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For the Love of Barley

For the Love of Barley

Last week I made a shopping list mistake. I wrote down “1/2 lb bulgur” instead of the ½ lb of barley I really needed for the recipe I intended to make. I shopped, purchased what was on my list, and then quickly realized that I had purchased the wrong “B” grain. What I realized is that I don’t know “jack” about barley, and that it was time to school myself.

To be sure, bulgur is a type of wheat that has been steamed and dried. Because of this, bulgur doesn’t need much cooking and is a pretty darn versatile ingredient. Barley, on the other hand, is a very different sort of grain. Barley is probably best known for being a malted ingredient in beer, but it does have other, rather tasty, applications. Cheaper than faro, barley is nutrient-rich cereal grain that has tons of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and is low in fat and cholesterol-free. Barley has a rich nutty flavor and is almost like pasta in its consistency. It absorbs flavors quite well, so it is perfectly suited for hearty meat stews and winter fare.

But if you hit the grocery store with “barley” on your list, you may be met with a barley variety that you hadn’t anticipated. There is pearl barley, barley flakes, whole grain, etc. Recently NPR’s Kitchen Window did a break down of the different varieties of barley sold and how best to use them:

Pearl (or pearled) barley refers to covered barley that has been processed to remove the tough, inedible outer hull, and then pearled or polished.
Whole grain barley is barley that has been minimally processed or cleaned so that most of the bran and endosperm is left intact and the germ is present.
Barley flakes are made from pearled or whole grain barley kernels that have been steamrolled and dried.
Barley grits are made from pearled or whole grain barley kernels that have been cut into small pieces.

Have you integrated barley into your menu? If so, what is your favorite barley recipe?

Swiss Chard & Barley Gratin

Read more: All recipes, Blogs, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Following Food, Food, Vegan, Vegetarian, , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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10:57AM PST on Feb 9, 2013

I have always added barley to soups. I love the nutty taste and it was an economical, nutritious addition when my children were young.

6:28PM PST on Feb 3, 2013

Thanks for the breakdown of the different barley available. I don't know barley, but sounds like I should. Thanks also for the link to NPR.

8:46AM PST on Feb 3, 2013

I did not know that barley is rich in fibre. Thanks for the information.

1:02AM PST on Feb 3, 2013


2:30AM PST on Jan 31, 2013

This is way bettter than bulgar(hulled barley, that is).

2:29AM PST on Jan 31, 2013

Funny(odd) that this article came up(to me) at this time. I did an extensive search/research about barley vs. bulgar.

Here are the final take home points:

Your very best health, most nutritionally sound choice is HULLED BARLEY. NOT pearled barley.

Hulled barley only has the outer hull removed(which is very necessary-its about as tough as the outer part of a coconut) and nothing else. All of the other elements of the grain remain intact(endosperm, germ,and bran). Pearled barley has both the bran and germ and much of the endosperm removed. There is little nutrition left in it.

2:00AM PST on Jan 31, 2013


12:07PM PST on Jan 29, 2013

Barley stew keeps me going during the harshest days of winter. I love it!

9:19PM PST on Jan 28, 2013

And barley porridge is also great, thanks .

2:11PM PST on Jan 22, 2013

Thanks for the reminder.

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I volunteer at my local CSA. We pay $10 a week for about 10 pounds (5 kilos) of organic produce grow…

Mind altering? More like mind aligning.

Super adorable! Thanks for sharing, definitely put a smile on my face :)


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