Barley is a wonderfully versatile cereal grain with a rich nutlike flavor and an appealing chewy, pasta-like consistency. Its appearance resembles wheat berries, although it is slightly lighter in color. Sprouted barley is naturally high in maltose, a sugar that serves as the basis for both malt syrup sweetener. When fermented, barley is used as an ingredient in beer and other alcoholic beverages.
Barley can be found in the market in various different forms:
- Hulled barley: Like the name suggests, the outermost hull of the grain is all that gets removed in this form of barley. While this makes for a chewier grain that requires more soaking and cooking, it also makes for a more nutritious food. Hulled barley is also sometimes called “dehulled barley,” and it is the one form of barley what would be considered whole grain.
- Pearl barley: Various degrees of polishing, or “pearling” take place in the production of pearl barley. In addition to a polishing off of the outermost hull, the grain’s bran layer, and even parts of its inner endosperm layer, may be removed during the pearling process. In general, as you move from regular to medium to fine to baby pearl barley, you find increasing loss of nutrients. Pearl barley is much less chewy and quicker cooking than hulled barley, but it is also much lower in nutrients, and would not be considered whole grain.
- Pot/scotch barley: In terms of processing, this form of barley falls in between hulled and pearl barley. It’s been polished to remove its outer hull, but the polishing process is not continued for much longer, so that a large amount of the remaining grain is left intact. While pot barley would not technically be considered whole grain, and would lack some of the benefits of hulled barley, it is still a very reasonable nutritional choice and more nutrient dense than pearl barley. In many countries, pot barley is popular in soups – thus the origin of its name.
- Barley flakes: Flattened and sliced, barley flakes are similar in shape to rolled oats. Barley flakes can be made from hulled, hulless, or pearl barley, and can be significantly different in nutrient content for this reason.
- Barley grits: Barley that has been toasted and cracked, barley grits are similar in appearance to bulgar. Barley grits can be made from hulled, hulless, or pearl barley, and can be significantly different in nutrient content for this reason.