Grains: Barley

I always keep barley in my pantry. I like adding it to soups, especially beef soup. But I’ve only used it in soups, and I know very little about it. There must be more to discover about this old grain!

And barley is old. It is officially included among the ancient grains. I go to my new-favorite site, Whole Grains Council, and learn this:

“Egyptians buried mummies with necklaces of barley, and centuries later In 1324 Edward II of England standardized the inch as equal to ‘three grains of barley, dry and round, placed end to end lengthwise.’”

Barley was domesticated around 19,000 years ago (Wikipedia). Wild barley still exists in western Asia and Northeast Africa, but domesticated barley is the type widely available today. I don’t think all the barley we get is considered an “heirloom grain” as is farro, but it is considered ancient. (Humans discovered barley and farro in the same time frame.) Today, barley is ranked as the 4th most popular grain in the world, behind maize, rice, and wheat.

There are about fifty “cultivars” of barley today. Fifty! A cultivar is a “plant variety that has been produced in cultivation by selective breeding”, according to Google’s dictionary. Most of the cultivars, or varieties, have a hull that is very tough and inedible. That hull must be removed before we can eat it. And yes, hulling the barley removes some of the nutrients. The processed form of barley called “dehulled barley” (confusingly this may also be labeled “hulled” barley) is considered a whole grain because it still has its bran and germ. According to the Old Grains Council, dehulled (or “pot”) barley is available at health food stores, but it takes a very long time to cook. Most of the barley we see in our markets is “pearl barley”. Pearl barley is dehulled barley that has been steamed to remove the bran, and then polished in a process called “pearling”. (Wikipedia).  Another form of barley, “hulless” varieties (cultivars), are available through Bob’s Red Mill and Shiloh Farms (labelled either “hull-less” or “hulless”). Hulless barley never had a hull to lose! Instant or quick barley is available from Quaker Oats. It cooks in just 10 minutes.

The Old Grains Council site states “Lightly pearled barley is not technically a whole grain (as small amounts of the bran are missing) – but it’s full of fiber and much healthier than a fully-refined grain.” Is my barley “lightly pearled”? I don’t know. But, they state “While the fiber in most grains is concentrated largely in the outer bran layer, barley’s fiber is found throughout the whole grain, which may account for its extraordinarily high levels.”

I learn more about dehulled (hulled, pot), hull-less, and pearl barley on the GoBarley web site. Dehulled barley has been pearled for a shorter amount of time and still has most of the barley bran intact, but it takes a long time to cook. According to the GoBarley site: “Don’t ever think you can’t make a recipe because it calls for a different type of barley than the one you have on hand.”

So: unless you buy the instant type of barley, it will take a long time to cook, so plan ahead.

Cooked barley has a chewy texture and good flavor. It barley can be used in side dishes, salads, main dishes, soups and more – much like wheat berries, farro, and sorghum. Barley flakes and grits can be cooked into porridge. Barley is processed into flour and used in breads. Different barley products are used in commercial packaged foods.

And don’t forget gruel: barley meal is made into gruel. Gruel is a thin porridge, the stuff fed to inmates and peasants. “Eat your gruel!”

Beer! Beer and whiskey are more reasons why barley is so popular world-wide. How is that? Barley is made into malt! I learned this when I covered malt syrup in one of my posts in 250 Cookbooks, Blue Ribbon Malt Extract. The barley is soaked in water just until it sprouts and then it is dried – a process called malting. Barley malt helps the fermentation process and adds flavor to beers and whiskeys.

I use barley malt routinely in yeast bread baking. Experts say that it helps the yeast grow, yielding lighter bread loaves. For bagels, I add barley malt to the bagel-boiling water, the step just before baking.

It’s good to become re-acquainted with barley. I haven’t used it in months. I search my pantry and find some in my pantry, but I don’t know what type it is and I don’t know how old it is. I throw it out and start afresh. (Ah, this puts a new take on “old” grains.) First, I order a pearl barley online from Shiloh Farms. This must be a “lightly” pearled version, since it takes over an hour to cook. In a local health food store (Steamboat Mountain in Lyons), I come across (and purchase!) a bag of “hulled” barley. Since the store buys this barley in huge bags and re-distributes it, I don’t know what brand it is or how long to cook it. On my shelves, I also find a new and unopened package of barley flour that King Arthur Flour sent me when I ordered “ancient grain flour”. I’ll put all of these to good use in my kitchen experiments.

Here is the bag of pearled barley:

barley package

The above pearled barley, out of the package:

pearl barley

Pearled barley and medium grain brown rice:

barley and brown rice Below is pearled barley compared to the barley I found at Steamboat Mountain. I am pretty sure it is what I called hulled, pot, or dehulled barley in the above paragraphs, with the husk removed but not pearled, and considered a whole grain because it still has its bran and germ intact. (I don’t think it is the hull-less cultivar.) It is much darker than the Shiloh Farms pearl barley; below are the two compared, pearl on the left, hulled on the right.

pearl and dehulled barley

Nutrition

The values for pearl barley purchased from Shiloh Farms: 1/4 cup of barley has 160 calories, 7 grams fiber, and 4 grams protein.

From the nutritionalvalue.org site, I find that barley (hulled) has these RDAs: 12% niacin, 22% thiamin, 8% riboflavin, 8% vitamin B6, 2% vitamin K, 13% copper, 10% iron, 16% magnesium, 49% manganese, 13% phosphorus, 27% selenium, and 9% zinc.

Barley contains beta glucan, a soluble fiber, that has been reported to reduce cholesterol. (GoBarley website.) Recent research indicates that “barley’s ability to control blood sugar may be exceptional” and barley “reduces blood pressure”. (Oldways Whole Grain Council website.)

I found varied values for the glycemic index (GI) for barley. Remember: lower values are better for diabetics (indicate “slow” grains for sugar release), and under 55 is good for a grain in general.

The Glucose Revolution Pocket Guide to Losing Weight

  • bulgur  25

Glycemic Index (GI) Guidelines for a Plant-based Diet Barley (Full Plate Living website) gives these values:

  • porridge made from barley flour or dehulled flakes 63
  • barley, rolled 66

LiveStrong values:

  • cooked pearl barley 35
  • hulled barley 20 to 22

Oregon State University

  • pearl barley boiled 38

Cooking

Always consult the barley package if you have it. Otherwise, follow the instructions below. (Explanations follow the table.)

water time simmering
1 cup pearl barley (Shiloh Farms) 3 cups 50-70 minutes
1 cup pearl barley (Shiloh Farms) 2 cups 30 minutes in pressure cooker, high, fast release
1 cup dehulled barley (not pearled) 3 cups 35 minutes in pressure cooker, high, fast release
1 cup hull-less barley (Bob’s Red Mill) 3 cups 40-80 minutes

I have two types of barley to cook: pearl barley and dehulled (pot) barley. The package of pearl barley says to cook 1 cup of pearl barley in 3 cups water 1 hour and fifteen minutes. My book, 1000 Vegetarian Recipes, says to cook 1 cup dehulled barley in 2 1/2 cups water for 1 hour and 20 minutes.

I experimented. I started with the pearl barley and my pressure cooker. I cooked 1 cup in 2 cups water for 35 minutes, high pressure, fast release. All of the water was absorbed, and the barley was sticky and very done. If I tried pearl barley in the pressure cooker again, I’d start with 30 minutes.

Note: 1 cup pearl barley yielded 3 cups cooked.

cooked pearl barleyI cooked the dehulled barley in my pressure cooker, 1 cup barley and 2 cups water, for 30 minutes, high pressure, fast release. It was not done, so I cooked it another 5 minutes under high pressure, fast release. Perfect! Chewy and good. It had some water left and I drained it off. So, next time, 35 minuted in the pressure cooker.

Let’s go back to the pearl barley. I want to make beef barley soup (I found this recipe on Cook’s Illustrated). I know my husband, and he would prefer the pearl barley. I wanted to cook the pearl barley in the soup itself so it could take up all of the flavors of the stock (my very good own beef stock) and the other ingredients of the soup, so I added it uncooked at the first simmer of the soup. I simmered the soup for 1/2 hour and checked the barley – it was not done. At 1 hour, though, it was just about perfect. I then left it standing off heat for another 1/2 hour and it was a lot softer than it was before I let it stand. In the future, I’d say, simmer Shiloh Farms pearl barley in a soup (or water) for about an hour, and it will be ready to serve immediately.

From my experiences above with pearl and dehulled barley, it is difficult to tell everyone exactly how to cook this grain. (And add in that I haven’t even tried a hull-less cultivar of barley, such as sold by Bob’s Red Mill – that package says to cook that cultivar 40-80 minutes. I also didn’t try instant barley.)

Experiment! And then if you like it, always buy the same type of barley. Keep in mind that it might take over an hour to cook barley. Or, if you buy “instant” barley, it might take only 20-30 minutes.

Recipes

Recipes for barley abound on the internet. But in my own house? Well, my digitized collection of recipes calls for barley flour in tortillas, and for whole barley in beef soup. That’s it. In my cookbooks? A few of my health food cookbooks have recipes for whole barley and for barley flour. That’s it.

I have an unopened package of barley flour that King Arthur Flour sent me when I ordered “ancient grain flour”. I opened it and added a half cup to My Daily Bread this week, but the loaf failed to rise well in the pre-baking step and baked into a dense (but well-flavored) loaf. The package suggests using barley flour to make soft tortillas – I think that’s the recipe to try next, or I’ll add it to muffins, or use less than 1/2 cup in a loaf of bread.

But online? Recipes abound. In general, barley can be used anywhere rice is used. Or, like other intact grains in tabouleh-style salads. I’m listing some recipe links below.

GoBarley site recipes

  • Sweet and Sour Barley Casserole
  • Sausage, Lentil, and Barley Soup
  • Zucchini, Bean, and Almond Salad
  • Carrot Cake Barley with Walnuts, Raisins, and Greek Yogurt
  • Soft Barley Pretzels

Cook’s Illustrated

  • Light Barley Risotto
  • Farmhouse Vegetable and Barley Soup
  • Barley Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash
  • Beef and Barley Soup for Two (I made this soup using pearled barley and it was great)

Fanatic Cook

Bob’s Red Mill

Old Grains Council

  • Bacon Sautéed Barley with Arugula
  • Baked Chicken with Apples and Barley
  • Barley Antipasto Salad
  • Barley, Pineapple, and Jicama Salad with Avocado
  • Barley-Stuffed Bells
  • Thai Barley Stir-Fry
  • Strawberry Barley Scones

Grains: Sorghum

Sorghum – I always associate the word “sorghum” with syrup. In my cookbook Our Favorite Recipes, the pfefferneusse cookie recipe calls for 4 pounds of sorghum syrup (I did not try to find it!). I listed sorghum as an entry in Encyclopedia of Cookery, Vol. 10, but did not describe it. So I am going to pull that book off the shelf . . .

“A genus of grasses with a large number of species, cultivated throughout the world for food, forage, and syrup. Sorghums were among the first of the wild plants to be domesticated by man. They originated in Africa and Asia; Egyptian cultivation can be dated before 2200 BC and they were grown in China and India at an early date.”

I also learn from the Encyclopedia of Cookery (published in 1966) that the four main types of sorghums are grass, grain, broomcorn, and sugar. Grass sorghums are used for hay and pasturage. The grain sorghums, grown in the US since 1874, are used for livestock food. Broomcorns, grown in the US since 1797, are used for carpet and whisk brooms. The sugar sorghums, grown in the US since 1853, are “tall and leafy and their canelike stalk contains a sweet juice which can be boiled down into a syrup. This syrup has been used as a molasses substitute. During the Civil War sugar was very scarce in the North, and sorghum syrup was used instead of molasses.”

I was correct in associating sorghum with syrup. So why am I now holding this Bob’s Red Mill Sorghum package of big kernels of sorghum grain – ready to be cooked like a grain and intended for human consumption? Because I am re-discovering some of the grains we humans ate as we developed into the beings we are today. Sorghum is one of these “ancient grains”. Bob’s Red Mill has gone before me, and now produces sorghum grain in these convenient packages for people like me:

sorghum package

I found a great reference for sorghum in an article on the Oldways Whole Grains Council website. I learn that sorghum is known by many names: milo and guinea corn in West Africa, kafir corn in South Africa, dura in Sudan, mtama in eastern Africa, jowar in Hindi, jola in Kannada, and kaoliang in China. Sorghum has an edible hull, and thus is common in whole grain form, retaining most of its nutrients.

I learn on the All About Sorghum site that “In the United States, and other countries across the globe, sorghum grain is primarily used for livestock feed and ethanol production, but is becoming popular in the consumer food industry and other emerging markets.” From the same site: “In 2017, sorghum was planted on 5.6 million acres and 364 million bushels were harvested.”

Another great reference is the Simply Sorghum site. I learn that sorghum is available as the whole grain (this is what I have), pearled grain (outer husk removed), whole grain sorghum flour (milled with the hull), white sorghum flour (milled without the hull), sorghum bran and flakes (used most often in the food industry), and sorghum syrup. Sorghum syrup is still used as a sweetener, mostly in the South. For instance, it is used on pancakes and added to BBQ marinades and salad dressings. Sorghum syrup is less sweet than molasses and sugar because it lower in fructose. Benefits are that it is high in potassium. The Simply Sorghum site lists another sorghum product called “black sorghum”. Black sorghum was developed by Texas A&M University in the US. This is emerging as a “super food” as it is high in antioxidants and phytochemicals.

Sorghum can be popped like popcorn! I just had to try doing this. I put it in a pan with a bit of oil and put it over high heat. A lid was not necessary, since the little kernels did not have enough oomph to jump out of the pan.

Sorghum is one of the ancient grains. Most of the grain-sorghum that we find in stores in the US is whole grain (the hull is edible) but hulled or “pearl” sorghum is also available. Curious about the the availability of sorghum, I checked around and found Vitacost to have the widest variety of sorghum grains and flours (they even have sprouted grain sorghum flour) and popped sorghum snacks.

A major “plus” for sorghum is that it is gluten free. This puts it with amaranth, fonio,and quinoa (and a few more more) as acceptable grains/pseudocereals for the thousands of people with celiac disease.

Sorghum:

sorghumSorghum and brown rice:

sorghum and brown rice

Nutrition

1/4 cup of dry whole grain sorghum has 180 calories, 8 grams fiber, 5 grams protein, and 8% of the RDA of iron and zinc. From the nutritionalvalue.org site, I find that sorghum also has these RDAs: 11% niacin, 11% thiamin, 8% vitamin B6, 4% vitamin K, 6% copper, 8% iron, 15% magnesium, 31% manganese, 14% phosphorus, and 5% zinc.

According to the Oldways Grain Council site, sorghum contains policosanols, compounds that may have a healthful effect on cardiac health. Some researchers claim policosanols have cholesterol-lowering potency comparable to that of statins. (The Oldways Grain Council lists references here.)

Whole grain sorghum has a glycemic index of 62 (source: SimplySorghum). Anything under 55 is pretty good for a grain.

Not to forget: sorghum is gluten-free.

Cooking

The Bob’s Red Mill package instructions say to cook whole grain sorghum 50-60 minutes on the stove top. Like with kamut, I immediately think “pressure cooker”, and sure enough, I find pressure cooker instructions on the Simply Sorghum site. Both sets of instructions are below.

water time simmering
1 cup whole grain sorghum 3 cups water 50-60 minutes drain off any water
1 cup whole grain sorghum 2 cups water 35 minutes in pressure cooker, high, fast release drain off any water

1 cup dry sorghum yields about 2 1/2 cups cooked.

Cooked sorghum:

cooked sorghum

Recipes

Sorghum can be used much like wheat berries, kamut, and farro. It is a large grain and more suitable for side and main dishes than porridge (at least, in the whole grain form).

As a flour, it can be added to all sorts of baked goods. King Arthur Flour has several suggestions for using sorghum flour along with other gluten-free flours to make yeast and quick breads.

Popped sorghum can be eaten “as is” or added to snack bars, granola, salads, and desserts.

Old Grains Council site recipe examples:

  • Molasses Sorghum Cookies (sorghum flour)
  • Roasted Tomato, White Bean, and Sorghum Salad with Walnuts
  • Sorghum & Blues Salad (blue cheese)
  • Stir-Fried Thai Sorghum Bowl (asparagus, carrots, tofu, snow peas, with a spicy coconut milk sauce)
  • Split Pea and Sorghum Salad with Swiss Chard and Spiced Tahini Dressing

Simply Sorghum site recipe examples:

  • Apple Cinnamon Raisin Sorghum Bake (a breakfast dish made with pearled sorghum)
  • Berry and Kale Sorghum Salad
  • Caprese Sorghum Salad Bowl
  • Chicken, Leek, and Sorghum Soup
  • Chicken Jambalaya
  • Carrot Cake (sorghum and almond flours)
  • Chocolate Almond-Sorghum Poppers (popped sorghum, chocolate chips, dates, almond butter, almonds)