How to Cook Barley for Breakfast

And it couldn’t be easier to prepare.

mixed-berry-barley-breakfast-bowl
Photo by Grace Elkus

What has twice the protein and almost half the calories as oats? Barley, and it’s about time we started eating it for breakfast.

Not only does barley have a wonderfully nutty flavor and a chewy, hearty texture, but it’s also a nutritious, high-fiber grain that boasts an array of health benefits. In fact, it’s been linked to improved blood sugar levels, appetite regulation, and the reduction of cardiovascular disease (as much so as oats!), according to a new research review conducted by St. Michael’s Hospital.

“Barley has a lowering effect on the total bad cholesterol in… high-risk individuals, but can also benefit people without high cholesterol,” Dr. Vladimir Vuksam, research scientist at St. Michael’s, said in a statement.

To incorporate the rustic, inexpensive grain into your diet, you can prepare it just like your favorite oatmeal recipe. Barley tastes great with all of the same mix-ins, be it cinnamon and brown sugar or fresh fruit and nuts—or even as a savory breakfast with a fried egg and avocado. It also re-heats wonderfully (we suggest making a big batch on Sunday), especially when warmed with a splash of milk. Try it out with our Barley Breakfast Bowl With Mixed Berry Compote.

The grain comes in two forms—pearl and hulled—and for quickest results, you’ll want to use pearl, which has been polished to remove the bran layer and therefore cooks more quickly. It also absorbs more water while cooking, resulting in a creamier texture. Hulled is the more nutritious option—it retains the bran and endosperm layer—but can be harder to find and requires a longer cook time. Both are cooked similarly to farro—brought to a boil with water or broth, simmered until tender, and served hot or at room temperature. Alternatively, you can cook it in the slow cooker. (Check out our full guide to buying, cooking, and eating whole grains here.)

Not big into breakfast? Try incorporating barley into your lunchtime salads, soups and stews, or as a new (healthier) twist on risotto.