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Barley-A-Day Keeps the Doctor Away

April 11, 2016
Chefs and home cooks are rediscovering the wonders of barley.

We’re going to bet that your diet could use a little (or a lot) more fiber, a nutrient that’s key for heart health, blood sugar balance and proper digestion. Most Americans consume only half of the fiber recommended by government guidelines, and consider this: Our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate 10 times more fiber than the average American each day. That’s a tough act to follow, but here’s an easy and delicious way to up your fiber intake: add barley to your meals.

Barley may not yet have the trendy cachet of exotic grains like fonio, but this old-fashioned grain (your grandmother probably cooked with it) deserves a second look, both for its chewy, nutty taste and abundant health benefits.

Not only does whole-grain barley (as opposed to pearl barley) have the highest fiber content among all whole grains, but it also contains particularly high levels of a special type of fiber called beta-glucan. Research shows that its beta-glucan can help lower cholesterol, boost immune system function and reduce blood sugar. Its fiber also helps keep you feeling full longer, so you won’t have as many junk-food cravings.

To incorporate more into your meals, try making a pot of it and adding the grain to dishes throughout the week (see our basic recipe below). Use it as the base of a grain bowl or add it to soups and salads (like this one with broiled tomatoes and feta). Or, switch out your oatmeal with barley in breakfast dishes (like this blackberry barley breakfast bake). It’s also an easy swap for rice in pilaf and risotto recipes.

When purchasing barley, choose hulled—with the fiber-rich bran intact—instead of the pearl variety, which has both hull and bran removed (although it still has a good amount of fiber since, unlike other grains, barley contains fiber throughout the entire kernel).

You’ll hit fiber pay dirt—minus the hunting and gathering.

Hulled Barley Recipe




05 min


1h 00 min


3 cups water (or stock)

1 cup hulled barley

Sea salt (if desired)


Bring 3 cups water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt (optional).

Add 1 cup hulled barley and return to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook 50-55 minutes (if substituting pearl barley, cook 45 minutes).

Remove from heat, allow to sit for 10 minutes and then drain off any unabsorbed liquid.

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