Barley is a plant that can withstand extremes in temperature and has a short growing season. About 95% of the barley grown in America is used for animal food or to make beer. Like all grains the outer husk of barley must be removed to make it edible. Whole grain barley (hulled barley) is the most nutritious form and the best to buy.
Unfortunately, most grocery stores carry pearled barley, which is more processed. The size determines how much of the bran and germ have been removed. The larger the pearl, the less it has been milled and the more nutrients and fiber it has retained. Whole grain barley can be found at health food stores. It has three times as much protein as rice, and like oats it can help lower cholesterol. You should also know that it contains small amounts of gluten.
You can get barley flakes and cook it as an alternative to hot oatmeal. Like oatmeal, it can be spiced with cinnamon and complemented with raisins or berries. You may also use it as a substitute for oats when making cookies. Bob’s Red Mill is one producer that includes the bran and germ and, thus, maintains the grain’s nutritional value. Without these parts, you are left with the same starch as found in white flour.
Speaking of flour, you may substitute up to ½ cup of barley flour for every 2-3 cups of regular flour called for in a bread or other recipe. Try this easy muffin recipe, which uses just barley flour. Whisk together 1 cup of barley flour with 1½ teaspoon of baking powder, ¼ teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Separately beat together an egg, 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and ½ cup of water. Add the dry ingredients and stir in 1/3 cup of raisins. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes (until browned) by filling muffin liners half full. It should make 6 muffins. Like white flour, barley flour may be used as a thickener. Try it the next time you make a gravy or sauce.
You end up having to cook whole-grain barley longer than the pearl barley. It can take up to double the time to cook, in fact, which I’m guessing is why it hasn’t become as popular as other starches. You can reduce the time by soaking it overnight (if you are good about planning ahead). However, a pressure cooker will reduce the time to about 40 minutes. While other grains double in size when cooked, barley expands to about four times its grain size.
Because it takes so long to cook, most recipes require that you make it before adding it to other foods, unless you are using a crock pot. So if you are just adding it to stews, soups, salads or casseroles, you need to cook it first. It has a great nutty taste that is hard not to like. Combine it with parsnips to expand that nutty flavor. For vegetarians it also adds a chewy texture that makes up for the lack of meat. Adding beans to the pot makes for a complete protein and makes for more leftovers.
If you have a favorite recipe that involves potatoes or rice or pasta, give it an added twist by substituting these starches with barley. It will be a nice surprise for both you and your family. Barley can handle any kind of spice you want to throw at it, whether it involves hot peppers or lightly aromatic herbs. I like using Szechuan peppers with barley, along with thyme and sage. Whether you sweeten the flavor with cinnamon for breakfast or use it in a hardy soup, feel free to spice up barley with any of your favorite seasonings.