How To Cook Barley To Use In Any Recipe
Updated: Apr 15
Barley is a versatile grain that can be enjoyed in soups, salads, or as a side dish on its own. It’s a great ingredient for home chefs and lends a nice chewy texture and mild earthy flavor to many dishes. It’s also high in vitamins and minerals, fiber, and protein, making it an excellent staple grain alongside the common grains like rice and quinoa.
Is Barley Healthy?
Barley is a whole grain that is packed with nutrients and has a chewy texture and a nutty aroma. It roughly doubles in size when cooked, so keep that in mind when reviewing the nutritional information.
100 grams (about ½ cup) of uncooked, hulled barley contains the following nutrients:
Carbs: 73.5 grams
Fiber: 17.3 grams
Protein: 12.5 grams
Fat: 2.3 grams
Thiamine: 43% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
Riboflavin: 17% of the RDI
Niacin: 23% of the RDI
Vitamin B6: 16% of the RDI
Folate: 5% of the RDI
Iron: 20% of the RDI
Magnesium: 33% of the RDI
Phosphorus: 26% of the RDI
Potassium: 13% of the RDI
Zinc: 18% of the RDI
Copper: 25% of the RDI
Manganese: 97% of the RDI
Selenium: 54% of the RDI
In addition to being a protein-packed whole grain, barley also boasts a high amount of fiber, which contributes to gut health. The main type of fiber in barley is beta-glucan, which is a soluble fiber that forms a gel when combined with a liquid (oats also contain this type of fiber, which contributes to thickening when cooking). Beta-glucan may help lower cholesterol and improve blood sugar regulation in the body.
Barley also contains antioxidants like vitamin E, beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which help protect against and repair cell damage caused by oxidative stress.
Types of Barley
You’ll commonly see two types of barley: Hulled and Pearled. Though pearled barley is still a good source of nutrients and is widely available, hulled barley is the healthier option and might require a trip to a health food store to find.
Hulled barley is a whole grain and only has the outermost shell of the grain removed during processing. It's more nutrient-dense and has a longer cooking time, which can be shortened by soaking for a few hours before cooking. Hulled barley has a nuttier flavor and a denser chew.
Pearled Barley is not considered a whole grain because it has its outer husk and bran removed (via polishing) during processing. Due to the polishing, pearled barley cooks more quickly. It’s also starchier and less chewy than hulled barley (which can be great for thickening soups).
Does barley need to be soaked before cooking?
No, barley does not need to be soaked before cooking. But depending on the type you are using and the amount of time you have, you may want to consider soaking. Soaking pearled barley is not necessary since it already cooks quickly. Soaking hulled barley overnight or for at least a couple of hours can shorten the cooking time.
What is the best way to cook barley?
The best way to cook barley is to steam it on the stovetop (or using an instant pot/rice cooker) as you would a grain such as rice. It’s also a great addition to soups and stews and can cook directly in your soup pot along with the other ingredients.
Steaming on the Stovetop:
I always like to have some basic, cooked barley on hand to add to salads or eat warm with a dollop of butter for a quick meal. To steam barley follow these simple steps:
In a medium saucepan, mix together 1 cup dry barley with 3 cups of water (or a broth for more flavor) and about a teaspoon of salt. This will yield about 2 cups of cooked barley.
Bring the pot to a boil, keeping an eye on it because it may become foamy and boil over.
Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook. Check it occasionally and add more water if the pan dries out. The barley is done when it has a chewy, but tender texture. For pearled barley, this will take about 25 to 30 minutes, and for hulled barley 40 to 50 minutes.
Drain any excess water if needed and fluff with a fork before serving.
Cooked barley can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 5-6 days.
In Soups and Stews:
You’re probably most familiar with barley from its use in soups and stews. To cook barley using this method, simply stir barley into your next batch of soup to thicken it and add a great source of texture and nutrients.
Barley absorbs roughly three times its measured amount of liquid, so 1 cup of barley would require 3 cups of broth to cook properly. You may need to increase the amount of liquid in your soup or stew depending on how much barley you want to add.
Barley is a great grain and an excellent addition to many dishes. Looking for somewhere to start? Check out our recipe for Mushroom Barley Soup!