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What is Barley?

By Cathy Rogers
Updated May 16, 2024
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Barley is a common staple in human and animal diets. Part of the grass family, it grows in over 100 countries and is one of the most popular cereal crops, surpassed only by wheat, corn and rice. Although barley is fairly adaptable and can be grown in many regions, it is a tender grain and care must be taken in all stages of its growth and harvest.

In the United States, barley grows in nearly half the states, in both dry environments and those that need commercial irrigation. It is a short-season, early maturing crop. The primary uses are in animal feed, seed and malt production. In the U.S., a small amount of barley is used for food products, including bread and cookies as well as soups and pilafs. Malting barley is an ingredient for whiskey and beer.

Because barley is a whole-grain food, consumption provides several health benefits. It is high is soluble fiber and can reduce blood cholesterol and blood glucose levels. It's also low in fat.

Types of barley include hulled, hulless and pearled. When it is hulled, the tough inedible outer layer is removed. Still considered minimally processed, the hulled barley is a whole grain. It comes in kernels, flakes, grits and flour. The hulless version, also known as naked barley, still has the tough outer hull loosely attached.

Pearled barley has the hull removed and is polished by a scouring process. It can be purchased as regular, medium or fine, but is no longer considered whole grain. This type is available in the same forms as hulless and hulled, and additionally as quick cooking kernels or flakes. Pearled barley is widely available in supermarkets near the rice, dry beans and lentils.

Barley flour is available in health food markets. It is used as a thickener for soups and stews, and also in baked goods. In recipes that need to rise, combine this type of flour with wheat flour.

Flakes made from barley are used like oatmeal or in baked goods. They can be found specialty stores with other cooked cereals or in bulk containers. Barley grits are also used like flakes, as well as in some commercial foods.

To form barley malt, the kernels are soaked and dried. They sprout in a controlled environment. Along with beer, uses for the malt include extracts, syrups and flavorings.

Cooked pearled barley added to a salad provides extra fiber. Main dishes, soups and stews, baked goods and breakfast foods also include this grain as an ingredient. Breakfast recipes include frittatas, pancakes and hash.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon347949 — On Sep 12, 2013

Barley is now available and barley juice is the most effective.

By reyssa16 — On Apr 28, 2012

Barley helps strengthen our immune system. Many of us are barley users and the most popular testimony we have is from April Boy Regino, a singer from our country, who is now cured from prostate cancer. He said in his testimony, "Prayers and Sante Pure Barley saved my life."

By anon236943 — On Dec 26, 2011

Barley is a grain that has gluten like wheat and rye which is not good for those who have celiac disease.

By motherteresa — On May 20, 2011

You can use barley as you would rice, in hearty soups, or as a side dish. It does take longer though to cook barley, somewhere around 40 minutes.

You can cut the time in half, to about 20 minutes, by soaking barley overnight in cold water. The following day, drain the water and cook soaked barley in the soup, or in broth if you want to use it as a side dish. Barley is very tasty, it is much heartier and has more bite to it than rice.

By anon130065 — On Nov 26, 2010

what is there in barley like nutrients, carbohydrates, amino acids, etc.?

By anon97812 — On Jul 21, 2010

how can i use barley daily? can i buy it as a powder so that i can put it in the food?

By anon84967 — On May 18, 2010

re: diane507: I buy toasted barley at a local Korean supermarket.

By anon80116 — On Apr 26, 2010

is barley intensive or extensive?

By anon76594 — On Apr 11, 2010

Barley is actually harvested in the summer in U.S.

By anon67067 — On Feb 23, 2010

from october to december. It is harvested from feb. to april depending upon time of sowing.

By anon65160 — On Feb 11, 2010

i make and sell a 100 percent hulless barley cereal.

By anon60790 — On Jan 16, 2010

can anybody tell me the months when barley is sown and harvested? please.

By anon58834 — On Jan 04, 2010

I have 20 pounds of pearled barley uncooked and I had it for 12 months. Is it OK to start using it?

Thanks, fred.

By anon29301 — On Mar 30, 2009

Barley is not OK for people with Celiac's disease. It has gluten, just like wheat and rye, which is what causes the problem. Those are the only 3 grains though that you have to avoid.

By mrytlebeach — On Feb 03, 2009

I would be interested to know if barley is part of the wheat family as well as I have Celiac's as well? Thank you.

By diane507 — On Dec 28, 2008

Years ago I was able to buy Goodman's Toasted Barley in the supermarket. It was always in the same section as lentils. I haven't made this recipe in years and decided recently to make it. To my dismay, I could not find the toasted barley in any supermarket. I also tried a Trader Joe's and they didn't carry it. I did a search online for Goodman's Toasted Barley and just toasted barley and came up with nothing. Is this not made any longer? If someone knows where I can buy it, please advise.

By anon11276 — On Apr 12, 2008

Is barley wheat or part of the wheat family? Is it OK to eat if I have celiac's disease?

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