How to Cook Barley: Pearl and Hulled

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If you need to get more fiber in your diet, why not treat yourself to a bowl of cooked barley? Barley is a versatile, nutritious grain that’s packed with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Eating barley on a regular basis can improve your health, lower your cholesterol, aid your digestion and provide a number of other health benefits.

With this easy tutorial, you’ll learn how long to cook barley, including pearled and hulled, and how to cook it in soup or on its own.

Barley cooking in a pot.

Cooked pearl barley on the left, hulled barley on the right.

Difference Between Pearl and Hulled Barley

When you learn how to cook barley, you’ll find that it comes in two main forms: pearl barley and hulled barley. Hulled barely has everything but the outer hull, making it the healthier form of barley. It is darker in color in comparison to pearl barley. You’ll get fiber and nutrients from the entire grain, not just the inner “pearls”. The only downside is that hulled barley takes longer to cook.

Conversely, pearled barley is a form of barley with the husks and shells (the bran) removed through a process called ‘pearling’. It’s still nutritious and cooks a little faster than hulled barley. If you’re in a pinch, you might want to use pearl barley in your recipe so you can cook the barley as soon as possible. Otherwise, you might want to use hulled barley to get the full benefit of this whole grain.

Pot Barley Vs. Hulled Barley

There is another form of barley, called Pot Barley. Pot barley is somewhere in between pearl barley and hulled barley in terms of processing. It is also put through a pearling machine, but for a shorter amount of time, which keeps some of the bran intact.

How to Cook Barley on Its Own

Step 1: Prepare Ingredients

Uncooked barley in 2 bowls.
  • 1 cup pearl barley or hulled barley
  • 3 cups water or broth
  • 1 pinch salt

Step 2: Rinse Barley in Cool Water

Barley in a mesh strainer.

Rinse the barley with cool water in a mesh strainer.

Step 3: Add the Ingredients to a Saucepan

Barley cooking in a pot.

Add the barley, water (or broth) and salt to a saucepan.

Barley cooking in a pot.

Step 4: Bring to a Boil

Barley cooking in a pot.

Bring to a boil over high heat (keep an eye on it, as it will start to foam up quickly once boiling).

Step 5: Cook the Barley

Cooked barley in a pot.

Pearl barley

Barley in a pot.

Hulled barley

When the water comes to a boil, lower the heat for a gentle simmer and cover. Pearl barley needs to cook for 25 minutes or more and hulled barley needs to cook longer, for 40 minutes or more. Check for doneness and water level at these times and every 5 minutes after. Simply add a bit more water or broth if needed.

When it is done cooking, the barley will have expanded by 2-3 times in volume and have a nice and soft, chewy texture.

Step 6: Remove From Heat and Rest the Barley

Cooked barley in a pot.

Take the pot off of the heat, keep covered, and let stand for 10 minutes. When the barley is done, you may need to drain some water (pearl barley will absorb more water than hulled). If a lot of water is remaining in the pot, simply drain it off.

Step 7: Fluff With a Fork & Serve

Barley in a bowl.

Fluff with a fork, season to taste (if needed) and serve!

Barley cooking in a pot, wooden spoon on the side.

How to Cook Barley in Soup

Barley soup in a bowl.

Pearl barley in soup.

Hulled barley in a bowl of soup.

Hulled barley in soup.

For a Creamier Barley Soup

If you want a creamier-textured soup: begin by rinsing the pearl barley with cool water in a mesh strainer. Then, cook the barley with all of the soup ingredients, until soft. The pearl barley will release some starches and give the soup a thicker, creamier consistency.

Barley soup.
Barley soup in a bowl.

For a Lighter Barley Soup

If you prefer a lighter, more clear soup: just cook it separately using the above directions, rinse in a mesh strainer and then add it into the soup towards the end.

Barley in a bowl and soup in a pot.

If you enjoy whole grains, you can eat a bowl of cooked barley for breakfast or lunch. Some people also use barley as a replacement for rice. You can serve barley with meat and vegetables, add it to a fresh salad, make a soup or stew, cook barley porridge or make a healthy grain bowl.

Barley is great for meal planning in advance. Add a bed of cooked and cooled barley to your container, top it with meat and vegetables and store it in the fridge until you go to work the next day. You could even make barley water if you’d prefer to drink your whole grains.

What dish did you make with your new barley-cooking skills? Let us know in the comments and please share the recipe!

Barley cooking in a pot.

How to Cook Barley

Joss D
With this easy tutorial, you'll learn how long to cook barley, including pearl and hulled, and how to cook it in soup or on its own.
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine African, Middle Eastern
Servings 2
Calories 326 kcal

Ingredients
 
 

  • 1 cup pearl barley or hulled barley
  • 3 cups water or broth
  • 1 pinch salt

Instructions
 

  • Rinse the barley with cool water in a mesh strainer.
    Barley in a mesh strainer.
  • Add the barley, water (or broth) and salt to a saucepan.
    Barley cooking in a pot.
  • Bring to a boil over high heat (keep an eye on it, as it will start to foam up quickly once boiling).
    Barley cooking in a pot.
  • When the water comes to a boil, turn the heat to low for a gentle simmer and cover. Pearl barley needs to cook for 25 minutes or more and hulled barley needs to cook longer, for 40 minutes or more. Check for doneness and water level at these times and every 5 minutes after. Simply add a bit more water or broth if needed.
    When it is done cooking, the barley will have expanded by 2 to 3 times in volume and have a nice and soft, chewy texture.
    Cooked barley in a pot.
  • Take the pot off of the heat, keep covered, and let stand for 10 minutes. When the barley is done, you may need to drain some water (pearl barley will absorb more water than hulled). If a lot of water is remaining in the pot, simply drain it off.
    Cooked barley in a pot.
  • Fluff with a fork, season to taste (if needed) and serve!
    Barley cooking in a pot, wooden spoon on the side.

How to Cook Pearl and Hulled Barley in Soup

  • If you want a creamier-textured soup: begin by rinsing the pearl barley with cool water in a mesh strainer. Then, cook the barley with all of the soup ingredients, until soft. The pearl barley will release some starches and give the soup a thicker, creamier consistency. I like to add about 1/2 cup dry barley to every 4 cups broth.
    Barley soup in a bowl.
  • If you prefer a lighter soup: just cook the barley separately using the above directions, rinse in a mesh strainer and then add it into the soup towards the end.
    Barley in a bowl and soup in a pot.

Equipment

Saucepan

Nutrition

Calories: 326kcalCarbohydrates: 68gProtein: 11gFat: 2gSaturated Fat: 1gSodium: 30mgPotassium: 416mgFiber: 16gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 20IUCalcium: 30mgIron: 3mg

Nutrition information on In the Kitch is provided as a courtesy and is an estimate only. It may not include toppings and/or sauces.

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