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


Karen Garnett
karen Garnett6 years ago

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

Mac C.
mac C6 years ago

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.

Gita Sasi Dharan
Gita Sasi Dharan6 years ago

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

Val M.
Val M6 years ago


Heidi Aubrey
Heidi Aubrey6 years ago

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

Heidi Aubrey
Heidi Aubrey6 years ago

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.

Loo Samantha
Loo sam6 years ago


Brian M.
Past Member 6 years ago

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

Leena K.
Leena K6 years ago

And barley porridge is also great, thanks .

Mary L.
Mary L6 years ago

Thanks for the reminder.