December 2, 2023

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15 Best Pearl Barley Substitutes


Do you love porridges? The hot, sizzling thick liquid seasoned with spices that simply fill your tummies with refreshing energy and goodness? If yes, I am sure a porridge made of pearl barley must be one of your favorites. 

But what happens when you don’t have pearl barley on hand to make porridge? You definitely need a bunch of pearl barley substitutes to go on with your day. (And you need to read this article as well!)

Want to know, “what are the best substitutes for pearl barley?” The best substitutes for pearl barley are farro, quinoa, bulgur wheat, brown rice, millet, berry, and amaranth.

Pearl barley is a chewy, nutritious barley variety with a nutty flavor. It has its hull removed after polishing. Hence, the name hulled or pearled. It is used to prepare soups, stews, stocks, broths, salads, and grain bowls.

Before getting to the substitutes, shall we explore a bit on pearl barley? A little knowledge never harmed any.

Quick Peek: Pearl Barley

The following sections tell you about pearl barley, its flavor, texture, uses, and health benefits. Read on!

What Is Pearl Barley?

Pearl barley is simply hulled barley (barley without hull) with its bran layer removed and polished. It is also known as pearled barley and is similar to wheat in its nutritional content.

It is a very popular cereal grain that is delicious and versatile. Used in stews, soups, porridges, salads, or as stuffings, pearl barley is the fourth most cultivated cereal grain in the United States.

Describing Pearl Barley: Flavor and Texture

Pearl barley has a mild, nutty flavor. It has a crunchy texture, and that is its biggest advantage. It readily absorbs the flavors of other ingredients in your recipe and doesn’t overpower them. 

It has a soft, chewy texture when cooked in soups or stocks. It can impart a creaminess to the dishes essentially due to its texture.

Uses of Pearl Barley

Pearl barley is an ingredient that can easily conform to any type of dish. It can be used as cereal grain in breakfast porridge or hot soups, stocks, or broth. It can be added to stir-fries and salads as well.

Its crunchy texture makes it an ideal ingredient to be used in stuffing. You know what’s even great? Some even use pearl barley in risotto and pilaf!

Pearl Barley On The Health Radar | Looking Through The Wellness Telescope

Pearl barley is loaded with vital nutrients and minerals. It is your best bet when it comes to controlling sugar. This is why it is a worthy addition to diets that target weight loss.

It contains beta-glucan, which helps in lowering the glycemic index. This makes it much better than rice. It controls cholesterol levels and blood pressure and boosts cardiovascular health. 

That said, let us talk about the top substitutes for pearl barley.

15 Best Pearl Barley Substitutes

I feel I have rambled on about Pearl barley enough. Now, it’s time for the substitutes. So, let’s see the 15 best pearl barley substitutes.

1. Farro

Farro is a whole grain of the wheat species packed with protein and fiber. It has an oblong shape and a tender, chewy texture when cooked. 

Farro has a mild, nutty flavor similar to pearl barley, making it the best substitute for pearl barley. With identical nutritional profiles, farro can very well replace pearl barley in any recipe.

2. Quinoa

Quinoa is a pseudo-grain. That’s right! Quinoa refers to those edible seeds of the quinoa plant rich in nutrients, especially in highly enriching protein.

Quinoa makes a gluten-free alternative for pearl barley. It has a mild taste with a slightly nutty flavor and a firm texture. Being an incredible source of protein, quinoa becomes a vital alternative for pearl barley.

3. Bulgur Wheat

Bulgur wheat is a staple wheat species used prominently in European and Asian cuisines. It has a nutty flavor and a chewy texture. 

You can easily replace pearl barley with bulgur wheat almost on an equal ratio in soups, stocks, or porridges. The popular word is that bulgur wheat also works as an amazing binding agent as well. That’s a little extra to know about, right?  

4. Brown Rice

Brown rice is a very healthy, easily available, and affordable substitute for pearl barley. It has a chewy texture and nutty flavor akin to pearl barley, making it a good substitute.

You might already know what makes brown rice healthy – its bran, germ, and endosperm are kept intact, making it absolutely nutritious. It does, however, have carbs and calories.

Nevertheless, with a low glycemic index and similarity in flavor profiles, brown rice is one of the best substitutes for pearl barley.

5. Millet

Millet is a cereal grain with a sweet flavor that is sometimes deemed to be that of corn. It is one of the cheapest grains available and thus an effective, easy substitute for pearl barley.

What makes millet different from pearl barley is its texture. Pearl barley has a chewy texture, but millet has a soft texture very similar to mashed potatoes. So if you dislike the chewy part of pearl barley, millet should be your choice as a substitute.

6. Couscous

Time to get the facts right about couscous. It is neither a grain nor a seed. So what is it doing under a list of substitutes for a cereal? It has its reasons.

Couscous is a paste made from ground durum wheat semolina, formulated into tiny granules. It has a subtle nutty flavor that is barely noticeable. The granular texture and mild flavor of couscous make it a good alternative for pearl barley.

7. Wheatberry

Wheatberry comprises the whole wheat kernel – with the bran, germ, and endosperm. It has a nutty flavor and a chewy texture similar to pearl barley.

What should be considered is the time – wheatberries take a long time to cook. You will have to boil and simmer them in water for over an hour until they soften.

So, if you can pass the patience test of cooking wheatberry for a while, opt for wheat berry as a substitute for pearl barley.

8. Amaranth

Yet another pseudocereal is amaranth. A tan-colored gluten-free seed is deemed to be a grain rich in fiber, protein, and micronutrients. It has a very sweet, nutty flavor with a crunchy texture.

It is not always the best option to substitute for pearl barley. However, considering the nutritional value and distinctive flavor, amaranth would work fine as a replacement for pearl barley in soups or dishes.

9. Sorghum

Sorghum is a gluten-free substitute for pearl barley. It is one of the most cultivated cereals in America, even though it comes to us all the way from Africa.

It is a pale-colored, ancient grain with a nutty flavor and a sweet taste. Once cooked, it has a chewy texture, similar to wheatberry. You can opt for sorghum due to this characteristic as an alternative for pearl barley in soups, stocks, or dishes.

10. Corn 

I am pretty sure there can be only very few who dislike corn. It has an amazingly sweet flavor with a juicy inside and a firm covering. Not to mention that it is an indispensable part of a number of recipes.

Corn kernels have a creamy texture and a delightful flavor. It is one of the most consumed cereals worldwide due to its harmless starch content and other health benefits.

Whole corn kernels are almost the same size as that of pearl barley. So you have little to worry about the flavor or texture. Go for corn kernels in lieu of pearl barley, and you won’t be disappointed. 

11. Oats

Oats might be your favorite and one of the wholesome cereals in the wagon of healthy eating. They are loaded with immense health benefits such as lowering cholesterol levels, maintaining the digestive system, and helping with weight loss. 

Although oats, in general, are gluten-free in nature, the location of the production may result in them coming into contact with foods that contain gluten. If you aim for a gluten-free diet, you will have to be careful while using oats to replace pearl barley.

Also, it would be beneficial if you opt for steel-cut oats because of their size and texture, similar to pearl barley.

12. Buckwheat

We have another pseudocereal on the list, which is buckwheat. It is devoid of wheat and is commonly a grain-like seed from eastern Europe used as a cereal.

Buckwheat has an earthy, bitter flavor and a chewy texture. It comprises less calories and carbohydrates than pearl barley making it one of the considerable alternatives for pearl barley.

13. Teff

Teff is a whole grain that comes in red, white, and dark brown colors. It is a staple ingredient in Ethiopian cuisine and is heavily rich in iron. 

Teff has an earthy, nutty flavor with a gritty texture. Once cooked, they stick together and render a thick consistency. Teff is a good substitute for pearl barley, but its high cost and availability are the only downside.

14. Tofu

Coming to non-grain substitutes, the first one we have on the list is tofu. 

Tofu is made by pressing curdled soy milk into blocks. It has a mild sweet taste with a nutty flavor and a firm texture.

You know what makes tofu great? Its ability to blend in with any ingredient in your recipes. It is bland in itself as an ingredient and this makes Tofu an easy alternative for pearl barley in dishes, soups, or stir-fries. 

15. Buttermilk

Buttermilk is a type of fermented milk that is a great source of vitamins and minerals. It has a creamy, buttery flavor with a texture thicker than plain milk.

Buttermilk may not be a good option to replace pearl barley in cereals because it is practically impossible to replace cereal with a liquid.

However, if you wish a substitute for pearl barley in baking recipes, buttermilk can be considered due to its unique tang.

A Short Recap

So, now you have the list of the best substitutes for pearl barley. The list comprises grain-based substitutes, pseudocereals as well as non-grain substitutes. 

You must choose one among these based on your intended recipe. The following points will help you remember the details on the best pearl barley substitutes.

*Flavor and Texture – Opt for farro as it is the best substitute for pearl barley in terms of flavor and texture.

*Gluten Content – If you wish for a gluten-free substitute, your choices should be buckwheat, quinoa, brown rice, and sorghum.

*Affordability – For a substitute that costs you less, go for millets.

Final Musings

I hope you now have a fair understanding of pearl barley, its uses, benefits, and best substitutes. 

All the grain-based substitutes given above are worthy alternatives for pearl barley which will not hamper your cooking in any way. You can consider non-grain substitutes if your recipe calls for such. 

That said, opt for a substitute based on your cooking preferences. Let me know what you choose and the subsequent results. See you soon with another article!

Frequently Asked Questions

Of course, now you must be brimming with endless questions on pearl barley. Let me help you by answering the most basic queries among them.

Is Pearl Barley Healthy?

Although pearl barley has its hull removed, it is still a healthy grain packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Is Pearl Barley Better Than Barley?

Barley is basically the whole grain with its hull on. But pearl barley loses its bran layer while polishing, making it less nutritious than regular barley.

Is Pearl Barley Same As Pot Barley?

No, pearl barley and pot barley are varieties of barley. Pot barley is barley with its husk removed. It is more nutritious when compared to pearl barley but takes a longer time to cook. 

Is Pearl Barley Gluten-Free?

No. Pearl barley is not gluten-free as it contains around 5-8% gluten. 

Can You Substitute Pearl Barley With Rice?

Definitely! Rice is a very good substitute for pearl barley. You can go for white rice or brown rice as replacements, but brown rice is a much healthier option.

What Are The Best Alternatives Of Pearl Barley In Soups and Stews?

Some of the best alternatives of pearl barley in soups are farro, quinoa, millet, sorghum, and corn.

Can Pearl Barley Be Substituted With Orzo?

Orzo, adorably known as little pasta, is pasta made from wheat flour. It has a structure similar to rice with a chewy texture. It can be used to substitute for pearl barley, depending on the nature of your recipe.

Can Lentils Replace Pearl Barley?

Mostly, yes. Lentils, be they red or green, can be used in soups instead of pearl barley if your soup takes a long time to get cooked. Be mindful that red lentils easily break when cooked, while green lentils can retain their shape even better.

What Are The Gluten-Free Alternatives To Pearl Barley?

Some of the gluten-free alternatives to pearl barley are buckwheat, amaranth, corn, millet, quinoa, and sorghum.

Can Oatmeal Replace Pearl Barley?

You have to understand that oatmeal is simply any dish made using oats. Oats definitely can be a good and nutritious replacement for pearl barley.


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