, inedible outer hull removed, leaving most of the bran layer intact. It’s a sturdy grain, resembling other ancient grains like farro, rye, wheat, amaranth, and kamut.

In terms of cooking, I love using hulled barley in soups and stews due to its firm texture, and I appreciate the fact that it’s a healthier option as it is a whole grain, retaining most of its nutrients like fiber and minerals. However, it takes longer to cook than other types of barley, usually around 40-60 minutes on the stovetop.

Pearled Barley

  • Description: Both the hull and bran layers are removed, leaving the endosperm
  • Cooking Time: Shorter (around 25–30 minutes)
  • Nutritional Profile: Lower in fiber and nutrients compared to hulled barley
  • Uses: Soups, risottos, and pilafs

Pearled barley is a more common type of barley and has been further processed by removing not only the outer hull but also most of the bran layer as well as the endosperm. This results in a much quicker cooking time (around 25-30 minutes), making it the go-to choice for many recipes.

Since it doesn’t have the whole grain status like hulled barley, it has fewer nutrients, but it still brings versatility to the table. I use pearled barley for salads, risotto-style dishes, and I’ve even seen it incorporated into desserts!

Pot (Scotch) Barley

  • Description: Partially pearled; some of the bran may remain
  • Cooking Time: Moderate (around 40–50 minutes)
  • Nutritional Profile: Slightly higher in fiber and nutrients compared to pearled barley but less than hulled barley
  • Uses: Similar to pearled barley; good in soups, stews, and salads

Pot barley, which is somewhere between hulled and pearled barley, retains more of the bran layer than pearled barley, but it’s still partially removed. It still has a higher nutrient value than pearled barley and provides a slightly chewier texture. Pot barley’s cooking time lies in between the two other types as well, taking approximately 30-40 minutes on the stovetop.

It’s a bit harder to find, but you can use it in pilafs, mixed grain dishes, or when you want a grain with a bit more bite but don’t have the time to cook hulled barley.

Barley Grits

  • Description: The barley kernel is toasted and cracked into smaller pieces
  • Cooking Time: Varies depending on the size of the grits
  • Nutritional Profile: Similar to the barley form it’s made from (either hulled or pearled)
  • Uses: Hot cereals, stuffing, and as a rice alternative

Barley grits are made by toasting barley kernels and then cracking them into smaller pieces. The size of the grits can vary, which will also affect their cooking time. Barley grits offer a hearty, chewy texture and a somewhat nutty flavor. They are often used in hot cereals, much like corn grits, and can also be used in recipes that call for rice or other grains.

Because they are made from cracked kernels, their nutritional profile is similar to the type of barley from which they are derived—either hulled or pearled. They are an excellent source of fiber if made from hulled barley but will have lower fiber content if made from pearled barley.

Barley Flakes

  • Description: Steamed barley kernels that are rolled and dried
  • Cooking Time: Quick (usually around 10 minutes)
  • Nutritional Profile: Similar to the barley form it’s made from
  • Uses: Breakfast cereals, granola, and in baked goods as an oat replacement

Barley flakes are created by steaming barley kernels, rolling them, and then drying them out. They resemble rolled oats in appearance and can be used in similar ways. Barley flakes cook quickly, usually in about 10 minutes, and can be used in breakfast cereals, muesli, and granola.

They are also a suitable replacement for oats in baked goods like cookies and bread. Like barley grits, the nutritional profile of barley flakes will depend on the type of barley used—hulled or pearled. They offer a convenient and quick-cooking option for incorporating barley into your diet.

Quick Barley

  • Description: Pre-steamed and dried for faster cooking
  • Cooking Time: Very short (around 10–12 minutes)
  • Nutritional Profile: Lower in fiber and nutrients due to the processing
  • Uses: Quick side dishes, salads, and in recipes requiring a fast cooking time

Quick barley is barley that has been pre-steamed and then dried to shorten the cooking time significantly. It can usually be cooked in about 10–12 minutes, making it a convenient option for quick meals. Because it is processed to speed up cooking, it generally has a lower fiber and nutrient content compared to less processed forms.

Quick barley is often used in salads, soups, and as a speedy side dish. Its softer texture makes it a versatile grain that can be used in a wide range of recipes where a quick cooking time is desirable.

Barley Flour

  • Description: Ground barley, can be made from either hulled or pearled kernels
  • Cooking Time: N/A (used in baking)
  • Nutritional Profile: Depends on whether it’s made from hulled or pearled barley
  • Uses: Baking, as a thickener in soups and stews

Barley flour is made by grinding barley kernels into a fine powder. It can be made from either hulled or pearled barley, which will affect its nutritional content. It has a slightly nutty flavor and can be used in a variety of baked goods like bread, muffins, and pancakes.

Often, barley flour is mixed with other flours to achieve a desired texture and flavor in baking. Because it lacks gluten, it’s not suitable for yeast bread unless mixed with wheat flour. Its high moisture retention makes it excellent for baked goods that benefit from moistness.

Black Barley

  • Description: An heirloom variety with a dark hull
  • Cooking Time: Longer (around 50–60 minutes)
  • Nutritional Profile: High in antioxidants due to the dark color
  • Uses: Visual contrast in dishes, salads, and side dishes

Black barley is an heirloom variety that stands out for its striking dark hull. It typically requires a longer cooking time, around 50–60 minutes, and offers a robust, chewy texture. Its dark color indicates a high antioxidant content, which adds to its nutritional benefits.

Black barley is often used as a visual contrast in dishes and is popular in salads and as a unique side dish. The flavor is rich and somewhat earthy, making it a standout ingredient in both taste and appearance.

Preparing and cooking Barley

In this section, I’ll cover some key steps to prepare and cook barley. I’ll guide you through the processes of rinsing and soaking, boiling and simmering, using a rice cooker and Instant Pot, cooking with the pasta method, and using a slow cooker.

Rinsing and soaking

When preparing barley, it’s essential to rinse it first to remove any dust or debris. To do this, I fill a pot with enough water to cover the barley by about an inch, swish it around, drain the water, and repeat until the water looks clean. While it’s not mandatory, I find that soaking barley for a few hours or overnight helps reduce cooking time and results in a more tender and even texture.

Boiling and simmering

Once the barley is rinsed and drained, I move on to cooking it. I usually use a saucepan with a lid, adding about 2.5 to 3 cups of water for each cup of barley, depending on how chewy I want the final product. A pinch of kosher salt added to the water brings out the barley’s natural flavors.

After bringing the water to a boil, I reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pot, and let it cook for 25 to 30 minutes for pearl barley, or 40 to 50 minutes for hulled barley. When it’s cooked to a tender but chewy texture, I drain any excess water and fluff the cooked barley with a fork.

Rice cooker and Instant Pot

For those who prefer a hands-off approach, using a rice cooker or Instant Pot is a convenient alternative. With a rice cooker, I follow the device’s instructions and use a 1:2.5 ratio of barley to water. In an Instant Pot, I add a cup of barley and 2.5 cups of water, secure the lid, and set the pressure cooker to high pressure for 20 minutes. After the timer beeps, I let the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes before releasing the remaining pressure and fluffing the barley with a fork.

Pasta method

For the pasta method, I bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then add the rinsed barley, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. I cook the barley until it reaches my desired tenderness, typically around 25 to 30 minutes for pearl barley and 40 to 50 minutes for hulled barley. Afterward, I drain the barley through a fine-mesh strainer, saving some of the cooking liquid to adjust the consistency of my final dish.

Slow cooker

Lastly, cooking barley in a slow cooker is yet another option. For this method, I use a 1:3 ratio of barley to water and cook on low heat for about 2.5 to 3 hours, or until the desired texture is achieved. This method is particularly useful when making soups or stews, as the barley absorbs the dish’s flavors while cooking.

Barley flour

One thing to explore with Barley is Barley Flour made with Hulled Barley.

I rinse my Barley in water, dry it on a towel for about 24-hours, make sure it’s free of any debris, and then it’s ready to be ground in my mill. I typically store milled flour in large-mouth mason jars.

Barley flour is a versatile ingredient and can be used in SO many ways. If you want to know how to mill Hulled Barley into flour, here is my step by step guide: How to mill Hulled Barley for flour.

Here are some ideas on how to use Barley flour:

  1. Baking: Barley flour is frequently used in baking due to its slightly sweet, nutty flavor. It’s often combined with wheat flour to make bread, as barley flour alone doesn’t rise as much due to its lower gluten content. It’s also used in the preparation of flatbreads, rolls, muffins, pancakes, and biscuits
  2. Thickening agent: Its fine texture makes barley flour an excellent thickener for soups, stews, gravies, and sauces. It can provide a more subtle flavor compared to wheat flour
  3. Nutritional enhancement: Barley flour is a great way to boost the fiber and nutritional content of recipes. It’s often added to smoothies, yogurt, and breakfast cereals for this reason.
  4. Alternative flour for batters and coatings: Barley flour can be used as a coating for fried foods or as a base for batters. It provides a unique flavor and texture that differentiates it from more traditional coatings
  5. Denser baked goods: Due to its health benefits, including high fiber content and potential to lower blood glucose and cholesterol levels, Barley flour is often used in health food products like energy bars and protein-rich snacks. These type of baked goods don’t need a high gluten content to help it rise, making Barley flour a good option
  6. Incorporation in desserts: Barley flour can be used in cookies, cakes, and other desserts, but almost always in combination with other wheats. When used in desserts, it often imparts a moist, dense texture and a rich, earthy flavor.

Barley in recipes

Barley works great in almost any recipe that calls for rice. This is a Barley risotto, called a “Barlotto.”

Barley is a versatile and nutritious grain that can be used in a variety of dishes. In this section, I’ll discuss some delicious ways to incorporate barley into your meals, including soups and stews, salads and sides, main courses, and breads and porridge.

Barley soups and stews

One of my favorite ways to use barley is in soups and stews. Barley adds a pleasant chewiness and helps thicken the broth, making the dish more satisfying. I particularly enjoy making a hearty beef and barley soup, which is perfect for a filling lunch or dinner during colder months. Barley goes well with other ingredients, such as vegetables and legumes, making it a great addition to vegan soups as well.

Salads and sides

Barley can also be used in salads and side dishes, offering a satisfying alternative to rice or pasta. I love using barley in whole grain salads, as it brings a unique texture and flavor that complements various ingredients. One of my favorite barley salads includes wheat berries, fresh vegetables, and a tangy dressing, perfect for a light lunch or a refreshing side dish. Barley also makes an excellent risotto-style dish, providing a chewier texture than traditional Arborio rice.

Main courses

As a main course, barley can be used as a base for creative and delicious dishes. I’ve experimented with using barley in place of rice for stir-fry, creating a wholesome and filling meal. It also works well in casseroles, providing additional fiber and nutrients to keep me feeling full and satisfied. For a delicious vegan option, I enjoy making a barley-based grain bowl with roasted vegetables, avocado, and a flavorful sauce.

Breads and hot cereals

Finally, barley can also be incorporated into breads and hot cereal. By adding barley flour to my bread recipes, I create a unique texture and flavor that is both comforting and nutritious. For a fiber-rich breakfast option, I like preparing barley hot cereal instead of traditional oatmeal, topped with fruit and a drizzle of honey. This high-fiber alternative gives me the energy I need to start my day, while also tasting delicious.

Cooking tips and techniques

When it comes to cooking Barley, I’ve found some helpful tips that can bring out the best flavors and textures.


  1. Rinse and soak: Rinse barley before cooking to remove any debris. Soaking it for a few hours can shorten the cooking time and make it easier to digest
  2. Water ratio: Generally, the water-to-barley ratio is about 3:1 for pearled barley and 4:1 for hulled barley. However, you can adjust this based on your desired texture. I’ve made a few adjustments to this rule in my cooking recommendations above
  3. Cooking time: Pearled barley takes about 25–30 minutes to cook, while hulled barley can take up to 50–60 minutes. Pot barley usually takes somewhere in between. Cook until the grains are tender but still have a bit of chew
  4. Seasoning: Add salt after the barley has softened to prevent it from becoming tough. Other seasonings like bay leaves, garlic, or vegetable broth can be added for extra flavor
  5. Batch cooking: Barley is great for batch cooking. Make a large pot and freeze in portions for quick and easy future meals
  6. Versatility: Use cooked barley in salads, soups, or stews. It’s also great as a risotto replacement or a base for grain bowls. Check out my risotto reciepe


  1. Flour substitute: Barley flour can be used to replace up to half the all-purpose flour in recipes for baked goods. Keep in mind it will produce a slightly nuttier flavor and may affect the texture
  2. Moisture: Barley flour tends to retain moisture well. This can be advantageous in recipes like muffins and quick breads that have a batter over a dough
  3. Adjust cooking time: Due to its moisture retention, you may need to adjust the cooking time to cook a little bit longer when using barley flour in recipes
  4. Sugar adjustment: The natural sweetness of barley may allow you to reduce the sugar in your recipes slightly, which is great if you are looking to eat lower calories or low glycemic index foods
  5. Flatbreads and pancakes: Barley flour works well in flatbreads and pancakes, offering a unique flavor and nutrient boost

General tips

  1. Check for freshness: As with any grain, make sure your barley is fresh for the best flavor. Store it in a cool
  2. Nutrient retention: To keep the nutrients intact, avoid rinsing barley after it has been cooked
  3. Texture management: For a softer texture, you can let cooked barley sit in its cooking water for a few minutes before draining

Storage solutions

As a fan of barley, I’ve learned the best ways to store both uncooked and cooked barley. In this section, I will share my tips on how to properly store cooked barley and the options available for freezing it.

Properly storing cooked Barley

After I’ve cooked my barley, whether it’s pearl or hulled barley, I make sure to let it cool to room temperature before transferring it to a storage container. Use airtight containers or resealable plastic bags to maintain freshness.

It’s important to remember that cooked barley will last up to 5 days in the fridge.

Freezing options

If I know that I won’t be consuming the cooked barley within the next few days, I free it. Freezing barley extends its shelf life and maintains its flavor and texture.

Before placing the cooked barley in the freezer, I follow these steps:

  1. Let the barley cool: After cooking, I let the barley cool completely to room temperature.
  2. Prepare the container or bag: I use airtight, freezer-safe containers or resealable freezer bags for storing the barley. I make sure that the containers are properly labeled with the storage date.
  3. Portion the barley: I find it helpful to divide the cooked barley into single-serving or recipe-sized portions before freezing. This way, I can easily grab the right amount when I need it.
  4. Store in the freezer: I place the container or bag in the freezer, ensuring that it’s not overfilled to allow for expansion during freezing.
  5. Reheat when needed: When I want to use my frozen barley, I simply remove the required amount and reheat it in the microwave or on the stovetop until it’s warm and ready to eat.

Freezing cooked barley can extend its shelf life to around 3-4 months. So, when I prepare large batches, this storage method always comes in handy.

Substituting Barley for other grains

When I want to mix things up in my kitchen, I often substitute barley for other grains in various recipes. Not only does barley add a unique texture to dishes, but it also provides additional fiber and minerals. Let me give you some ideas on how to replace other grains with barley in your cooking.

  • Rice: Let’s start with rice. Barley makes a great alternative to both white and brown rice in many dishes. When you use barley instead of rice, you can enjoy a nuttier and chewier texture in your meals. It works particularly well in dishes like stir-fries, casseroles, and as a side dish.
  • Quinoa: If quinoa is your go-to grain, try using barley as a substitute in your salads, protein bowls, and other side dishes. While quinoa is gluten-free and higher in protein, barley offers a unique flavor and texture that works well in many recipes. Keep in mind that barley contains gluten, so it might not be suitable for those following a gluten-free diet.
  • Corn: When it comes to corn, one way to incorporate barley is by adding it to dishes like soups and chilis. Barley can give your dish a heartier feel and more depth of flavor than corn would on its own. You can also replace cornmeal with barley flour to make a delicious, nutty-flavored cornbread alternative.

I’d like to share some of my favorite ways to use barley as a substitute for other grains in side dishes:

  • Barley pilaf: Replace rice with cooked barley and sauté it with onions, garlic, and your choice of vegetables. Season with your favorite herbs and spices for a tasty and nutritious side dish.
  • Barley salad: Swap out quinoa, couscous, or other grains with cooked barley and mix it with your favorite salad ingredients like tomatoes, cucumbers, and leafy greens. Toss with a light vinaigrette dressing for a fresh and delicious salad.
  • Barley and bean chili: Use barley instead of corn in your chili recipe for a heartier and more filling meal. Combine cooked barley with beans, tomatoes, and your favorite chili spices for a warm and satisfying dish.

Frequently asked questions

What are different types of Barley for cooking?

There are several varieties of barley that I can use in my cooking, but some of the most popular ones include whole (or hulled) barley, pearl barley, and pot (or Scotch) barley. Each of these varieties offer unique flavors and textures, making them suitable for different dishes and culinary applications.

How do you properly source Barley?

When it comes to sourcing Barley, I want to find products that are not only high in quality but also grown in sustainable ways. To achieve this, I look for organic, non-GMO, and locally-grown barley whenever possible. I can find these products in health food stores, farmers markets, or online retailers. I’ve purchased Barley from Azure Standard.

What is the difference between Hulled Barley and Pearled Barley?

Hulled barley, also known as barley groats, is a minimally processed whole grain where only the inedible outer hull is removed, retaining the bran and germ layers. On the other hand, pearl barley has undergone polishing or “pearling” to remove some or all of the outer bran layer along with the hull. As a result, pearl barley cooks quicker and has a softer texture, while hulled barley has a nuttier flavor and higher nutritional value.

What are some popular Barley recipes?

Barley can be used to create a variety of delicious and nutritious dishes. Some popular barley recipes that I enjoy include:

  • Barley risotto
  • Beef and barley soup
  • Barley salad with roasted vegetables
  • Mushroom and barley pilaf
  • Barley-stuffed bell peppers

These recipes showcase barley’s versatility, allowing me to incorporate this nutritious grain into my daily meal rotation.

How can Barley be used as a flour substitute?

Barley flour, which is made from ground barley, can be a great substitute for wheat flour in various recipes. I can use it in combination with other flours to create an array of baked goods like bread, muffins, pancakes, and cookies. By incorporating barley flour into my recipes, I can add extra nutrients and a distinct, slightly nutty flavor to my dishes.

What are the best cooking methods for Barley?

Depending on the desired outcome and type of barley I am using, there are several cooking methods to choose from. Some of the best cooking techniques for barley include boiling, simmering, baking, or using a pressure cooker. Each method offers a unique result, such as a fluffy texture with boiling, a creamy consistency with simmering, or a toasty flavor with baking. It’s up to my personal preferences and the specific recipe to decide which method works best for my barley dishes.