Barley Visible

Rarely a star on its own, this nutritious, nut-like grain is a great ensemble player.

How often do you sit down to enjoy a bowl of barley? Seldom, perhaps. But as a can-do ingredient, this versatile grain— ranked fourth in a recent list of the world’s top cereal crops—is an unsung hero in the modern foodscape. It has a subtle, nut-like flavor, an appealing beady shape and a pasta-like consistency, and it’s surprisingly easy to incorporate into some of your favorite meals. Barley’s a sturdy utility performer that deserves to be in the spotlight.


Many healthy cereal options use barley as their base, and starting your morning with one of them does your heart a favor. The grain’s soluble fiber not only helps with digestion, but also contains beta-glucans that help lower total cholesterol levels by binding with bile acids to help remove those acids from the body. Research also shows that beta-glucans can boost the immune system and help protect against cancer. According to the U.S.D.A., a cup of cooked pearl barley contains 193 calories, just six of them from fat, and furnishes more than onethird of your daily requirement of iron.


This member of the grass family was first grown as a crop more than 10,000 years ago, and there’s evidence of its production in what is now Sudan as early as 5000 B.C. Its sturdiness in cold weather allowed it to be cultivated millennia ago in Tibet, where it is an important crop to this day. Worldwide, more than 100 million tons of barley are produced annually, with Russia the top producer and France and Germany roughly tied for second place. Among U.S. states, Idaho—famous for potatoes— is also the barley champ.

What distinguishes ordinary barley from barley malt, used in making beer and whiskey? Simply put, barley malt is grain that has been soaked and allowed to partially sprout, giving it a slightly sweeter flavor. But the process is anything but simple, and certain carefully chosen strains of barley are known to be better for malting.


The biggest consideration for the barley buyer is whether to choose a hulled or pearl variety. Pearl barley takes less time to cook, but the refining process it goes through means it’s not considered a whole grain. Hulled barley requires a bit more care, but because the bran layer is left intact it has more nutritional value and a deeper flavor. Whichever you choose, keep barley as dry as possible as you store it. Before boiling, give it a quick wash and let it sit in water for a bit. Adding barley to onions, carrots and beef stock in a soup is a great way to enhance texture; also, barley combines well with mushroom in dishes and makes an excellent addition to a kale and nut salad. Finally, in many recipes that call for rice or risotto, barley is an able understudy that can step in and play the part well.

Categories: Bergen Health & Life, Health & Beauty Features, Homepage Features