Why Eat It
Nutrition Chart

Why Eat It

Barley, one of the first crops cultivated by man, has been used as a food and medication since biblical times. More flavorful and chewy than white rice, although not as strongly flavored as brown rice, this versatile grain deserves a place in the kitchen of the health-oriented cook. Like oats, barley is an excellent source of soluble fiber, and so can be effective in lowering cholesterol levels. Hulled barley, the form of the grain in which the bran is left intact, is exceptionally nutritious, especially in terms of thiamin and dietary fiber. In its most commonly eaten form, known as pearled barley, the bran is removed and the grain has less iron, manganese, phosphorus, and thiamin. Still, it's a highly nutritious and tasty food.


Barley is sold in several forms. Most of the barley eaten in the U.S. has been milled to remove the bran. It is possible, however, to find less-refined forms, mostly at health-food stores.

Flakes (flaked barley): Like the rolled oats they resemble, barley flakes are grains that have been flattened.

Grits: More similar to bulgur than to corn (hominy) grits, these barley grains have been toasted and cracked into small pieces.

Hulled barley: This form of barley is not as widely available as the other types, but its superior nutrient content makes it worth seeking out (try a health-food store). Because only the outer, inedible hull, and not the bran, is removed, hulled barley is rich in dietary fiber. It also contains more iron and trace minerals than pearled barley--and more than four times the thiamin. The grains are brown, and they take longer to cook than pearled barley.

Pearled (pearl) barley: To produce these uniform, ivory-colored granules, the barley grains are scoured six times during milling to completely remove their double outer hull (called the spikelet) and their bran layer. Unfortunately, as with white rice, this process also removes nutrients. The thorough milling, however, shortens the grain's cooking time considerably.

Quick barley: An instant form of pearled barley, this cooks even faster because it is precooked by steaming. It is no less nutritious than regular pearled barley.

Pot barley (Scotch barley): A less-refined version than pearled, pot barley is milled just three times, so that part of the bran layer remains. Although some supermarkets carry this form, it is more likely to be found in health-food stores.


Pearled barley is sold in supermarkets, as is quick-cooking barley and, sometimes, barley grits. For a wider selection of barley products, visit a health-food store.


When buying packaged barley, be sure the package is sealed. If you buy in bulk, shop at a store that has a good turnover, keeps the bins covered, and empties them before adding new stock. Barley should be clean and dry, free from chaff or other debris, and smell pleasantly fresh.


After opening the package, or if the grain was purchased in bulk, place barley in a tightly covered jar or in a sealable plastic bag. In warm weather, store barley in the refrigerator; for longer storage, freeze it.


Barley that comes in a cracked or flaked form is most often served as a hot cereal or added to baked goods. Whole barley (hulled, pearled, quick, or pot barley) can be cooked much the way rice is: in boiling water and served hot as a side dish or cold in a salad; cooked along with other ingredients in a soup or stew. Cooking times vary with the form. All of the times given are for cooking the barley in boiling water (or in the liquid of a soup or stew): Flakes (flaked barley), about 30 minutes; grits, add to boiling water and let stand two to three minutes; hulled barley, about 1 hour 40 minutes; pot barley (Scotch barley), 1 hour; pearled (pearl) barley, 45 minutes; quick barley, 10 to 12 minutes, then cover and let stand five minutes.

Nutrition Chart

Pearled Barley/1/2 cup uncooked

Total fat (g)
Saturated fat (g)
Monounsaturated fat (g)
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
Dietary fiber (g)
Carbohydrate (g)
Sodium (mg)
Thiamin (mg)
Niacin (mg)
Vitamin B6 (mg)
Iron (mg)
Magnesium (mg)
Manganese (mg)
Selenium (mcg)
Zinc (mg)

Date Published: 04/19/2005
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