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Barley Growing In Field
Pearl Barley

Barley is indigenous to the Middle East, perhaps originally from Iraq. Barley is not eaten that much these days, but has been historically important for thousands of years, is popular in parts of Africa and is used in Britain for making malt liquors - beer, gin and whisky.

Barley tastes earthy and starchy, with a chewy mouthfeel.

Barley used to be cooked to make porridge-like meals, however because it is bland has fallen from popularity. Barley is nowadays used predominantly in soups - e.g. Scotch broth. In the Orkney and Shetland Islands, a type of barley meal called bere meal is made and used for bere bannocks.

The husked, polished berry is pearl barley and used to make soups and the cordial, lemon barley water. The unground grain is either Scotch barley when still with bran, or pot barley when the bran has been partly removed.

Belila is a sweet version of barley porridge made with nuts; traditional for Sephardic Jews.


To cook barley as a porridge or side dish:

Soak pot barley overnight, then drain. Add liquid to barley in proportions of 3:1 of liquid:barley. Bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes.


Barley lasts for a long time. Store somewhere dry, dark and cool, and free from potential insect contamination.

Further reading

  • Christian, G. (2005) Real Flavours: the handbook of gourmet & deli ingredients, Grub Street. ISBN 1904943209.
  • Stobart, T. (1981) The Cook's Encyclopedia: ingredients & processes, Harper & Row. ISBN 0060141271.