There is More to Barley than Beer

barleyDid you know that barley can be used to make a variety of meals or side dishes? Barley is highest in fiber of all the whole grains and it’s also loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals essential to health.
Research shows that barley consumption can help reduce the risk of many diseases and provide important health benefits. Barley offers many of the same healthy vitamins and minerals as other whole grains, but also contains high levels of the soluble fiber, beta-glucan.

According to a recent scientific review, beta-glucans reduce cholesterol, help control blood sugar, and improve immune system function. New research even suggests that beta-glucans may be radioprotective: they may help our bodies better withstand chemotherapy, radiation therapy and nuclear emergencies.

As it grows in the field, most barley has an inedible hull adhering tightly to the grain kernel. The easiest, quickest way to remove this inedible hull is to scrape (“pearl”) it off.  However, pearling removes some or all of the bran layer, which contains B-complex vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants.  So, to make sure you're enjoying the full value of true whole grain barley, looked for “hulled” barley (barley where the inedible hull was removed carefully, keeping any bran loss to insignificant levels) or “hulless” barley (a different variety that grows without a tightly-attached hull).

Cooking Tips
  • To cook barley, use 2 1/2 to 3 cups of liquid to 1 cup of barley. Bring the liquid to a boil. Add barley to the boiling liquid and stir together. Cover the pot with a lid and reduce the heat to low. Cook pearl barley for 35-40 minutes and whole grain barley for 50-60 minutes or until tender and the liquid is absorbed. 
  • To reduce cooking time to about half, soak the barley overnight in water. Use two cups of water for each cup of barley. 
Here is a great festive barley recipe.

Stuffed Chicken Breast with Spiced Cranberries & Barley

Barley Filling:
1 cup barley, uncooked
1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1/4 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
3/4 cup chopped dried cranberries
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup toasted almonds
6 boneless skinless chicken breasts, 4 to 5 oz.

Breading Mixture:
2 cups bread crumbs
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
Parsley and garlic to taste
1/4 cup olive oil

In a sauce pan, combine all the filling ingredients from barley to cinnamon. Add chicken broth, bring to a boil, then simmer until barley is tender and all liquid is absorbed. Stir in almonds when cooled. With knife, split chicken breast, and coat with breading. Stuff each chicken breast with 1/4 cup of barley mixture. Bake in a 350° oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until the internal temperature of the stuffed chicken breast reaches 165°F.  Makes 6 servings.

For more barley recipes, visit the Idaho Barley Commission website at

Laura L. Sant is an Extension Educator at the University of Idaho Franklin County Extension. Contact at, (208) 852-1097, or through University of Idaho Extension, Franklin County Facebook Page.