Techniques for Preparing Pearl Barley

The chewy, nutty, and generally delicious pantry staple of pearl barley can be prepared in a variety of ways, including on the stovetop, in an Instant Pot, or in a slow cooker, and then enjoyed as a filling side dish or in stews, soups, risottos, and salads.

Shallow serving bowl filled with cooked pearl barley.

As we prepare to cook with barley, it's helpful to keep in mind a few key points. One crucial distinction is that barley can be purchased in either hulled or pearl form.

The bran and endosperm of hulled barley, also known as pot barley, have been exposed after the inedible outer husk has been removed. Hulled barley, being a whole grain with all its layers intact, is the nuttier, chewier, and more nutrient-dense option. It turns out a darker golden color and takes nearly twice as long to cook as pearl barley.

Pearl barley has been refined to get rid of the outer husk and the highly nutritious bran layer (and sometimes the endosperm layer as well). In comparison to whole grains, it lacks nutritional value. It's less dark, less chewy, and quicker to cook.

The most common kind of barley found in supermarkets is pearl barley. If you're not sure what kind of barley you're buying at the store, look for the words "hulled" or "pearled" on the label.

Barley has a nutty flavor and chewy texture.

Image of two white ramekins one filled with pearled barley and one with hulled barley.

Pearl barley can be prepared in a number of different ways. Whether it's hulled barley or pearled rice, I've found that the two easiest methods of preparation are to cook them on the stovetop (similar to how one would prepare rice) or in an Instant Pot.

Stovetop

  1. In a pot, bring three cups of water and one cup of pearl barley that has been rinsed and drained to a boil. Salting the water helps bring out the grain's flavor.  
  2. Once the barley and water have come to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer. Don't forget to cover the pan!
  3. For the most part, you can just leave your barley to cook for 20 minutes or so with the occasional stir. Barley, like any other grain, can be cooked until it reaches the desired consistency, but typically it is ready when it has nearly tripled in size and is soft.  
  4. Barley is done cooking when it has reached the consistency you prefer. After re-covering the pot for 5-10 minutes, take it off the heat and use a fork to loosen the cooked barley.

The Pressure Cooker

  1. Put one cup of pearl barley in the Instant Pot and fill it with three cups of water. To taste, sprinkle some salt on top (optional). Please seal the air duct.
  2. High pressure, manual cooking for 20 minutes Quick-release
  3. Remove the lid and carefully pour the remaining cooking water into the sink. Put the lid back on and let the barley steam for ten minutes.
  4. Take the cover off once more and fluff with a fork.

Crock pot/slow cooker

  1. Put some salt and a cup of pearl barley that has been rinsed and drained into a slow cooker. The barley should be completely submerged in the water, so add enough to achieve this (about 3–4 cups).
  2. Maintain a low simmer for 6 to 8 hours.
  3. Once the barley is cooked to your liking, remove it from the heat, drain the excess liquid, and cover it. Barley needs to sit for about 10 minutes before you can serve it after fluffing it with a fork.

Pearl barley has a threefold yield when cooked, so one cup of dry

Two images in a collage: the first is of a pot filled with water and uncooked pearl barley and the second image of a pot filled with cooked pearl barley being fluffed with a wooden serving spoon. Shallow serving bowl filled with cooked pearl barley.

FAQ

What about pearl barley, does it contain gluten?

No Unfortunately, neither hulled barley nor pearl barley is safe for those with gluten sensitivities.

When cooked, does pearl barley contain gluten?

No For pearl barley, the husk and bran have been stripped away during processing.

Time required to prepare pearl barley

Cooking pearl barley takes about 25 minutes on the stove.

Do you know the glycemic index of pearl barley?

Raw pearl barley's glycemic index ranges from 22 to 29, making it a low-glycemic food. The glycemic index increases to at least 35 after cooking, which places it in the "medium" range.

Should pearl barley be soaked before being cooked?

Not at all (even for pearl barley), but some people prefer to soak their grains before cooking them. Barley can be less chewy and ready to eat in a shorter amount of time if you soak it first.

Can pearl barley be frozen after being cooked?

Yes Before storing your cooked barley in an airtight container or freezer-safe ziplock bag, let it cool to room temperature. Put in the freezer for up to two months

Overhead image of a small white bowl filled with pearl barley.

Can you cook pearl barley?

Fill out the comment section and tell me all about it. Your feedback is always welcome. Also, I'd love to see your culinary creations if you try any of my recipes; just use the hashtag #theforkedspoon on Instagram.

Shallow serving bowl filled with cooked pearl barley.
Chef: Profile photo of chef Jessica Randhawa of The Forked Spoon It's Jessica Randhawa.
The chewy, nutty, and generally delicious pantry staple of pearl barley can be prepared in a variety of ways, including the stovetop, the Instant Pot, and the slow cooker. It makes a hearty side dish or addition to stews, soups, and salads.
For Immediate Printing and Future Pinning: The Rating of a Recipe In the future, I can always refer back to this recipe.
  • Pearl barley, water, and salt should be combined in a pot and brought to a boil over high heat. Slowly bring to a boil
  • Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes on low heat. After about 15 minutes, taste some barley to see if it's cooked to your liking.
  • When cooked to perfection, take it off the heat and discard the remaining liquid.
  • After 5-10 minutes with the lid on, take it off and use a fork to fluff the barley to make it less dense.
  • Pearl barley, water, and salt should be combined in an electric pressure cooker or Instant Pot. Put the lid on and set the knob to the locking position.
  • High pressure, manual cooking for 20 minutes
  • Following the end of the cooking time, a quick release should be performed in accordance with the appliance's manual.
  • Take off the lid and pour off the excess liquid before serving. Put the lid back on and let the barley sit for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Toss with a fork once more after the lid has been removed.
  • Pearl barley, water, and salt should be placed in a slow cooker. You may need more than 3 cups of water to cover the barley, so add it gradually.
  • Simmer for 6 to 8 hours.
  • When the barley is done to your satisfaction, remove it from the heat and pour off the cooking liquid. Stir with a spoon and fluff with a fork before serving.
  • When cooked, pearl barley releases a large quantity of starch into the liquid it was prepared in. Save the leftover cooking liquid for use in broth-based dishes. However, if you want to prevent cooked or uncooked pearled barley from thickening soups or sauces, you can do so by cooking the barley in a separate pot and rinsing it with warm water before adding it.
Calories: 235 kcal | Carbohydrates: 52 g | Protein: 7 g | Fat: 1 g | Solid Fats: 1 g | Fatty Acids, Polyunsaturated: 1 g | Fatty Acids with a Single Double Bond: 1 g | Sodium: 405 mg | Potassium: 187 mg | Fiber: 10 g | Sugar: 1 g | Vitamin A: 15 IU | Calcium: 27 mg | Iron: 2 mg

(The nutritional information provided is an approximation and will change depending on the preparation and brand of ingredients you use. )

Defining Jessica

Profile photo of chef Jessica Randhawa of The Forked Spoon

Chef, photographer, and creator of all recipes at The Forked Spoon, Jessica Randhawa While backpacking through Asia and Europe, Jessica discovered her love for the kitchen and her appetite for new experiences. Her dishes have been showcased on numerous websites including Yahoo, MSN, USA Today, FeedFeed, and many more. She graduated from the University of California with a Bachelor of Science.

Profile photo of chef Jessica Randhawa of The Forked Spoon

Chef, photographer, and creator of all recipes at The Forked Spoon, Jessica Randhawa While backpacking through Asia and Europe, Jessica discovered her love for the kitchen and her appetite for new experiences. Yahoo, MSN, USA Today, FeedFeed, and many more have featured her recipes. She attended the University of California, Berkeley, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science.

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