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Mar 3, 2008 08:41 PM

Pearl or pearled barley

Have been eating pearl barley sometimes thinking it is one of the whole grains we should be eating. Then I read somewhere that pearl or pearled barley is equivalent to stripping the good stuff off a grain of rice to make white rice from say a brown rice. (Is that possiby where white rice comes from? Excuse my ignorance of the subject.)

That got me to thinking that I only ever see pearl rice. So what does one look for if one desires the whole barley (non-pearled?) for cooking and what are drawbacks of cooking one versus the other?

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  1. My mother's family is Russian/Ukrainian and they eat all kinds of grains cooked in the oven, almost like a braise. This includes standard barley and buckwheat. I don't particularly care for either, but I know people who love it. Usually it is soaked a long time and then put in the oven in a stock with onions and root veg. I am sure this is all a holdover from times when farm folks ate whatever was plentiful and cooked it in a way that took advantage of having the woodstove on to heat the house.

    I use pearl barley in my hamburger soup and it is wonderful.

    2 Replies
    1. re: pengcast

      So, this from Wiki-pedia:
      Barley must have its fibrous outer hull removed before it can be eaten. Barley grains with their hulls still on are called covered barley or 'hulled barley". Once the grain has had the inedible hull removed, it is called dehulled barley. At this stage, the grain still has its bran and germ, which are nutritious. Dehulled barley is considered a whole grain, and is a popular health food. Pearl barley or pearled barley is hulled barley which has been processed further to remove the bran. It may be polished, a process known as "pearling". Dehulled or pearl barley may be processed into a variety of barley products, including flour, flakes similar to oatmeal, and grits.

      So my question is then I guess............ Is dehulled barley readily available in most stores such as Whole Foods, and is that what I should be looking for instead of pearled barley to cook with?

      1. re: Handyman

        My source for information about barley is Lorna Sass "Whole Grains Every Day Every Way". She explains her reasoning for including pearled barley in a book about whole grains. First, whole barley can't be eaten. It has a hull, which must be removed. It is really stuck on there tightly, so by removing it, some of the bran is lost no matter what. Thus, if it has been mechanically hulled, she indicates that it might be called "semi-pearled" barley. The barley in a supermarket has probably been more pearled than the barley in a health food store. But, there is hope. Barley is interesting in that the fiber is contained throughout the grain, not just in a top layer. So pearling does not remove all the fiber. Just look at how much fiber there is in pearled barley. My cheap supermarket generic has 7g of fiber in a quarter cup dry barley. This is no white rice. In fact, it is more fiber than brown rice, by about double. She includes pearled barley in her book because it is still reasonably nutritious, as far as I can tell.

        There is a newer development in barley, though. A special kind has a hull that naturally falls off so the grain does not need processing at all. This would perhaps be the closest to whole barley.

        I suggest you look at the fiber numbers on the back of the barley packages you are buying. This should reveal how much has been removed. I bet there is not much difference between the naturally hull-less barley and the barley that has been hulled. You'd need to check it out.

        (Yes, you are correct that white rice was originally brown rice, afaik.)

    2. Even in the dinky little small-town grocery store where I shop you can get either pearl or pot barley. The pot barley is slightly less refined and takes longer to cook. I like the texture and flavour of pot barley. You should be able to find it pretty easily if you know what you're looking for.

      1. This isn't barley but commonly labeled pearl barley in Asian stores. It's job's tears. Koreans know it as "yul mu" and make a drink out of it. My parents used to mix it with their rice. It's also used as an herb in Traditional Chinese medicine but you can also eat it and cook it as barley. In fact, I make my mushroom barley soup with job's tears instead of barley. The taste takes a while to get used to as it has a chalky taste.