Barley may be small in size, but has a lot to offer in terms of nutrition. Like other whole grains (hulled barley is the whole grain version), barley delivers fibre, vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting antioxidants.
Numerous studies have reported that people who eat more whole grains, including barley, have a lower risk of heart attack and stroke. A regular intake of whole grains may also delay the progression of heart disease by slowing the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
A regular intake of whole grains like barley may also guard against type 2 diabetes. Research suggests that eating at least three servings of whole grains each day - one serving is equivalent to ½ cup of cooked grain - lowers the risk of diabetes by as much as 30 percent.
Studies also show that whole grains, such as barley, may protect against certain types of cancer, including colorectal and gastric cancer.
Whole grains also play an important role in weight management. A Harvard Medical School study that followed more than 70,000 women for 12 years found that women who consumed the most whole grains consistently weighed less and were half as likely to become obese over the study period. Fibre-rich whole grains like barley stay in the stomach longer and are digested more slowly than processed and refined grains, which help prolong the feeling of fullness.
Canada's Food Guide recommends that at least half of your grain choices be whole grain. A Food Guide serving of cooked barley is ½ cup (125 ml).
Nutrient information per ½ cup (125 ml) cooked pearled barley:
(Note: Nutrient databases do not list whole grain or hulled barley; keep in mind hulled barely will have more nutrients and fibre):
Source: Canadian Nutrient File, 2007b
The more intact (less refined) barley kernels are the more nutritious since many nutrients and fibre are found in the outer layers.
"Whole grain" barley has only the outer husk (hull) removed and is the most nutritious and fibre-rich form of barley, since the bran and germ layers are left intact.
It is not as widely available as other barley types, but its superior nutrient content makes it worth seeking out.
These are the hulled, toasted grains that have been cracked into medium-coarse pieces.
These kernels are polished (pearled) to remove the outer hull and the bran layers, which also strips away many nutrients. Polishing the kernels produces uniform, ivory-coloured granules resulting in a faster-cooking barley.
Pearled barley may be available in coarse, medium and fine sizes. It can be used in foods where a smaller cooked kernel size is desired, such as in salads and puddings, and is the variety typically used in soups and stews.
Pot (Scotch) barley
This type of barly is husked and coarsely ground. It is polished like pearl barley, but to a lesser extent, so the kernels are less refined, retaining more of the bran layer than pearled. The kernels are not as small as pearl barley, so pot barley takes a little longer to cook.
This is an instant form of pearled barley. It cooks faster than pearled barley because it is precooked by steaming. It is nutritionally equivalent to pearled barley.
The flour or meal of barley is made by grinding pearl barley. It can be used to make yeast breads but it must be combined with a gluten-containing flour.
These barley grains have been flattened and resemble rolled oats.
You can buy barley in bulk or pre-packaged. If buying in bulk, choose a reputable store that has a good turnover of stock, keeps the bins covered and empties them before adding new stock. Barley should be clean and dry, free from debris and smell pleasantly fresh.
The most common variety you'll find in supermarkets is pearled barley. You may also find quick-cooking barley and barley grits. For whole grain versions of barley, you may need to shop at a natural foods store.
Hulled barley will stay fresh for sever al months provided it's stored away from light, heat and moisture. For maximum freshness, store it in an airtight container.
Pearled barley can be stored at room temperature for a longer time that hulled barley since the germ layer than contains natural oils is removed. (Over time, these oils spoil and turn rancid.)
Barley should be tightly sealed, either in a tightly covered jar or in a sealable plastic bag. If you purchase in bulk, transfer the barley to a tightly sealed storage container when you get home. For pre-packaged barley, transfer it an airtight container after you first open the package. In warm weather, store barley in the refrigerator; freeze for longer storage.
Barley in whole form, whether hulled, pearled, quick or pot barley, can be cooked and served in a similar manner to rice. It's boiled and then served hot as a side dish. It can also be cooked along with other ingredients in a soup or stew.
Cooking times depending on the type of barley. Cook barley in boiling water or low sodium vegetable, chicken or beef stock (or in the liquid of a soup or stew), using the following guidelines:
Hulled barley: about 1 hour 40 minutes
Pot (Scotch) barley: 1 hour
Pearled (pearl) barley: 45 minutes
Flaked barley: about 30 minutes
Quick barley: 10 to 12 minutes, then cover and let stand 5 minutes
Barley grits: add to boiling water and let stand 2 to 3 minutes
Hulled vs. Pearled Barley - cooking time
You can substitute hulled for pearled barley in virtually any recipe, but keep in mind that it will take closer to two hours to cook, considerably longer than the 45 minutes needed for pearled. You may want to cook hulled barley in a separate pot and add it into recipes at the end, to avoid adjusting other cooking times.
Barley Flour vs. Wheat Flour
Barley flour is great in recipes due to its nutrition profile and slightly nutty taste. Since barley flour has weaker gluten than wheat flour, it can't be directly substituted. (Gluten is a protein in grains that gives "structure" to baked products. Yeast breads, which rise, need strong gluten to assist in the rising process and to produce the volume and light texture of these breads.)
To ensure the bread has enough strong gluten to rise, and to prevent a heavy texture, up to 25% of the wheat flour in a yeast-bread recipe can be substituted with barley flour.
Baked goods that don't rely on yeast for rising and texture can be made with 100% barley flour. Muffins, cookies, quick breads and pancakes can all be made with barley flour.
Its nutty flavour and soft texture make barley a tasty addition to many types of dishes - from soups and stews to salads and stir-fries.
- Make your own hot cereal using barley: Bring 2 cups water to boil and stir in 1 cup barley flakes. Cover and reduce to low heat and cook for 20 minutes, or until water is evaporated. Top with fruit.
- Use barley flour, flakes or grits when making pancakes, muffins and other quick breads.
- Make a delicious cold salad by tossing cooked hulled barley with olive oil, white wine vinegar, lemon juice, sea salt, shredded carrots, capers, black olives and sliced green onions. Click here for recipe.
- Top a green salad with ½ cup of cooked hulled barley to boost your whole grain intake.
- Serve a stir-fry over a bed of barley instead of rice. Consider cooking barley in sodium-reduced chicken or vegetable stock for added flavour.
- Add cooked hulled barley to homemade chicken soup for a hearty meal in a bowl. Click here for a recipe.
- Toss cooked barley with sautéed wild mushrooms and garlic for a tasty side dish; garnish with chopped fresh chives or green onions.
- Try making quick breads, cookies or muffins using barley flour.
Did you know?
- Over half of the barley grown in the U.S. is used for beer, with the remainder mostly used to feed livestock. Only a small amount is grown for human consumption.
- Canada is one of the world's largest barley producers and exporters, much of which is grown in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.