Barley is a cereal grain that is often used in bread, soups, stews, and salads. If you’ve never tried it before, you’re in for a treat. It’s a wonderfully wholesome alternative to other grains like rice. You can find barley all around the world, and it’s most popular in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and the Mediterranean. It’s also one of the oldest grains around, and dates back to 8000 BCE!
As long-time readers of my blog know, I have a passion for international cuisine, hence the creation of this, my second food website. I love trying my hand at unique recipes — and my family loves being my trusty tasters. As a result, I use barley a lot. It’s a yummy side dish option for mains like this roasted coconut milk chicken or this sweet chili glazed salmon. It’s the star of my Egyptian barley salad and this recipe for Moroccan spiced chicken and barley.
Did anyone else grow up eating Campbell's Vegetable Beef and Barley soup? I did, and it stared my love for this grain.
If you’ve never cooked barley before, you may be intimidated. That’s where this helpful guide comes in! You’ll learn:
- How to cook barley
- Different cooking methods for barley
- Ways to use barley plus some recipe suggestions
I’ll also share the different varieties of barley to look out for, as well as how long to cook barley. Let’s get started!
How to Cook Barley
You should be able to find barley at your local supermarket. I personally like to buy mine in bulk, as I use it often and I find it quite cost-effective!
Barley boasts a nutty and earthy flavor. It’s thick and chewy, compared to other types of grains, and many folks compare the texture to al dente pasta. It’s hearty, wholesome, and does wonders to bulk up soups, stews, and salads.
You can cook barley in almost the same way that you cook rice: on the stovetop, in an Instant Pot, or in a rice cooker. You can also add dry barley to soup and cook it that way! But, before I jump into the different cooking methods, I first want to discuss the different types of barley.
Different Types of Barley: Hulled Barley vs. Pearl Barley
There are two main varieties of barley: hulled and pearl. Hulled barley is noticeably darker in color than pearl barley, as it is the least processed of the two.
When barley is harvested, it naturally has a hard and inedible “hull” on the outside. Barley that has had that outer shell removed is called hulled barley. The bran and endosperm layer remains untouched. It’s typically considered more wholesome than pearl barley. If using, I recommend soaking your hulled barley for several hours before cooking. That said, it does take longer to cook than pearl barley.
Whereas hulled barley retains its hull, bran, and endosperm layer, pearl barley does not. That’s the reason why it’s so much lighter in color — it also cooks up a lot faster, and you don’t have to soak it. That said, pearl barley isn’t considered to be a whole grain and lacks much of the fiber found in hulled barley. It’s something to think about when buying your own!
How to Cook Barley in Water on the Stove
The most popular way to cook barley is in boiling water on your stovetop. This is an excellent method if you don’t have an Instant Pot or a rice cooker. No special equipment, no problem.
Step 1: Rinse the barley thoroughly before getting started. Then, place 1 cup of dried barley, 3 cups of water, and a pinch of salt into a large saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil.
Step 2: Lower the heat and allow the barley to simmer covered. If using pearl barley, start to check for doneness after about 25 minutes. For hulled barley, after 40 minutes.
Step 3: You’ll know that the barley is done when it has tripled in volume and takes on a chewy texture. Add more water if needed.
Step 4: Remove the pot from heat and allow the barley to soak up any remaining water for 10 minutes. Drain any excess water if necessary and fluff with a fork before serving.
How to Cook Barley in Soup
If you plan to add barley to soup, the good news is that you can absolutely skip pre-cooking it and add it directly to the broth. One thing to note here, however, is that it will thicken whatever soup you add it to slightly.
Step 1: Rinse the barley thoroughly before getting started. Place 1 cup of dried barley into your soup broth once it has come to a boil.
Step 2: Continue to cook your soup as the recipe you’re following has instructed. You can add pearl barley 25 minutes before the end of the cooking time. For hulled barley, add it 40 minutes before.
Step 3: Allow your soup to cook for 25 or 40 minutes more. then serve!
How to Cook Barley in an Instant Pot
Instant Pot lovers, you’ll be happy to know that you can also cook barley in your IP! It’s easy and won’t require you to keep a close eye on the stovetop.
Step 1: Rinse the barley thoroughly before getting started. Add 1 cup of dry pearl barley and 2 cups of water to your Instant Pot. Use 2 ½ cups of water if using hulled barley. Add a pinch of salt, stir to combine, and seal the lid.
Step 2: Cook on High for 20 minutes for pearl barley and 25 minutes for hulled.
Step 3: Allow the IP to naturally release for 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.
How to Cook Barley in a Rice Cooker
Rice cookers aren’t just for rice — in fact, you can easily cook barley in one too! Just like the Instant Pot, it’s a set-it-and-forget-it cooking method.
Step 1: Rinse the barley thoroughly before getting started. Add 1 cup of dry pearl barley and 2 cups of water to your rice cooker. Use 1 cup of water if using hulled barley. Add a pinch of salt, stir to combine, and cover.
Step 2: Turn your rice cooker to the “brown rice” setting — or the “barley” setting if it has one. When it’s done cooking, either turn the cooker off or continue to cook for 20 minutes if using hulled barley.
Step 3: Let the barley sit in the rice cooker for 10-15 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.
Ways to Use Barley — Serving Suggestions
You’ve learned how to cook barley, now it’s time to incorporate it into some recipes! Below you’ll find my serving suggestions:
- In salads: Use barley in the same way as you would pasta or rice — it can make a salad much more filling and hearty.
- In bowls: Barley makes for an excellent base for wholesome bowls. Add your favorite veggies, salad dressing, and garnishes!
- Soups & stews: You’ve likely heard of the classic beef and barley stew recipe! Just like in salads, barley will bulk up your favorite comfort food.
5 Great Barley Recipes
You know how to cook barley and the different dishes I like to use it in. Now it’s time to share a few of my favorite barley recipes!
- Mediterranean barley salad
- Add it to this Moroccan chicken stew
- Pineapple shrimp barley salad
- Replace the orzo with barley in this Greek chicken soup
- As a side for this beef with black bean sauce recipe
What is the Best Way to Cook Barley?
It depends on your preferences! If you don’t want to use a special kitchen appliance, I suggest boiling it in water on your stovetop. If you’re an Instant Pot fanatic, you can make it in your IP — the same goes for a rice cooker. And, if you know you’re going to use it in soup, save some time and allow it to cook in the broth. The choice is yours!
Do You Need to Soak Barley Before Cooking?
While you should always thoroughly rinse your barley before cooking it, you only have to soak hulled barley. Pearl barley is more processed than hulled, so you don’t need to worry about soaking it.
Can You Eat Barley Like Rice?
Absolutely! I’ve already mentioned that it’s one of my favorite rice alternatives.