Barley, The Whole Grain You Don’t Think About

Pearl Barley

Barley is the fourth most cultivated cereal crop in the world, with 136 million tons grown every year. Despite its important historical role in feeding early cultures, and its current agricultural status, it seems that most people don’t give barley enough respect.

Barley is a versatile grass that was first domesticated over 10,000 years ago in Mesopotamia (present day Iraq). It is a versatile crop and has found its way as far east as China, north to Russia and into the new world as well. In early civilizations, barley was used both for making bread, and when fermented, for beer. Wages were often paid to workers in equal amounts of bread and beer. How fun that must have been!

Besides food and beer, barley is a popular cereal starting point for whiskey. It is also used to feed livestock. Half of the US production is for animal feed.

Barley needs to be de-hulled in order for humans to eat it comfortably. Usually it is further processed (steamed) to remove the bran and make it even easier to cook. This is known as pearl barley (see image above), and it is the most widely sold barley in the US today.

Pearl barley is a nutrition powerhouse, and despite the processing, is still considered a whole grain. A serving of 1/4 cup (before cooking) has 8 grams of fiber, which is about one third of your daily intake requirement. It also has 5 grams of protein and 6% of your daily iron intake. If you choose just de-hulled barley, you’ll need to cook it a bit longer. The bonus – an extra gram of protein and 10% of your daily iron intake.

The most common use of barley in the winter is in soups. You can choose almost any clear broth or stew and add a cup of barley to the mix. It will add not only flavor, but also texture to your soup. How do you incorporate barley into your diet?

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  • Melissa

    What’s the difference between de hulled barley and pearled barley?

    • Carol H

      De-hulled (aka hulled) barley has had just the inedible outer hull removed, whereas pearled barley has also had additional bran (along with some other nutrients, depending on how much “pearling” is done) removed from the outside of the grain. Note that there is still plenty of fiber inside the grain (not the case with most other grains), but pearled barley is generally NOT considered a whole grain.
      PS: Barley contains gluten.

  • Elliot Dole

    With veggies, legumes, lean protein. Peas, chickpeas, peppers, onions, chicken are all good!

  • overseaschinese

    In Malaysia, barley drinks are very common. It’s cooling and soothing.

  • InfiniteOnion

    Since you asked, I stew rutabaga with carrots, onion, garlic, and whatever else I think I can slip past my spouse with a pound of pan fried ground beast (usually pork with all the fat) and about 30 min before the end I add maybe a little couscous and/either/or pearled barley, Amaranth, Millet, Buckwheat groats, oat groats, kamut and/or wheat berries. Make bread (wheat and whatever grain or grain flours and fat sources you want) that weekend too and have a stock of good ales.
    That’s how I take my barley.
    Proud to be a Midwesterner.

    • InfiniteOnion

      Oh, and I forgot to add that I put 1 to 2 pounds (dry weight) of pre-soaked and then boiled beans in at the beginning. Lentils are good too, but it’s better to add them in the last 30 min. 1/2 to 3/4 cup of soup will fill a large adult, and one pot of soup will last a week.

  • Sarah

    Barley contains gluten – which is poisonous. Eat it if you wish to have cancer and die. I use to eat it. Then I was hospitalized and told the truth about the killer grain. Now I don’t touch it and I’m perfectly healthy.

    • jlrod

      Sarah, no need to be so dramatic. Neither barley nor gluten are poisonous. You are just gluten intolerant, just like some people have peaunut allergies which they can die from. It doesn’t mean peanut is poisonous ;)

  • quirky girl

    I eat it cold with plain yogurt, fruit, honey, and nuts. For breakfast. It’s quick easy and tastes great!