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Cooking With Grains: Barley

A staple of soups and stews, barley is the oldest known domesticated grain, grown for 10,000 years as food for humans and animals, and as the basis of the first alcoholic beverages.  Like millet, barley comes in hulled and pearled varieties; hulled barley is the true whole-grain form, with only the outermost hull removed, whereas pearled barley is polished to remove the bran layer and often the inner endosperm layer. Cooking barley is a snap, as well.

Pearled barley is both easier to find and the type called for in most recipes. To use hulled barley (which you can find in health food stores) in place of the pearled variety in any recipe, increase the cooking time. Barley is an excellent source of fiber (one cup cooked containing 13 grams); its insoluble fiber helps maintain large populations of friendly bacteria in the digestive tract. Additionally, barley has been shown to aid in regulating blood sugar after meals (more so than other grains of similar glycemic index, like wheat) for up to 10 hours, most likely thanks to the colonic fermentation of barley’s indigestible carbohydrates. This finding about barley is good news for diabetics and others concerned with their blood glucose levels. Like wheat and rye, barley is a gluten grain and is therefore unsuitable for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

How to Cook Barley

Cooking time: pearled, 45-60 minutes; hulled, 90 minutes

Liquid per cup of grain: 3 cups

How to cook barley: Combine barley and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until tender.

Try barley in this recipe: Barley & Vegetable Soup