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The Healthiest Grain in the World

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As part of one of the meals in my Vinegar Salad Stir Fry post, I highlighted hulled barley.  Afterwards, two people asked what the difference is between hulled barley and “regular” barley (a.k.a. pearled barley).

Both forms of barley—hulled and pearled—are nutritional powerhouses, high in fiber, selenium, phosphorous, copper, and manganese. They contain all eight essential amino acids. However, with pearled barley, the nutritious outer bran layer is stripped off, leaving just the pearl inside. (Think of it being like white rice to hulled barley’s brown.)

hulled barley

Hulled barley is less processed than its pearled cousin. In hulled barley, the outer bran layer is left intact, meaning this grain is extremely high in fiber, whole grains, B vitamins, iron, etc. It also yields a fun, chewy texture. Unlike the pearled variety, one cannot find this grain in most grocery stores. I usually get mine from the bulk aisle at Whole Foods.

Cooking hulled barley does take a bit longer than cooking the pearled variety. But it offers so much more nutritionally that the extra time is well worth it. (Plus, most of the extra time involves soaking and simmering, so if you set a timer, you don’t even need to be around during the cooking process.)

How to cook hulled barley

For one serving:

  • Measure 40 grams of dry barley (about 1/4 cup) into a small pot with a dash of salt and enough water to cover the barley (2 cups or so).
  •  Let soak for at least three hours. (I usually soak mine overnight; it lessens the actual cooking time.)
  • Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer for 45 minutes. (Set a timer so you don’t have to watch it.)
  • Stir, then simmer for another 45 minutes (and maybe even another 45 minutes, depending on how soft you want your barley).
  • Your barley is ready to eat… but you can take it up a notch and blend!  (You know I opt to blend.)  I drain the barley, then throw it in the Magic Bullet blender with about 2-3T of water (or other liquid) and maybe some seasonings/add-ins.  I pulse the blender just a few times so that the resulting cereal has the creaminess of a blended grain while still maintaining a fun chewy texture.

What to do with the cooked barley

  • Mix (or blend) with gravy, vegan mayo, or vegan butter (and cheese?) for a yummy risotto-like dish
  • Cook in apple juice, and add raisins, nuts, and curry powder for a sweet Indian-type pilaf
  • Reap even more health benefits by eating it alongside—or topped with—Stir Fry Salad
  • Use the melted banana trick when you blend the barley
  • Top with mushroom stroganoff

halloween 009

(Above, Mushroom Stroganoff, Steamfresh brussel sprouts, and some of that super-healthy barley)


Try using hulled barley (especially blended hulled barley) in any recipe that calls for oatmeal, or top the barley with your usual oatmeal toppers.

Katie is the baker, photographer, and author of the popular blog Chocolate-Covered Katie. Her favorite food is chocolate, and she believes in eating a balanced diet that includes dessert every single day. More about Katie—> 

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  1. brandi says:

    i love barley! i hope you’re having a good time :)

  2. Jessica says:

    I’m jealous — wish I was at the beach too!! :) Barley is sooo good! I get mine from WF bulk aisle too, it’s good and cheap!

  3. Yay barley! I am cooking wheatberries for the first time today…

    Am up for cookie dough anything 😉

  4. Ricki says:

    Barley is one of my favorites, too. We call the less processed type “pot barley” over here. :)

    Hope you’re having a blast at the beach!

  5. Hope you’re enjoying the beach! :)

    I’m totally on the barley bandwagon – so versatile and delicious!

  6. Whit says:

    Have fun at the beach! I am up for some Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Barley! Sounds fantastic!

  7. Katharina says:

    My grandma likes to make barley soup :) Barley is so yummy!! I would have it for breakfast sometimes during the winter. I like how you can make it sweet or savoury.

    Have fun at the beach, girl!!! Don’t forgot your SPF 😀

  8. MarathonVal says:

    Have fun at the beach! I’m loving the fact that you pre-posted before you left so that we can still get our CCK fix while you are gone! :)

  9. Delicious Katie…everything! Thanks for sharing your barley wisdom as I didn’t know the difference between hulled and pearled. Good to know, and I love the idea of blending with a little vegan mayo or perhaps a little avocado. Mmm, you know how I love my creamy green eats!

    Hope you’re having a wonderful time at the beach. :)

  10. Shelby says:

    I love barley! Never tried hulled but I’ll be sure to pick some up next time I’m out!

    Can’t wait for that recipe!

  11. JB says:

    you’re so good with the previews. always making me anxious for the next post, girl! can’t wait. :)
    barley is also really yummy in soup! and i hope you’re enjoying the beach!


  12. Kiersten says:

    Hey Katie! This has nothing to do with barley, but I wanted to tell you that I finally tried your blended grain technique. (Better late than never, right?) I love it! I usually blend mine with a few dates to sweeten it up. Topped with a little chocolate-peanut butter, it feels like I am eating dessert. Thanks so much for the great idea!

  13. Meg says:

    Definitely picking up some barley at the Whole Foobs bulk bins this week 😉

    Enjoy the beach – can’t wait to see that recipe, it looks awesome :)


  14. Christina says:

    Mmm barley is definitely one of my favorite grains! I’ve never made a sweet version though – looks delicious :) Have a great time at the beach!

  15. keri410 says:

    I totally robbed my mom’s pantry and stole some of her food storage barley! You’ve really made me want to whip some up and try out some of your recipe ideas! I can’t wait! Thanks!

    Hey, thought you might be interested in a giveaway I’m hosting over at my blog! Check it out!


  16. Maria says:

    Hulled barley sounds amazing! I’ve only tried pearled barley before–thanks for the info, Katie! Omg, and that last picture just makes my mouth water 😀

  17. Kiki says:

    I love pearl barely already, so now I must find hulled! Chocolate chip cookie dough barely sounds amazing ;]

    And I already commented about this on the pancake bonanza post, but I just finished my pancake post! I didn’t know the best way to tell you.

    Have fun at the beach!

  18. Sold!!! I’m going to have to get some:) thanks for the fun post!:)

  19. Meredith says:

    Have a fabulous time at the beach!

  20. Baylee says:

    chocolate chip cookie dough barley? count me in! Have a fantastic time at the beach!!

  21. sheree says:

    How I wish I was at the beach! I love barley. Thank you for your wonderful healthy ideas, recipes, and photos!!! Enjoy!!

  22. Marianne says:

    I think my favourite use for barley is in soup, but I will say, it sounds like a great base for a mushroom stroganoff as well.

  23. broccolihut says:

    I have a big a$$ container of barley that I really should break into…I never even thought to use it like oatmeal. Going on the “to cook” list, fo sho.

  24. Damjana says:

    I’m so happy for you that you are on the beach!

    I didn’t try to cook the whole barley grains yet but I did so with wheat, then I mixed the wheat grains with tomato&tuna sauce.
    You can lower the time of cooking if after 45 min of cooking you set the pot aside and leave it covered for half an hour.

  25. mihl says:

    Barley is definitely one of my favourite grains. I love the nutty flavour and often have some barley for breakfast. I’m thinking about adding it to my breads, too. And I think I once made barley flour pancakes 😉

  26. Michal Mymo says:

    Ive never tried barley, but thanks to you i think ill go and pick some up tonight at the health food store :)

  27. Emily says:

    Those are some very creative uses for barley. I think I’ve only eaten it in salads or soups, but I think it would taste great with fruit. Thanks Katie!

  28. Sagan says:

    Haven’t tried barley yet! Thanks for making the distinction between the two types.

  29. Oopsie, I think I’ve been eating the “white rice” version of barley! I made some for dinner tonight (the pearled kind) and it only took 10 mins to cook. :(
    And oh my gosh, people in the normal, non-blog world would think we are insane if we told them we were eating Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Barley for breakfast.

  30. ttfn300 says:

    i think i have barley somewhere around here… better go find it 😉

  31. looks good! To be honest I have never even heard of that lol

  32. lauren says:

    You are awesome!
    I haven’t had hulled barley in a while – sometimes we don’t feel like doing all that chewing. Your idea to blend the barley is genious! Now I want to have it tonight!
    As a 4-month pregnant vegan, I have been looking for healthy foods to eat to give my little one all the good stuff he or she needs. And everything I eat has to taste great or I can’t seem to get it down. I am especially interested in protein rich foods other than soy – I already eat a soy veggie burger for lunch each day because it’s quick, plus I drink soymilk. I am so glad you have so many delicious and healthy whole grain recipes! Fiber is also very important for us pregnant ladies. I am so happy I found your site yesterday! I will be looking at recipes today and going to the store tonight – these are the recipes I have been hoping for all along!
    I also must thank you for giving me back my appetite for brussel sprouts! They were my fave before getting pregnant but then I couldn’t even eat them for about 2 months! But all your pictures of sprouts look so good I think they’ll be back in my #1 spot.

  33. Danielle says:

    Hi Katie! Thanks for a great post– you inspired me to try hulled barley, which is currently simmering on my stove. To my knowledge, I’ve only had a little barley in soup, so this new and exciting. Thanks for the ideas on ways to enjoy this healthful grain!

  34. Hi Katie
    I was barely interested in barley, but some of those recipes are Gnarly.
    Also, that stir fry is changing my plans for this weekend.
    tnks Warren

  35. eric says:

    I thought quinoa was the healthiest grain in the world?! :)
    I never tried Barley but going to try a breakfast recipe.

    Nice site, old post, but found it while doing a little grain research.


    1. Oh you definitely can’t go wrong with quinoa either!
      (Technically, it’s a seed… kind of like how a panda isn’t really a bear ;).)