Barley is a healthy, high fiber grain with a chewy texture and mild, nutty flavor. Learn how to cook pearled or hulled barley using a stovetop or Instant Pot.
Once you learn how to cook barley, it becomes a pantry staple that can be turned into easy salads and grain bowls. It's also a healthy addition to soup and stew. My vegan Instant Pot Mushroom Barley soup is one of my favorite soups! Although I have to admit I also love Crockpot Beef & Barley Stew.
Types of barley
You’ll find three different types of barley in stores.
Quick cooking barley cooks in just ten minutes, which is really convenient! This barley has been partially cooked and dried, so it’s considered the most processed type of barley.
Pearl barley is the most common type of barley found in grocery stores. Pearl barley has been polished to remove the bran. For this reason, pearl barley isn’t considered a whole grain, although it still has a decent amount of fiber.
Pearl barley takes about 15 minutes to cook in a pressure cooker and 25 to 30 minutes on the stove top. Pearl barley has a slightly softer texture than hulled barley and absorbs more water as it cooks.
Considered the most nutritious, hulled barley is a whole grain because it still has its bran and endosperm layer. Hulled barley also takes the longest to cook, 40 minutes or more on the stove top and around 25 minutes in a pressure cooker. Hulled barley has a firmer, more chewy texture. I don’t see hulled barley in stores as often - you might have to buy it online.
Water to barley ratio
There are two water-to-barley ratios that can be used:
- Add just enough water so that the grain kernels absorb all of the liquid
- Add more water so that barley cooks like pasta, then drain off the remaining liquid when the barley is cooked
I prefer option #2, because you never have to worry about the barley sticking or burning to the pot. There's always enough water, and you simply drain off the excess water in a colander when the barley is cooked.
For this method, use a 4:1 ratio of water to barley (4 cups water/1 cup barley) when using an Instant Pot (pressure cooker) or cooking on the stovetop.
Pro Tip: Always drain off any remaining water immediately after the barley is cooked. Don't let the cooked barley sit in the extra water, or it will continue to absorb the water and get mushy.
Barley is cooked when the texture is tender but still chewy. It shouldn’t be too firm or hard and it shouldn’t be mushy.
Quick Cooking Barley Cooking Time
This type of barley will be labeled “quick cooking” or “10-minute” barley on the package. This type of barley cooks best on the stove top, simmered for 10 minutes.
Pearl Barley Cooking Times
Cook pearl barley at high pressure for 15 minutes, with a 5 minute quick release (which means turning the steam release valve to "venting" 5 minutes after the cooking time has finished). This makes barley that is tender but not too soft.
Simmer pearl barley uncovered at a gentle simmer for at least 25 minutes, but some brands I’ve bought recommend an even longer cooking time.
Instant Pot Hulled Barley: I haven’t personally cooked hulled barley in my Instant Pot yet, however, you can check out this recipe for hulled barley, which recommends using the Multigrain function for 23 minutes with a natural release.
Stove Top: Simmer uncovered and start checking the texture at 40 minutes, but hulled barley can take an hour or more to cook
Pro Tip: For a nuttier, toasty flavor, uncooked barley can be toasted in a dry skillet until the grain is lightly browned and fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Once the grain is lightly toasted it can then be cooked in water or broth.
Soup and stew
Pearled or hulled barley can be cooked directly in a soup or stew pot if you time it correctly. Be mindful of how long the barley takes to cook, and use that as a guide for your total soup or stew cooking time.
A little bit of barley can go a long way in soup and stew. I only add ½ to ⅔ cup to soup and stew. Also, keep in mind that the grain will absorb liquid as it cooks, resulting in less broth.
Pearl barley becomes softer in soup and stew and release starch into the broth. This gives the broth a thicker, silky texture. You'll notice this in the richness of my Instant Pot mushroom barley soup and in the thick broth of Crockpot Beef & Barley stew.
Hulled barley holds its shape better, if you prefer the grain to have a chewier, less soft texture in soup and stew.
If you don't want barley to affect the cooking time or texture of your soup or stew, you can cook it separately and then add it right before serving.
1 cup dry barley yields 3 to 3 ½ cups cooked
Cooked barley can be kept in the refrigerator for at least 5 days.
Barley can also be stored in the freezer for several months. Freeze barley in an airtight freezer bag, making sure to remove as much air as possible from the bag. To defrost, place frozen barley in the refrigerator overnight.
First, don't overcook it. But after it's been cooked, barley can get mushy if it sits in water. Drain excess water immediately. Lastly, warm barley piled in a bowl will continue soften because of the residual heat. It's best to cool the grain by spreading it out on a plate or sheet tray and cooling it quickly in the refrigerator.
Most barley sold in US supermarkets is pearled barley. If it's hulled barley, the package should say so. Also, pearled barley usually has a lighter color than hulled barley.
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