If you find yourself in need of a barley substitute, there are many grains and pseudo-grains to choose from. This guide will help you learn about barley and determine the best barley substitutes for your recipe.
What is barley?
Barley is a cereal grain belonging to the grass family and is closely related to other crops like wheat, oats, and rye. Cereal grains are grasses grown for their edible seeds. The barley seed is small and oval-shaped, typically measuring about ½-inch in length.
The outer layer of the barley seed, which is fibrous, is usually removed during processing. The part that is used for making flour is the inner part of the seed, known as the endosperm.
Barley is an ancient grain known to have various nutritional benefits, from fiber to vitamins and minerals, and aids in digestion. It's also believed to have a low glycemic index making it a good option for those who monitor insulin.
What is barley used for?
Barley is used in a wide range of dishes. It is a filling addition to soup and can be used in salads too. It can even be dried and ground into flour for use in baked goods.
Soups- Barley is often used in soups and stews as a thickener and adds texture. It adds a nice chewy bite, a great complement to the soft veggies like in my Vegetable Barley Soup.
Salad- It's a great addition to salads because of its texture and distinctly nutty flavor. It tastes great in both cold and warm salads.
Pilaf- Barley can be cooked similarly to rice and combined with vegetables, herbs, and spices for a nutritious and flavorful dish.
Breakfast Foods- Barley can be made into a breakfast dish similar to oatmeal and added to granola for extra texture. In addition, you may see barley flakes added to hot cereal or breakfast cereals.
Baked Goods- Barley flour can be used instead of wheat flour for bread, muffins, and other baked goods.
Hulled Barley Vs. Pearl Barley
Hulled barley is a nutritious whole grain with a medium brown color and chewy texture. It is rich in fiber and essential vitamins and minerals like calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. Additionally, it is low in fat.
Pearled barley, on the other hand, is not a whole grain. It has had both its bran and germ layers removed, resulting in an ivory color and a softer texture. It's preferred for its faster cooking time, but it has been more processed than hulled barley and, as a result, contains fewer nutrients.
What is the difference between barley and wheat?
Appearance- Barley is a small oval-shaped grain with a long tail, whereas wheat is a larger oblong-shaped grain with a shorter tail.
Nutrition- Both barley and wheat are good sources of complex carbs, fiber, and B vitamins. However, barley is higher in dietary fiber and protein. Wheat and barley both contain gluten, but barley contains a smaller amount.
Culinary uses- Barley is often used in stews and soups cooked similarly to rice. Wheat is used to make various baked goods, including bread, pasta, and pastries.
Considerations when choosing a barley substitute
When you're looking to substitute barley, it's important to consider a few things, such as flavor, texture, and nutrition.
Barley has a mild nutty flavor, so you'll want to choose a replacement with a similar taste. If you require a barley substitute in soups and stews, consider the cooking time and texture and how that may impact your recipe.
Finally, if you're looking for a replacement because of dietary restrictions, be sure to choose a gluten-free option.
What is the best barley substitute?
There is a range of barley substitutes with excellent nutritional benefits and wonderful flavor. All of these substitutions can replace barley at a 1:1 ratio. However, be mindful of differences in cooking time and the overall flavor profile of the dish.
Best Substitutes for barley
1. Bulgur Wheat
Bulgur wheat comes from durum wheat most frequently but can also come from hard red wheat. It has a nutty flavor and a chewy texture. It's known for its fast cooking due to being parboiled before packaging. Bulgur can be used to bulk up soups and stews as well. It is similar to cracked wheat, but the main difference is that cracked wheat is not parboiled.
How to use it:
There are multiple types of bulgur wheat grains; fine, medium, coarse, and extra coarse. The finer varieties are good for cold dishes and porridge, while the coarse varieties are best used in soups and stews.
Be sure to consider the difference in cook times between barley and bulgur wheat. Fine bulgur wheat and medium bulgur wheat require minimal heat to cook, whereas coarse varieties need to be boiled.
What's the bulgur-to-water ratio?
The bulgur to water ratio is 1:1, 1 cup of water to 1 cup of bulgur. The cooking time depends on how coarse the bulgur is; 7-30 minutes for the most coarse is typical.
2. Oat groats
Oat groats are made from whole grain with the husk removed. "Groat" is simply a word referring to their state of being minimally processed and preserving a high level of nutrition. They're often prepared by soaking and then simmering over low heat, making them a good addition to stews. Oat groats can also be ground into flour for a gluten-free flour alternative.
How to use it:
Their mild flavor makes oat groats an excellent barley alternative. If you've only considered oats as part of a breakfast, oat groats are a great opportunity to expand your horizons and try them out in different dishes. Keep in mind that you’ll need to use oat groats, not quick or rolled oats. They're much larger pieces that will more closely mimic the texture of barley.
What's the oat groat to water ratio?
The oat groat to water ratio is 1:4; 1 part oat groats to 4 cups water is standard, e.g., 1 cup oat groats to 4 cups water. You may find you need more water depending on your cooking method. In addition, it's advised to soak oat groats overnight for the best results. Typical cooking time is around 30-40 minutes.
For a more hands-off experience, cook oat groats in the Instant Pot and skip the overnight soak.
Freekeh can be used to substitute most whole grains, barley included. It has a distinct smoky taste that stems from how the grains are harvested; The stalks are roasted, and then the grains are rubbed out of the wheat head. It has around 5 grams of protein per serving and a healthy dose of fiber, which is vital for digestion.
How to use it:
Freekeh can be used as a barley alternative in many dishes, from salad to soup and even pilaf. Its smoky flavor can add depth to numerous dishes but be sure to consider how that flavor will work with the overall profile of the dish you're making.
What's the freekeh-to-water ratio?
The freekeh to water ratio is 1:2.5 meaning for 1 cup of freekeh; you'll need 2.5 cups of water. Freekah takes about 35-45 minutes to cook thoroughly, comparable to hulled barley. Alternatively, cracked freekeh takes about 25-30 minutes, making it a great pearl barley substitute.
Another excellent alternative to barley is Farro because of its similar texture and flavor. Farro, also known as emmer, contains gluten and is considered an ancient grain. It’s a good source of fiber, magnesium, and zinc. In addition, farro is often viewed as a healthy grain option because it’s less processed and has a lower glycemic index than other grains.
How to use it:
Farro can be used as a substitute for barley in cold salads, soups, and even creamy risotto-style dishes. It's often sold in pearled form, meaning the outer husk and bran layer have been removed. This makes it cook faster but also reduces the amount of nutrients available.
What's the farro-to-water ratio?
The farro to water ratio is 1:3, meaning 1 cup of farro to 3 cups of water. Pearled farro has a faster cooking time, around 20 minutes. The whole farro that has been soaked overnight will cook at a similar time to pearled farro. Dry whole farro that has not been soaked takes around 40 minutes to cook fully.
Both brown and white rice make fantastic alternatives to barley. They can be used in a wide range of dishes and easily soak up the flavors. Rice is an excellent gluten-free alternative to barley. You can choose brown rice for a nutty flavor similar to barley. White rice has a much plain flavor but is faster to cook and will fit into most dishes where barley is used.
How to use it:
Substitute rice for barley in recipes such as cold salad, soup, and mixed veggie dishes with grains. Brown rice requires around 45 minutes to cook, similar to hulled barley, whereas white rice takes nearly 20 minutes, closer to pearled barley.
Consider the difference in cooking time if you're making a dish where the barley is cooked directly into the dish rather than cooked separately and later added.
What's the rice-to-water ratio?
Typically rice is considered to have a 1:2 water ratio. One cup of rice for 2 cups of water. You'll find that depending on how tender you like your rice; some people may have slightly different preferences and prefer 1 cup of rice to 1 ¼-1 ½ cups of water.
You may be surprised to know that buckwheat is not a type of wheat; it's considered a pseudocereal. Pseudocereals are seeds that are considered whole grains but aren't harvested from grasses. Buckwheat can be processed in various forms, including buckwheat flour, noodles, and groats.
Buckwheat has a chewy texture that's similar to barley and has a nutty flavor that adds an earthy quality to recipes. It's an excellent gluten-free alternative to barley.
How to use it:
Substitute barley for buckwheat groats in soups, stews, side dishes, and grain bowls that call for barley. Buckwheat flour may also be a good replacement for barley flour.
Since barley does contain gluten, be sure to consider how you may need to alter your recipe to replace the missing gluten, you may need to add ½-1 teaspoon of xanthan gum to achieve a similar texture.
What's the buckwheat-to-water ratio?
The ratio to cook buckwheat is 1:2, or 1 cup of buckwheat, to 2 cups of water. Buckwheat is fairly quick to cook, only needing a 10-15 minute boil. For better digestion, you can soak buckwheat overnight or even sprout them.
Similar to buckwheat, Quinoa is a pseudo-grain. This means they are not grains but share a similar resemblance and nutritional composition to grains that can be put in the same category. Quinoa, technically a seed, is considered a whole grain and another excellent gluten-free alternative to barley.
How to use it:
Quinoa is a versatile ingredient that can replace barley in a variety of dishes due to its chewiness and ability to work in both cold and hot dishes. Its mild taste easily complements casseroles with southwest flavors like my Spicy Shrimp Buddha bowl, pilaf, as well as soup. You can even use sprouted quinoa in recipes for easier digestion.
What's the Quinoa to water ratio?
The quinoa to water ratio is 1:2 meaning for 1 cup of quinoa; you'll need 2 cups of water. It takes about 15-20 minutes to cook, making it an excellent pearl barley substitute. This makes it a quick and easy addition to cold salads like my Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad.
Barley Substitute FAQ
Depending on the recipe, barley can make an excellent substitute for rice. It can add an earthy flavor and a good dose of fiber to your dish. Since it does have a nutty taste, consider if and how that can affect your meal.
There are many barley substitutes. For wheat-based substitutes, farro is an excellent option. If you're looking for a gluten-free alternative to barley, try buckwheat or quinoa.
Farro is one of the best substitutes for barley in soup. It has a similar flavor and texture that make it an excellent choice.
How To Cook Buckwheat Groats
- 1 Saucepan
- 1 ⅓ cups toasted buckwheat
- 1 ¾ cups water or broth
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons butter
- Rinse the buckwheat well with cold water.
- In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, add the water, butter, and salt. Once it comes to a boil, add in the buckwheat, cover, and reduce the heat to low.
- Cook for about 12 minutes, then remove it from the heat. Keep the top on and let it sit like this for about 7 minutes. Fluff it with a fork and it is ready to serve.
- Be sure not to overcook the buckwheat or add too much water. This will result in mushy buckwheat and that is not very good!
- If you have leftover cooked buckwheat, you can store it in the fridge for about 5 days.
- Cooking the buckwheat in the broth will add extra flavor unless I am using it for porridge.
- I always toast my buckwheat before cooking if it isn't toasted already. The added flavor of the toasted buckwheat is great.
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