Learn how to cook barley with our helpful guide. We teach you all you need to know like soaking and prep tips, cooking techniques, and ideas for flavoring.
Barley gives me that same warm and snuggly feeling that you get from pasta, except this grain is FAR more healthy for you to eat. It's deliciously chewy and very hearty which will help you to feel satisfied at mealtime. And because of all the fiber in barley, your waistline will like it too. ;)
You can eat it on its own, or add it to any dish -- especially scrumptious in homemade vegan soups.
I don't know about you, but I used to eat only ONE grain -- white rice! Do you know the feeling? If so, and you're just being introduced to this yummy whole grain, then I'm very happy to have the privilege of teaching you what I've learned.
And if you already know how AMAZING barley is to add to your vegan diet, then you should find some fun ideas for preparing it here.
What really makes barley stand out is its impressive nutritional profile. The more you learn about how nutrient-dense it is, the more excited you'll get about this fun grain.
First of all, this sturdy grain is chock full of fiber, but you wouldn't know it due to its delightfully chewy texture when cooked. It's also very high in selenium, which protects your cells from free-radical damage and also aids your thyroid in producing the thyroid hormone necessary for your good health.
Let's get started...
Here's what you'll discover below:
Barley can be found pre-packaged and in the bulk section of most natural foods stores (and even some mainstream grocers nowadays). I prefer to buy mine in bulk, meaning in their bulk department (or with special order through my local co-op or natural food store). This is where we buy all of my grains.
Buy a little more than you need, storing the rest in the fridge or freezer. This way it will stay as fresh as possible and you'll have some on hand when needed.
Whether you buy it pre-packaged or not, just be sure there are no signs of moisture which could be the pre-cursor to rancidity. And be mindful of how you store your barley for future use. I recommend using vacuum sealed bags if storing large amounts outside of the fridge/freezer, and be sure to date the bags.
There are basically two different types of barley:
Pearl barley is the equivalent of white rice. What does this mean? That the nutritious bran has been removed from the outside, and you're left with just the starchy center. This center is small and round and is reminiscent of a pearl, thus the name. Not the healthiest choice!
Straight up barley, or hulled barley, is what you're searching for. As mentioned above, it has the bran still intact so it's less processed and the nutrient content is much higher.
Some people prefer pearled barley because it tends to be easier to prepare and takes less time to cook. However, because the bran layer is removed, you're left with a little morsel of empty calories. NOT the best nutritional profile.
Barley has the husk (or hull) removed, but not the bran layer. This bran layer is what gives the barley it's FIBER and adds to its fantastic nutritious profile. Since the bran is still intact, it's considered a whole grain. However, that intact fibrous layer requires a longer cooking time in order to become tender.
"While we know that pearled barley has the nutrients removed, is there any benefit to using unhulled barley over the hulled variety? Are the husks digestible? Or should hulled barley be the barely to use for cooking and baking?"
Sassy Sez: "Unhulled" means the tough outer shell is still intact, and it is difficult to remove. Unhulled barley is used for animal feed, if that gives you some idea of how hard the hull is!
So hulled barley is what to use for cooking and baking -- and that's pretty much what you'll find in the grocery stores. That tough outer layer has been removed, leaving the bran and yummy nutrients intact.
So before cooking, you're going to SOAK it first in water. It's an extra step, yes, but it's worth it for the quicker cooking time and the tender, delectable results you're searching for.
Plus, if you soak your barley (and most other grains) before cooking, the breakdown of complex sugars, tannins, and gluten, makes the grains easier to digest. In addition, it helps some nutrients become more available for your body to soak up.
To Soak: Place barley in a container and cover with triple the amount of fresh water. Let soak on your counter top for several hours. You can begin the soaking before you go to work in the morning. But I recommend doing this step just before you go to bed the night before -- your grain will be soaked and ready to be cooked the next day (you can leave it soaking until you're ready for it, even if it's early evening/dinnertime). Be sure to drain and rinse before cooking.
If for some reason you can't cook it after it's done soaking (maybe you were called to a last-minute dinner out), then drain, rinse, and put it in the fridge, covered, until the next day.
Here are the cooking techniques we use and recommend.
Click the one you'd like to learn more about for complete cooking instructions.
Create your very own barley recipes with some of your favorite ingredients from this list of foods that match perfectly.