Grain of the month: Barley

Published: August, 2020

You may be familiar with the claims featured on packages of old-fashioned oatmeal, which note that "As part of a heart-healthy diet, the soluble fiber in oatmeal can help reduce cholesterol." Guess what? Back in 2008, the FDA also approved the equivalent health claim for barley products.

In fact, barley contains about three times as much fiber per serving as oats. Barley is particularly rich in a type of soluble fiber known as beta glucan, which is recognized for its cholesterol-lowering abilities. Barley is also a good or excellent source of several vitamins and minerals.

You can buy barley in two forms: hulled and pearled. Hulled barley is minimally processed to remove only the tough outer coating (hull). Pearled barley technically doesn't count as a whole grain, because both the hull and the seed kernel's outer coating (bran) are removed during processing. However, the beta glucans are found in the main part of the kernel (endosperm), so pearled barley is still a healthy choice.

Light golden brown in color, hulled barley tends to have a chewier texture and nuttier flavor than pearled barley, which is cream-colored. You can use either type in soups or grain salads, or as a substitute for rice, paired with curries or stir-fried vegetables. Here's a recipe from the Whole Grains Council for Barley Basil Risotto with Fresh Asparagus and Corn:

Image: © Nedim_B/Getty Images

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.