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What is pearl barley and what can you do with it?

Barley is a grain that, like other grains, must be processed to be edible. Hulled barley or barley groats are the most minimally processed — the inedible outer husk is removed and that’s about it. Hulled barley takes a long time to cook (say, two hours), and even then can still be pretty chewy. Process the barley one step further, removing the inner husk/bran, and you get pearl barley. You’ve lost a bit of nutritional value but gained a quicker-cooking, easier-to-chew grain. The smaller the pearls, the more processing it has gone through, and the quicker it will cook.

I love trying new grains because they can make the same old meal feel quite different. Swap out white rice for pearl barley and suddenly your dinner feels heartier and healthier. Throw barley into your next salad to give it a boost, or stir fry it along with some veggies and you have a robust side dish or vegetarian main.

If you want to try experimenting with this grain, here are a handful of our favorite recipes.

Smitten Kitchen’s Barley, Corn and Hericot Vert Salad

Light, crunchy and delicious, this salad is best when the corn is fresh and sweet, and the green beans are just picked from the garden. I’ve been known to throw in some avocado in place of the goat cheese. It is worth the effort to make the homemade dressing, as that brings the salad to life.

Simply Recipes

Simply Recipe’s Beef and Barley Stew with Mushrooms

When it’s raining and raw or cold and snowy, beef stew is one of my go-tos for a deeply satisfying, warm-up-your-belly meal. This recipe uses pearl barley for texture and pairs nicely with mushrooms.

Two Peas and Their Pod

Two Peas and Their Pod’s Mushroom Barley Soup

Another soup that brings mushrooms and barley together, this is lighter fare and perfect for the kiddos. The barley is bigger than rice and therefore easier to get on a spoon, but just as delicious.

America's Test Kitchen

America’s Test Kitchen’s Egyptian Barley Salad

I love the sweetness of this salad from the pomegranate seeds and raisins. I also love the contrasting salty feta cheese and hearty barley. Easy to throw together and delicious!

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