One of the first crops cultivated by man, barley has been used as a food, a medicine, and as a form of currency since biblical times. Today, barley ranks as one of the most important cereal crops. Because it grows well in a range of climatic conditions—from the cold of Scotland to the heat of Ethiopia—it has become a major food staple in many parts of the world. But most of the barley cultivated in the United States is not eaten directly as a food. Rather, it is either converted into malt for beer production or used as food for animals.
More flavorful and chewy than white rice, though not as strongly flavored as brown rice, this versatile grain deserves a prominent place in the kitchen of the health-oriented cook.
Barley is a very healthy grain that is rich in fiber, particularly the soluble fibers—beta glucan and pectin—that may help lower blood pressure and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Barley is a moderate source of protein, though it lacks the essential amino acid lysine. It’s a good source of B vitamins—especially thiamin—as well as iron, zinc, and the mineral selenium.
Hulled barley that retains its bran—sometimes called barley groats—offers the most vitamins and minerals. Pearl barley, in which the bran is removed, is softer and the most popular form of barley, but it supplies fewer nutrients.
Although barley is a nutritious grain and a great replacement for highly refined wheat, it is a type of gluten. Barley, thus, is not safe for people with celiac disease.
Types of Barley
Barley is a nutritious grain that is gaining growing interest from health-conscious cooks. Flavorful and chewy, barley offers important soluble fibers and B vitamins, especially when its bran is intact. However, most of the barley eaten in the United States has been milled to remove the bran. You can often find
How to choose the best barley
As with any grain product, buy barley in well-wrapped packages. If buying in bulk, buy from a store with good turnover so the barley is not stale.
6 barley recipe ideas
- Use barley in place of rice in pilafs and risottos.
- Cook barley flakes, grits, or instant barley to make a hot breakfast cereal.
- Use barley as a stuffing for cabbage rolls, bell peppers, or hollowed-out winter squash.
- Try making a soup, such as the Polish soup krupnik, which combines barley with dried mushrooms, potatoes, and dill.
- Toss cooked barley with sliced mushrooms, chopped tomatoes, or slivered bell peppers and a little oil and vinegar. Add diced cooked turkey or tuna, if you like.
- Make a pudding with barley instead of rice by cooking barley in a mixture of milk and water sweetened with a little honey. Stir in chopped dried fruits and nuts.
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Published January 19, 2016