What’s the Deal with Barley?

What's the deal with Barley | Good Mood Foods | Foods that Heal | Maple and Marigold

In India Barley is a widely popular whole grain under its Hindi name Jau but I wasn’t familiar with it till years after I moved to the other side of the world to Canada. And even then I wondered, “What’s the Deal with Barley?”

What is Barley?

Well, it’s a grass that grows and looks much like wheat. The plants produce a super nutritious whole grain that is full of fibre and protein called barley. This is one of the top five grains in the world and has been around as long as humans have. It’s called an ancient grain for a reason – because it has been around since the stone age.

Surprisingly though, only 10% of the world’s barley crop is used for food. Instead, it is used for the other favourite human food. Alcohol. Nearly one-third of the barley crops worldwide are used for malted beverages such as whiskey or beer. Remaining goes to feed livestock.

In Canada, the numbers are a little bit different but the crop is equally important, perhaps more so. It is currently the country’s third-largest crop, after wheat and canola.

Even though much of the grain doesn’t end up in our bellies, there’s a growing trend of healthy eaters who have figured out the benefits of barley and are eager to add it to their diet. That’s me, and if you’re reading this article then that’s you too.

What kind of barley should I buy?

The answer to that question lies in how much time you have. If you meal prep and want to add barley into various dishes during the week, go for hulled barley. It takes an hour or so to cook, much shorter if you use the Instant Pot. You can make it on Sundays be ready for the week.

Then there’s Pearl barley that is the most favoured kind because it takes only 20 minutes to cook. This variety though has been considerably polished hence the white, shiny, almost pearl-like appearance. Pretty, yes, but most of the fibre and nutritional quality has been processed off.

I often cook Pot Barley that falls in-between hulled barley and the pearl variety. This means that pot barley has been polished to make it faster to cook than hulled but to a far lesser degree than pearled leaving most of the bran and the nutritional characteristics intact. 40 mins to table and almost as healthy as the whole grain works for my kitchen.

Benefits of Barley

The whole grain (or hulled) barley is widely regarded as a superfood. I hesitate to use the word “super” when referring to food because that implies the food does all the hard work and really that is not the case, right? But if there ever was a superfood, barley would be it.

Barley is a nutritious whole grain. High in fibre, high in protein it also comes chock-full of micronutrients that help lower cholesterol and inflammation. The latter is the reason behind, as medical scientists have proven, many serious problems like cancer and cardiovascular ailments.

What's The Deal With Barley | Benefits of barley | Maple and Marigold

Cooking with Barley

Most of my barley recipes especially the kids’ favourite, barley pulao, use pot barley. I cook a batch of it when I’m prepping for the week on Sunday and then use it in a variety of ways all week long.

Steps to cook barley:

Rinse pot barley 3-4 times and then soak for min 30 minutes up to 6 hours.

Add soaked barley grains in a saucepan with a lid. One cup of grain with two cups of water along with a pinch of salt and a tsp of oil.

Let it come to a boil and then turn it to low to simmer with the lid on for 35 minutes.

Once most of the water has been absorbed and the steam tunnels have formed, turn the heat off and leave the lid on for 5-8 min.

Serve it in salads, as a pulao or to extend your meat recipe.

Barley Pulao Recipe | Good Mood Foods | Foods that Heal | Maple and Marigold

Questions + Comments

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3 years ago

Hi Puneeta,
Thanks so much for your wonderful website! I have enjoyed going through many of your posts after seeing you on CHCH! Thank-you for explaining barley, and all these other wonderful foods that are readily available but sometimes forgotten or taken for granted. I must have bought the hulled kind of barley once, but cooked it in a recipe calling for pearled barley, so I was confused as to why my barley was so hard after the recipe’s given cooking time! I am grateful to you for sorting this out!! Many thanks!

About Puneeta

Author, Educator, Speaker

Puneeta is a writer, food advocate and guide for those who seek earth-friendly, delicious solutions that work for real life.

Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma, Food Writer, Climate Advocate, New cookbook - Good Food, Healthy Planet - out April 2024
Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma
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