There are those cooking tips we find ourselves googling over and over again, and no matter how we try to carve them to our memory, we always doubt ourselves when the pot is on the stove. How to cook barley is one of these.
Pearl barley has seen it’s big revival recently, thanks to its crunchy texture and high nutritious value. It is most often cooked in soups or stocks, where it absorbs all the flavors from the liquid, which means that the taste of the grain depends on what it’s cooked in.
We love barley in cold salads in the summer, and warm, risotto-style in the winter. We cook enough of it that we should remember how to do it, but since we are all humans and we only have so much room for things in our heads. You may feel the same way, and don’t worry – it’s ok.
So, what Is Barley?
Barley is nutty-flavored, chewy grain which is personified in Burns’ ballad John Barleycorn, and a key ingredient in whiskey and beer production. Barley can be grown in a range of climates, from desert oases to Arctic and alpine altitudes.
It is a staple of stews and soups, and the oldest known domesticated grain, grown for ten thousand years as food for animals and humans, and as a basis for the first alcoholic beverages. Barley comes in hulled and pearled varieties. Hulled one is the whole-grain form, with only the outer hull removed, whereas pearled barley is polished to remove the bran layer and often the inner endosperm layer.
If the pearl barley is lightly pearled, it will be tan colored, and if it’s heavily pearled, barley will be entirely white. Although it is technically a refined grain, it is healthier than other refined grains because some of the bran may still be present and the fiber in barley is distributed through the kernel.
Hulled barley is unprocessed, and it takes longer to cook than pearl barley, which is what most grocers sell and is more common. It is very challenging to remove the hull carefully so that some of the bran isn’t lost, but that’s what must be done for covered barley to be considered whole grain.
One can buy barley in natural food stores in the bulk bins or the baking section. It is also available in the regular aisles near the rice and other grains. Some grocers stock barley in the natural foods aisle or next to the lentils and beans.
Finding other varieties can prove a bit of a challenge, but most recipes call for pearled barley.
Quick cooking barley, which is sometimes called “instant barley” is just as healthy, and takes only ten minutes to cook, as it has been partially cooked and dried during the flake-rolling process. You should try adding a handful of these to a simmering pot of soup.
Although barley is probably not as popular as other whole grains like wheat, oats or even quinoa, it has some impressive health benefits. A very high fiber content, minerals, and vitamins, antioxidants, diabetes and heart health protection, are just some of the barley nutrition benefits which make it one of the best whole grain choices.
Consuming foods that are rich in fiber also makes you feel fuller, as fiber expands within the digestive tract and takes up a lot of space. That means you’ll feel more satisfied after a meal, better control sugar levels and have fewer cravings.
It also helps to fight diarrhea and constipation by forming bulk within the digestive tract and regulating bowel movements. The fiber in barley is also essential for maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria within the gastrointestinal tract.
Barley provides volume to a healthy diet without additional calories since the body can’t digest fiber, which makes the fiber found in it beneficial for weight loss. A diet rich in fiber has also been correlated with a lower incidence of heart disease, partly because of its ability to help lower high cholesterol levels.
A diet including whole grains has been shown to protect against a various form of cancer, including colon, breast, and prostate cancers. Whole grains also contain compounds that can fight inflammation and free radical damage.
Barley also provides a range of essential minerals and vitamins like selenium, copper, B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, niacin and more. When compared to many other grains, barley is lower in calories and fat, but higher in dietary fiber and certain trace minerals.
Soaking And Sprouting Barley
To get the most benefits from barley, we recommend that you first sprout and soak hulled uncooked barley grains. You can also choose to buy sprouted barley flour for baking. Sprouting whole grains helps to unleash their nutrients so that the body can absorb and use various minerals and vitamins found in the grain.
You want to use this method because whole grains contain certain anti-nutrients like Pythic-acid, which bind to nutrients and make them extremely difficult to absorb. Sprouting and soaking grains, including hulled uncooked barley, helps to lower the level of anti-nutrients significantly, making them easier to digest and more beneficial. That may also reduce the amount of gluten present within barley.
To sprout your barley, you can soak raw, whole barley grains for eight to twelve hours and after that sprout them over the course of about three days.
How To Cook Barley – Instructions
What You Need:
- One cup pearl or hulled barley
- 3 cups water or stock
- Salt (optional)
- Measuring cup
- 2-quart saucepan with lid
1. Combine the barley and water: Combine the water and the barley in the pot. If desired, add a generous pinch of salt.
2. Bring to a boil: Bring the barley and water to a boil over high heat. Be careful and keep an eye on the pot as barley tends to give off a lot of foam at first and it can cause the pot to boil over.
3. Simmer the barley: When the barley has reached a boil, lower the heat to a low simmer, cover, and continue to cook until it is done. For pearl barley, start checking at twenty-five minutes. For hulled barley, start checking at forty minutes.
The barley is done when it has tripled in volume and is soft and chewy. If the pot becomes dry before the barley has finished cooking add more water; check every 5 minutes until it reaches the desired chewiness.
4. Drain the barley (if necessary): When done, the barley will have absorbed the majority of the water. If there’s a little water still left in the pot, you just leave the barley to sit for ten minutes, covered and until it has all been absorbed. If there’s a lot of water left, just drain the barley in a strainer over the sink.
5. Fluff the barley: Fluff the barley with a fork to separate the grains. Enjoy!
Notes: To cook more or less barley, use this ratio of one cup barley to three cups water.
Barley is a genuinely versatile cereal grain with an appealing chewy, pasta-like consistency and rich nutlike flavor. Barley rapidly gained popularity over the past few years due to the various health benefits it provides. Whole grains are important sources of vitamins, dietary fiber, and minerals that aren’t found in refined or “enriched” grains.
When refined, grains lose specific components which remove most of the nutrients naturally found in most grains. Choosing whole grains over their processed counterparts dramatically reduces the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.