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How to cook grains: Barley

whole grain barley spread out on wood table

Learning how to cook grains can be daunting, but luckily, most of Ontario grains are very easy to cook and use in lots of recipes!

Throughout the month of August we are going to be sharing some cooking tips on our five grains, and to start off we have Barley.

Barley is a versatile grain with a chewy texture and nutty flavour, that can be used in lots of recipes. Barley is also very healthy and nutritious, as it contains lots of fibre and trace minerals like selenium, manganese and phosphorous.

You can cook barley as flour, flakes, bran and of course as a whole grain. We are going to be focusing on how to cook barley as a whole grain.

Cooking kinds of barley

You may have noticed that in barley recipes, they will distinguish between which barley to use: hull, pearl or pot. What’s the difference between each?

Hull barley

Hull barley has the outermost hull removed but still retains the bran and endosperm layer. Considered to be the most nutritious form of barley and is a whole grain. As most of the grain is still intact, it is a nuttier and chewier version

Pearl barley

Pearl barley has been processed through a pearling machine, that removes the inedible outside hull and polishes the seeds. Pearl barley is a whiter grain due to the extra polishing the seed received, and the bran layer has been removed so it is not considered to be whole grain and is less nutritious than hulled barley.  

Pot Barley

Pot barley has also been through the pearling process, but it is pearled for a shorter amount of time than pearl barley. The outermost hull is removed, but the bran and endosperm remain intact.

What is a whole grain, and why are they important?

Read more here

How to cook barley

Cooking instructions and times vary between the three types of barley. Learn more below on how to cook the common types of barley a recipe calls for!

#TrainWithGrainsTip: Regardless of the type of barley you are using, barley is done when the seeds have tripled in volume and are soft, yet chewy.

Hull Barley

Combine water and barley in a saucepan. Add a generous pinch of salt if desired. Bring the water and barley to a boil over high heat. When the barley has reached a boil, lower the heat to a low simmer, cover, and continue to cook until the barley is done. For hulled barley, start checking at 40 minutes. When done, remove from heat and fluff the barley with a fork to separate the grains.

One cup of hulled barley will yield around three cups of cooked barley. Hulled barley is delicious as a pilaf or as an alternative to wheat berries in whole grain salads

Pearl Barley

Combine water and barley in a saucepan. Add a generous pinch of salt if desired. Bring the water and barley to a boil over high heat. When the barley has reached a boil, lower the heat to a low simmer, cover, and continue to cook until the barley is done. For pearl barley, start checking at 25 minutes. When done, remove from heat, and fluff the barley with a fork to separate the grains.

Pearl barley is softer and releases starch into its cooking liquid, making it a good thickener for soups. If you don’t want pearl barley to thicken your dish, cook it separately and rinse it before adding. For this same reason, it can also be made risotto-style, resulting in a creamy, chewy dish.

Pot Barley

Combine water and barley in a saucepan. Add a generous pinch of salt if desired. Bring the water and barley to a boil over high heat. When the barley has reached a boil, lower the heat to a low simmer, cover, and continue to cook until the barley is done. For pot barley, start checking at 25 minutes. When done, remove from heat and fluff the barley with a fork to separate the grains.

The isn’t a lot of difference between pot barley and pearl barley so you can use pearl or pot barley in most dishes interchangeably.


Looking for recipe ideas that use barley? Check these out!

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