How to Cook Barley

Barley Basics


There are several types of barley, flaked, flour, grits, hulled, pearl and more. Most of the barley you’ll find in the supermarket is pearl barley or polished barley, which has had its hull removed, and most of the nutrients that go with that, but also reduces the cooking time (slightly). An un-hulled barley can take up to 20 minutes longer to cook but it’s an excellent source of fiber and keeps you fuller longer. Bob’s Red Mill has a great ‘hull-less’ barley that still contains the bran. It’s an ancient variety that grows in a loose hull thus saving much of the nutrition but it does take as long to cook as the un-hulled barley. Use 3 parts water or stock to 1 cup of barley; if using pearl barley start checking after about 20 minutes of cooking, barley can take up to 1 hour to cook. Try using a pressure cooker making a larger batch than you need and freezing the cooked barley in 1 or 2 cup packets for later use in soups or salads or as a side dish.


Some people like to soak their barley overnight or even for just a few hours. It doesn’t cut down much on cooking time and may alter the appearance or color of the grain but if you have trouble digesting whole grains this may work for you. Whole grains contain an anti-nutrient called phytic acid which binds with certain minerals (e.g.  zinc, phosphorous, calcium and iron) and prevents them from being absorbed by the body.  Phytic acid is also very hard on the digestive system.  Most of the phytic acid is contained in the exterior bran and germ layers of the grain.  Ironically, whole grains are much higher in minerals than polished or refined grains, but we won’t receive those benefits unless we neutralize the phytic acid. Soaking your grains before cooking them will neutralize the phytic acid and release the enzyme inhibitors, making them easier to digest and the nutrients easier to absorb. Soak overnight with a little squeeze of lemon juice or other acidic liquid (apple cider vinegar etc.), drain and rinse before using.

Barley Basics

To make in a pressure cooker or Instant Pot check the manufacturer’s instructions or try this website for info,

  • 3 cups water or stock
  • 1 cup barley
  • 1 generous pinch of salt, optional

Combine the barley and water or stock in the saucepan. Add the salt if using.

Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat, cover and simmer, checking at 20 minutes for pearl or polished barley. Keep an eye on the pot as barley will give off a lot of foam at first and can cause the pot to boil over, for hulled barley, start checking at 40 minutes. The barley is done when it has tripled in volume and is soft yet chewy. Add more water if the pan becomes dry before the barley has finished cooking; check every 5 minutes until desired chewiness is reached.

When the barley is done, it will have absorbed most of the water. If there is a little water still left in the pot, just leave the barley to sit for 10 minutes, covered, until it has all been absorbed. If there is a lot of water left, drain the barley. If you want to cool it quickly to freeze, spread it out on a half sheet pan until cool, then measure and freeze.









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