I’ve always loved barley. However, until recently, I didn’t know the difference between pearl and hulled barley.
Truth be told, I didn’t even realize that hulled barley exists. Pearl barley is easily available in local groceries and that’s what I had always used. Although it is sometimes labeled as such (“pearl” or pearled”), often the label on the bag or the bulk container simply calls it barley.
Although I love barley, it frustrated me when I added it to soup. Pearl barley expands considerably when it sits in liquid after cooking. No matter how beautiful a soup looks when you first make it with pearl barley
when you reheat it, the soup turns into barley stew.
Then one day I read about hulled barley, the more nutritious type of barley. It does expand, to be sure. But not as much as pearl barley.
And down the rabbit hole I went. After researching their differences, I tried both in a head-to-head taste test. Pearl and hulled versions taste similar, but their textures are different. Pearl barley gets soft, while the grains of hulled barley stay more distinct and chewier.
They are both wonderful in soups and stews.
For barley risotto, pearl barley is best. It softens and works well in place of rice as the base for a porridge-like combination of grain, liquid and cheese.
The current dietary guidelines for Americans recommend increasing the percentage of whole grains in our diets. So it makes sense to use both types, with an emphasis on looking at how to include hulled barley in foods where you might have used pearl barley in the past. Note that barley does contain gluten, so it is not suitable for those with celiac or other gluten sensitivities.
For most other dishes, you can use either pearl or hulled barley. And if you use hulled in soup, you won’t find the grain expanding quite so much upon reheating.
Pearl vs. Hulled Barley – What is the Difference?
- Processed vs Whole Grain – Pearl barley is processed or “polished” to remove the bran layer and sometimes parts of an internal layer called endosperm. By contrast, hulled barley is minimally processed, removing only the inedible outer shell. Hulled barley is considered a whole grain.
- Nutrition – Both pearl and hulled barley are nutritious, containing lots of soluble and insoluble fiber that helps with digestion. They are relatively low in fat and sodium. Pearl barley has only about one-third as many calories as white rice and is about as caloric as brown rice. While hulled barley is about as caloric as white rice, it has a lot more protein and fiber than either brown or white rice. Hulled barley has about 16 grams of fiber in per half cup and the recommended daily intake of fiber is between 21 and 38 grams, depending on age and sex.
- Cooking Barley – Cook either type of barley (after rinsing) by boiling three times as much water (as barley), add the barley , return the water to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and cook. Pearl barley takes about 40-45 minutes cooked this way, while hulled takes 50-60 minutes. If there is water left over, drain it out before serving the barley. You can add either type to soup.
- Buying Pearl and Hulled Barley – You can find pearl barley in stores anywhere that grains are sold. In my experience, it is usually near rice and other grains. If a package does not say that it is hulled (or “hulless“, which means that the outer shell is loosely attached and typically falls off during processing), then you should assume that is pearl. Hulled barley is typically sold near natural or organic foods.
Next post: Intensely Flavored Mushroom Barley Soup using either pearl or hulled barley.