Barley (Hordeum vulgare) is a species of the genus barley (Hordeum) within the grass family (Poaceae) that was originally grown in the Middle East. Barley contains very little gluten in comparison to wheat and rye.
Culinary uses — barley:
What is barley used for? Hulled barley has a nutty flavor and is rich in vitamins, fiber, and minerals. Although people don’t cook barley often anymore, it is very healthy and versatile. In less economically developed regions of Asia and Africa, barley is still used to make bread, while in Europe it is primarily used as animal fodder and for producing beer.
What can you make with barley? Barley is available in the form of whole grain barley (hulled), pearl barley (polished), barley flakes (rolled barley), barley grits, quick pearl barley, barley flour, and barley malt syrup. Barley flakes (organic) can be used in muesli, while pearl barley is wonderful in salads, stews, and soups. Barley should always be soaked before it is used to reduce its cooking time. Barley grits make a good side dish, and they can be added to porridge, casseroles, and patties. You can also use barley instead of rice to make a delicious barley risotto called orzotto. If you soak the barley ahead of time, you can shorten the time it takes to cook barley. There are many vegan recipes online that call for barley.
Hulled barley has low levels of gluten and doesn’t rise very much when it is baked, so it is not necessarily the best choice for making bread. Only highly skilled bakers can manage to bake decent pure barley bread. Tsampa, a toasted flour made from barley, has been a staple food in Tibet for over one thousand years. Barley flour has a nutty flavor and can also be used as a breakfast porridge or to thicken soups and sauces.
What drinks can you make with barley? Hulled barley is also used as a coffee substitute. There are coffee-like drinks made from barley and sold under a variety of names including caffè d’orzo in Italy, Barleycup (a brand name drink that also includes rye and chicory) in the UK, and Muckefuck or Mukkefuck (most likely derived from the French mocca faux or fake mocca) in Germany. Barley, which is rich in nutrients, can also be used to produce beer and whiskey. In addition, barley can be germinated to produce malt, which can then be converted into malt syrup or processed malt sugar.
Vegan recipe for Barley Soup:
Ingredients (for 4 servings): 1½ L vegetable broth, 200 g carrots, 200 g leeks, 200 g celery root (celeriac), 120 g hulled barley, 100 mL soy cream (vegan), 1 onion, 10 g chives, 1 clove garlic, black pepper, salt, Tabasco, a little canola oil.
Preparation: First peel and dice the onion and garlic. Peel the carrots and celery root, and cut into small cubes. Rinse the leek well and slice into rings. Heat the canola oil in a skillet and sauté the onions and garlic briefly over medium heat. Add the carrots, leek, and celery root, and sauté the vegetables for 5 minutes. Add the hulled barley to the vegetable mixture in the skillet, sauté briefly, and deglaze with vegetable stock. Bring the barley soup to a boil, and then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 45 minutes. Before serving, stir in the chopped chives and soy cream, and season with salt, pepper, and Tabasco to taste. Serve the vegan barley soup with fresh bread.
Recipe for Barley Tea or Barley Water:
What is barley water? Barley water or barley tea is a drink you make by boiling hulled barley in water and letting them steep for several hours. In traditional medicine, it is an ancient tonic for increasing strength and reducing fever.
Preparing barley tea: Rinse 100 g hulled barley thoroughly, bring to a boil in 2 liters water, and then simmer for 2 hours until the liquid has reduced to 1 liter. Use a sieve to strain the barley out of the tea, and add fresh lemon juice and honey to taste.1
You can find vegan recipes with hulled barley at the bottom of the text or in the side bar: “Recipes that contain the largest amounts of this ingredient.”
Purchasing — where to buy barley?
It is very easy to confuse hulled barley with pearl barley. Pearl barley is rounder and usually smaller than hulled barley, and it is available at major distributors such as Whole Foods Markets, Kroger, and Safeway (United States); Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, and Holland & Barret (Great Britain); Metro, Extra Foods, and Goodness Me (Canada); and Coles, Woolworths, and Harris Farm (Australia). Large distributors such as Walmart, Aldi, and Lidl don’t usually carry pearl or hulled barley.
Where can I buy hulled barley? Hulled barley (raw, organic) or hulless barley (sometimes called naked barley and still capable of germinating) can usually be found at health food stores and organic grocery stores, and on online.
Boiling barley: First rinse the barley thoroughly in cold water. Soak barley in water before you cook them to reduce the total cooking time. This will also preserve the barley’s nutrients and save energy. How long do you have to soak barley? After rinsing, let the barley soak at room temperature for 10–12 hours in 2–2.5 times as much unsalted water. Soaking will also cause part of the phytic acid in barley to break down. Phytic acid reduces the absorption of important nutrients in the body.
How long do hulled barley and hulless barley have to cook? Hulled and hulless barley have to cook for quite a long time. After soaking, cook the barley for 30–45 minutes, and then let stand for an additional 30–60 minutes.3
Sprouting barley: Only whole grain barley with intact hulls can sprout. Look for organic barley. Sprouted grains like sprouted barley and barley sprouts are very healthy because they are high in vitamins and minerals. Raw sprouted barley has a sweet, nutty flavor that makes a nice addition to muesli, salads, soups, and even bread. The sprouts can also be used as a garnish.
You can sprout the barley in a special seed sprouter or in a simple mason jar. Using a sprouting jar involves soaking the barley in water directly in the jar for about 6 hours. After the initial soak, you need to rinse the seeds with fresh water twice a day. To do this, fill the jar with water, and then let the liquid run out again. Do not place the jar directly in the sun to prevent the barley from either “over-sprouting” or drying it out. After about three days, the sprouts will be ready to harvest. One cup of barley will produce about two cups of fresh barley sprouts (raw food).2
What is the best way to store barley? Raw hulled barley can keep for several years in the right conditions. Barley should have a moisture content of 14 % for optimal storage. A dark, dry, odor-free cellar or pantry is ideal for storing barley. Storing it in the refrigerator, however, is not recommended, since it is too cold and humid. Store hulled barley in breathable linen and cotton sacks so that it can “breathe.” This can prevent mold from forming. Shake the barley sacks occasionally to ensure proper ventilation and improve the barley’s shelf life. Make sure that pests like pantry moths cannot get into the storage bags.
Nutrients — nutritional information — calories in barley:
There are major differences in barley’s nutritional composition beyond those that arise from the methods used to process the grain. These nutritional differences depend on the specific barley cultivars (genetic differences) and the grain’s origin (differences that arise from environmental conditions). Studies indicate that the protein content of barley can vary as much as 10–20 %, and that its fiber content varies even more at 11–34 %, whereas its beta-glucan content varies 2–11 %. The following figures and comparisons come from the US Department of Agriculture and may not be representative of European barley varieties.15
Hulled barley contains 73 g carbohydrates and 354 cal per 100 g. Its 17 g of fiber make it very filling, and it is low in fat (2.3 g). Barley’s 12 g of protein per 100 g is comparable to what you would find in semolina (raw, organic) and raw buckwheat. Spelt (14.9 g) and amaranth (14.1 g), a pseudograin, contain a bit more protein.
Raw barley contains 1.9 mg manganese per 100 g, which would account for 97 % of your daily requirement. Sprouted wheat (1.8 mg/100 g) and raw quinoa (2 mg/100 g) contain similar amounts of manganese. Wheat germ (raw) has 13 mg manganese per 100 g, which is significantly more than what you find in hulled barley.
Consuming 100 g hulled barley as part of a 2000 cal diet will provide about 84 % of your daily requirement of tryptophan. Barley’s tryptophan content (0.21 g/100 g) is comparable to what you find in oats (0.23 g/100 g). Hemp seeds (0.37 g/100 g) and chia seeds (0.44 g/100 g) are also high in tryptophan.4
The selenium in hulled barley (38 µg/100 g) corresponds to about 69 % of our daily requirement. Wheat flour has similar amounts of selenium (39.7 µg/100 g), but kamut — also known as Khorasan wheat — has significantly higher levels (81.5 µg/100 g).4
Select CLICK FOR under the photo of hulled barley to see the nutrient tables. These tables provide complete nutritional information, the percentage of the recommended allowance, and comparison values with other ingredients.
Health aspects — benefits of barley:
Why is barley healthy? The protein in barley has a high biological value, which means that is highly bioavailable. Its protein and dietary fiber together mean that barley is satisfying, increases intestinal volume, and stimulates digestion. Hulled barley can relieve digestive problems such as gastritis, duodenal ulcers, stomach and intestinal infections, and colon inflammation. Barley water can also help with digestive problems. Eating hulled barley can lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.5 Barley contains beta-glucans, which are a type of fiber used to lower cholesterol. Beta-glucans are also said to support the immune system and reduce the risk of arteriosclerosis, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, and cancer.6
Is pearl barley healthy? Pearl barley contains fewer vitamins, fiber, and minerals than hulled barley, since its nutrient-rich outer layers have been polished off. But despite its lower nutrient content, pearl barley is healthy and filling, low in fat, and high in both fiber and valuable protein.
Dangers — intolerances — side effects:
People who suffer from celiac disease should refrain from eating hulled barley because it contains gluten.7 You can find more information on celiac disease in our article on semolina.
Use as a medicinal plant:
It is not only barley seeds that are considered very healthy. Barley grass (raw) is also very good for you and contains a variety of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and antioxidants. Barley grass is available as a powder, in capsules, and in tablets. Barley grass promotes better sleep, regulates blood pressure, strengthens the immune system, has detoxifying effects, improves gastrointestinal function, is an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, and prevents cardiovascular diseases.8
Traditional medicine — naturopathy:
Hulled barley is also used in naturopathy. Barley water is considered an ancient remedy. It was often used to reduce fevers, promote drainage, and strengthen the body. Barley water is said to have cooling and moisturizing effects and to alleviate menopausal symptoms. Barley is also thought to soothe mucous membranes in the gastrointestinal tract and to have a slight laxative effect that can ease bloating and constipation. In Japan, barley tea is still consumed today to prevent stress-related stomach ulcers. Barley sprouts (raw) are also said to have dehydrating and fever-reducing effects.
Description — origin:
What is barley? Barley (Hordeum vulgare L.), like wheat, is a member of the grass family (Poaceae). People often call barley an ancient grain because it is the oldest type of cultivated grain. Barley originally comes from the Middle East, where it was grown as long as 6'000 years ago. In ancient Egypt, barley was a staple food, and it was also one of the most important types of grain for the Greeks.
Where is barley grown? Today, barley is mainly grown in Europe, Russia, Canada, and the US.
Cultivation — harvest:
Barley growers distinguish between winter and summer barley. When is barley grown? Winter barley has a higher yield and is planted in September. Barley plants freeze and die if the temperature drops below 15 °C and remains there for an extended period of time. Barley germinates and forms side shoots before winter, and the spikes with the grains emerge in spring. Summer barley is grown from late February to early April, and it needs only 110–130 days from planting to harvest.9
Barley is a self-pollinator and an undemanding plant that also grows in extreme locations and under unfavorable conditions. It thrives best in moist, deep soils. Barley is susceptible to diseases such as powdery mildew, leaf scald, crown rust, eyespot, and fungi (such as Fusarium graminearum), and there are viruses that can cause entire crop failures.
Barley is harvested from the end of July to the beginning of August. Barley has to dry out after it is harvested; otherwise, it can succumb to mold infestations.
Most barley is what is known as “covered barley,” where the grain and the inedible husk are firmly fused together. These grains must therefore be hulled to remove the tough outer layer before consumption. What is pearl barley? After barley has been hulled, it can be processed into pearl barley (pearled barley). The grains are polished or “pearled” to remove some or all of the bran layer under the hull, which results in round grains. To produce barley grits, the individual kernels (either of hulled barley or pearl barley) can be cut into fine, medium, or coarse groats, depending on the desired size. Barley flour is barley that has been milled to a coarseness of less than 1 mm.
“Naked barley” or hulless barley is an uncommon type of barley that loses its husks during threshing, unlike “covered” barley, so it does not have to be hulled. In terms of nutrition, “naked” barley and hulled barley are considered to be of higher quality compared to pearl barley because they still have their nutritious bran intact.10
General information about barley:
Barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) comes in many different varieties. Its grains can be tightly covered with husks or have loose husks, and they can grow either densely or loosely packed in two or more rows of kernels on its spikes, which may or may not have awns. Barley plants can differ in their husk length and grain color. Two-row barley varieties form only one spikelet, and thus one grain per notch on the main spike. These varieties should produce higher quality grain on stable, wind-resistant straw. By contrast, six-rowed barley forms several grains per notch. These varieties are considered to be more productive, more stress-resistant, and hardier. The grains of the six-rowed varieties, however, are a bit less developed than the two-row varieties.11,12
Alternative names for barley:
Hulled barley is called geschälte Gerste in German, orge in French, cebada in Spanish, ячмень в шелухе in Russian, and kabuklu arpa in Turkish.
Winter barley is primarily used as fodder for farm animals. Farmers also use barley straw as fodder.14
Literature — sources:
Many researchers do not believe that Wikipedia is an authoritative source. One reason for this is that the information about literature cited and authors is often missing or unreliable. Our pictograms for nutritional values provide also information on calories (kcal).
- Heilpraxisnet.de. Gerstenwasser - Wirkung und Anwendung. Verfasser: Susanne Waschke.
- Sprossen-keimlinge.de. Gerstensprossen ziehen.
- Umweltberatung.at. Kochen mit Vollkorn leicht gemacht.
- USDA United States Department of Agriculture.
- J.D.Pamplona Roger. Heilkräfte der Nahrung, Praxishandbuch. Advent-Verlag Zürich. 3. Auflage 2008.
- Ciecierska A, Drywień ME, Hamulka J, Sadkowski T. Nutraceutical functions of beta-glucans in human nutrition. Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig. 2019;70(4):315–24.
- Rubio-Tapia A, Hill ID, Kelly CP, Calderwood AH, Murray JA, American College of Gastroenterology. ACG clinical guidelines: diagnosis and management of celiac disease. Am J Gastroenterol. Mai 2013;108(5):656–76; quiz 677.
- Zeng Y, Pu X, Yang J, Du J, Yang X, Li X, u. a. Preventive and therapeutic role of functional ingredients of barley grass for chronic diseases in human beings. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2018.
- Pflanzenforschung.de. Pflanzensteckbrief Gerste.
- Getreide.org. Nacktgerste.
- Landsorten.de. Gerstensorten.
- Lfl.bayern.de. Einzeilige und mehrzeilige Gerste.
- Dwds.de. Wie spricht man Gerste aus?
- Rehm S, Espig G. Die Kulturpflanzen der Tropen und Subtropen. Verlag Eugen Ulmer: Stuttgart. 1976.
- The increasing use of barley and barley by-products in the production of healthier baked goods. Trends in Food Science & Technology. 1. Februar 2013;29(2):124–34.