If you are trying to make a recipe that calls for pearl barley, but don’t have any on hand, you should try a pearl barley substitute. These substitutes also work well if you are looking for a gluten-free option.
What is pearl barley?
Pearl barley is a type of barley, which is a cereal grain, that has the outer husk and bran removed. It has a nutty flavor and a chewy texture.
It is the fourth largest grain crop in the world and is a staple food in many cultures. It can be used in soup, stews, salads and breads.
This versatile grain can also be used as the source of malt in alcoholic beverages like beer. Overall, it’s a popular grain that can be used in various ways.
How to cook pearl barley
Pearl barley can be prepared in various ways, but most commonly is boiled in a pot of water similar to how rice is cooked.
The cooking time can vary, but pearl barley typically takes about 25-30 minutes to complete the cooking process.
You can also make pearl barley in the rice cooker. For every one cup of pearl barley, add four cups of water.
Cook times will vary so make sure to read the instructions on the rice cooker. Some rice cookers will automatically shut off when barley is done cooking.
What recipes use pearl barley?
Pearl barley is used in a wide variety of recipes from all across the world. It is most commonly used in soups and stews, but also has a variety of other applications.
Here is a list of recipes that use pearl barley:
- Scotch Broth: a lamb and barley soup
- Beef and Barley Stew: a hearty beef stew with barley
- Mushroom Barley Soup: an earthy mushroom barley soup
- Barley Salad: a refreshing barley vegetable salad
- Irish Lamb Stew: a traditional lamb and barley stew
- Greek Revithosoupa: a Greek chickpea barley soup
- Barley Risotto: a creamy barley rice dish
- Barley Pilaf: a flavorful barley side dish
- Barley Bread: a nutritious dense bread
- Barley Porridge: a warm breakfast barley dish
Barley is also commonly used in Korean multigrain rice or Korean purple rice alongside short grain rice, sweet rice and black rice.
Where to find pearl barley
You may be able to find pearl barley at one of your local grocery stores, but it largely depends on the particular store.
If you are unable to pearl barley, you can check out your local health food store or order some pearl barley online.
Below are a few online options that can ship straight to your door. Pearl barley is shelf stable, so it should ship well.
How to store pearl barley
You can likely store pearl barley in the bag it came in, as well as it has a zip top. If not, I recommend transferring your pearl barley to an airtight container.
You should store it in a cool, dry place like your pantry.
If you live in a warm and/or humid environment, also consider storing it in your refrigerator to keep it away from pests and to extend shelf life.
7 Best Pearl Barley Substitutes
So, what are the best substitutes for pearl barley in recipes? Below are a few ingredients, some that you may already have on hand, that can be good replacements. Gluten-free options are included.
Brown rice is a great gluten-free substitute for pearl barley. It has a similar texture and the same nutty and fibrous taste.
That being said, cook time for brown rice may be a bit longer than pearl barley. White rice is another choice and has a shorter cook time.
Brown rice is very accessible and you should be able to find it easily at your local grocery store. This is why I list it as number one.
Hulled barley is another great alternative to pearl barley. It is simply the whole grain version of pearl barley since it has its bran layer intact and hasn’t been polished.
Overall, it has a great nutty taste and is higher in fiber compared to pearl barley. It is also a bit darker in color and has a longer cook time.
The difference between hulled barley and pearl barley is similar to the difference between white rice and brown rice.
Wheat berries or whole wheat kernels are another great substitute for pearl barley. It has the same nutty and slightly crunchy texture as pearl barley.
The main difference between wheat berries and pearl barley is that wheat berries contain the full germ and bran, with the hull removed. In pearl barley, the hull and some of the bran has been removed.
Along with this pearl barley comes from barley and wheat germ comes from wheat. They are two separate crops, though they both contain gluten.
Bulgur wheat is another excellent substitute for pearl barley. It is nutty and a quicker cooking version of its original (wheat berries for this example).
To make bulgur wheat, wheat berries are cracked and parboiled. This makes it cook faster than wheat berries, which is a huge plus if you’re short on time.
Bulgur wheat is commonly used in Mediterranean dishes like tabbouleh salad, kibe (Brazilian beef croquettes) and Turkish bulgur and vegetable pilaf.
Wild rice is another great pearl barley substitute and a gluten-free option. It has a different texture than brown rice and has a unique texture.
It is a native grain to the United States and grows naturally in waterways. It has a thicker hull than brown rice and is thinner and longer.
Overall, it’s a great choice if you want to mimic that nutty taste of pearl barley, but are open to exploring a unique texture. Personally, I love wild rice in creamy soups.
Oat groats are another great pearl barley substitute that work great in various recipes. They are also another gluten-free option.
As you can probably guess from the title, oat groats are made from the whole grain oat seed with the husk removed.
They look more like rice than rolled oats and have a nuttier texture. This makes them a good replacement for pearl barley.
Farro is another good substitute for pearl barley with a similar texture and taste. It’s commonly used in Mediterranean cooking.
It’s considered an ancient grain, which means it’s been largely unchanged in the last few hundred years. This makes it different from grains like wheat and oats.
Farro is typically sold in its pearled form, meaning the bran has been removed to improve cooking times.
There are a few other alternatives that could work well as a replacement for pearl barley if the above options don’t work for you. These include barley flour (best in baked goods and breads), buckwheat groats (a good gluten-free option) and corn kernels (also gluten-free).
Frequently Asked Questions
Is pearl barley healthy?
Yes. Pearl barley has high nutritional value and is an overall healthy grain. It provides a variety of vitamins and minerals as well as health benefits.
One cup of pearl barley contains about 190 calories, 5 grams of protein, 43 grams of carbohydrates and 1 gram of fat. It also contains almost 9 grams of fiber.
It’s a good source of vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium and zinc.
High fiber foods are beneficial for digestive health, blood sugar control, lowering your bad cholesterol, maintaining or reaching a healthy weight and preventing constipation.
Is pearl barley gluten-free?
No. Unfortunately pearl barley is not gluten-free and is not compatible with a gluten-free diet. This may be confusing since pearl barley doesn’t come from wheat.
It’s important to remember that wheat isn’t the only source of gluten. Gluten-containing grains include wheat, rye, barley, farro and triticale.
Oats are even sometimes contaminated with gluten, so it’s best to avoid them or purchase a certified gluten-free product.
Gluten-free grains to try include rice, corn, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, sorghum, teff and amaranth.
Is pearl barley a good source of fiber?
Yes. Pearl barley is surprisingly high in fiber despite its outer hull being removed. One cup of pearl barley contains almost 9 grams of dietary fiber.
Despite its high fiber content, it is not considered a type of whole grain because it’s simply not whole. A whole grain must have the endosperm, germ and bran intact.
Because it’s not a whole grain it’s not as nutritionally dense as its whole grain counterpart. It’s missing some B vitamins, vitamin E and iron present in the bran and germ.
So while it’s not considered a whole grain, it’s still a good source of fiber and is a better option than other refined grains like white rice or white bread.
Is pearl barley high in protein?
Not necessarily. One cup of pearl barley contains about 5 grams of protein. While this is high compared to other refined grains, I wouldn’t consider it “high in protein”.
That being said, it contains all essential amino acids in various levels. These amino acids include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
The amount of these amino acids range from about 9-30% of your daily value. Despite this, pearl barley isn’t considered a “complete protein”.
This designation is confusing because it refers to foods that contain all essential amino acids. But, even though barley does contain all nine, the proportions are similar enough, so you must combine it with a food like beans to make it “complete”.
I personally think this label isn’t very necessary and makes “complete proteins” like meat and dairy more important than they are. But alas, it’s still a term commonly used in the nutrition space so I felt compelled to mention it.
Is pearl barley good for cholesterol?
Yes. Pearl barley is good for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. This is because pearl barley is very high in fiber. There is plenty of evidence to suggest high fiber foods have a beneficial effect on blood cholesterol levels.
It’s important to note that there is “good” and “bad” cholesterol. To be more specific there are certain “carriers” of cholesterol that are beneficial to your body and those that are unbeneficial.
Low-density lipoprotein or “LDL” is considered to be the “bad” cholesterol because it takes cholesterol to your arteries which can lead to buildup and possibly even blockage.
High-density lipoprotein or “HDL” is considered to be the “good” cholesterol since it transports cholesterol to your liver to be released from your body.
High fiber foods help decrease the amount of LDL in your body, which can help reduce arterial plaques and lowers risk of heart disease.
Is pearl barley good for weight loss?
Yes. Pearl barley can be beneficial for weight loss since it contains fiber and protein. These two nutrients have been shown to increase satiety and therefore decrease overall intake.
That being said, you will only lose weight if you consume less calories than you expend. Pearl barley itself won’t cause weight loss, but it may help reduce your overall intake.
Along with including pearl barley in your diet, be sure to include lots of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and low fat dairy products or dairy alternatives.