How to cook barley
You may see wildly different cook times and ratios when researching barley, but I’ve found success with 1 cup barley to 3 cups liquid (half broth, half water), covered and simmered until tender, but still has a little chew.
For pearled barley, this could take upwards of 45 minutes while the hulled variety can take quite a bit longer, closer to 90 minutes. I recommend tasting and checking every so often, and adding more liquid as needed. Let barley sit for 10 minutes after cooking and drain any excess liquid.
How to use barley
Barley, in either the whole or pearled form, is a hearty grain with a slightly chewy texture. As mentioned above, it does take awhile to cook, which makes it perfect for slow cooker soups and stews. Barley is also wonderful as an addition to salads and recipes where the chewy texture can be appreciated.
How to store barley
Barley, whether the whole grain or flour, is best stored in airtight containers in a cool place. Whole and pearled barley can be stored up to a year in the freezer or 6 months in the pantry. Barley flour is best stored in the freezer and will last up to 6 months. If the grains or flour have a rancid smell when you open the bag, toss and buy fresh.
Types of barley
If you’ve come across barley, it’s most likely been in stew form. This hearty grain, even it’s pearled form, stays chewy and hearty after cooking. Barley is sold hulled or hulless which means the inedible layer has been carefully stripped, leaving a nutritious whole grain. Pearled barley is a hulled barley that has been further processed to remove the bran layer, which creates a quicker cooking time and slightly less chewy texture, but sacrifices nutrients. This variety is not considered a whole grain.
I keep both hulled and pearled barley on hand. Pearled barley releases a starch when cooked which helps to thicken. This is perfect for soups, stews, and I love it in risotto. I like hulled barley in salads or as a base for a grain bowl, but not in soups because it has too chewy of a texture for that application. You can also find barley grits (akin to steel cut oats), and barley flakes that can be used as rolled oats would be.
Flour: Barley can also be milled into a flour. It has a lovely, nutty flavor that can be a great addition to flour blends. Barley lacks the amount of gluten to be used 1:1 with wheat flour in yeast breads, but I have had success with 100% barley flour cookies and pancakes.