How To Cook Barley

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:

How To Select Barley

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.

How To Clean and Prep Barley

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.

You Asked...

"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.

How To Cook Barley

Here are the cooking techniques we use and recommend.

Click the one you'd like to learn more about for complete cooking instructions.

A silver pot with a lid
An electric steamer
An electric pressure cooker
A stovetop pressure cooker

Barley Vegan Flavor Matches

Create your very own barley recipes with some of your favorite ingredients from this list of foods that match perfectly.

(What are Flavor Matches?)

  • Almonds
  • Beans
  • Bell Peppers
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Grains, all
  • Green Onions
  • Lentils
  • Miso
  • Molasses (also Maple Syrup and Coconut Nectar)
  • Mushrooms
  • Nuts
  • Onions
  • Parsley
  • Peas
  • Pine Nuts
  • Potato
  • Tomatoes
  • Vegetable Stock
  • Vegetables, all
  • Wild Rice

Try One Of These Vegan Barley Recipes...

Pesto Vegetable Soup
Rustic Vegetable Soup
Hearty Vegetable Soup
Jeff's Veggie-Bean Soup
Tempeh Casserole
Rice and Beans Rollups

Helpful Hints

  • After soaking your grain overnight, you can save the water (after draining) for use in stocks and soups since it's chock full of starch that will add a subtle sweetness to other preparations.
  • Barley expands considerably upon cooking. 1 cup dry makes 3-4 cups cooked.
  • Do not add salt until AFTER it is cooked, since the salt can block absorption of water.
  • Make an easy Barley Soup by adding 1/2 - 1 cup uncooked (and hulled) barley to 8 cups veggie broth. Add 1 large can (32 oz) of diced and fire-roasted tomatoes (or dice 2 lbs of fresh tomatoes). Then chop 1 onion, 3 celery stalks, 4 carrots and 3 red potatoes, and add to the soup pot along with 1 cup organic corn. Add the following herbs and spices: basil, rosemary, celery seeds, salt and pepper. Simmer for 40-45 minutes or until all veggies are tender. Add 1 tsp. lemon juice to freshen up the flavors. Devour!
  • If you've ever stored your barley (or other grains) in the cupboard for any length of time, you understand the importance of refrigerating it (can you say BUGS?!?! EWWWW!!!!). Store your barley in the freezer or fridge to keep it fresh until you need it and to preserve its oil-rich germ. (Not as important if you plan on using it right away.)
  • You can freeze barley after cooking. Just be sure it's completely cool before doing so. I like to refrigerate my cooked grains overnight in the fridge before freezing to be good and sure it is cold enough. Store in 1/2-cup or 1-cup amounts (or whatever works best for you) in a tightly sealed container, or vacuum seal. Be sure to label with the date (and also what it is since once frozen it can be difficult to tell one thing from another). I would then use within 2-3 months. Defrost in the fridge for 24-48 hours before using alone or in a recipe.

Happy cooking!

If You Like Barley Try...

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Brown Rice!
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