Is pearl barley the perfect food?

I love pearl barley. It’s one of the oldest cultivated cereals and was an important source of food for Europeans up until the end of the 19th century. It has a very low glycaemic index and is high in soluble fibre making it excellent at regulating blood sugar. It’s also higher in protein than rice and corn and can apparently help to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and reduce the risk of colorectal cancers.

Pearl barley is very nutritious and one serving contains calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, manganese, zinc, selenium, folate, niacin, thiamin and riboflavin. It’s also very cheap with a 500g packet costing just 55p and producing 20 servings. The Whole Grains Council has a list of research studies on the health benefits of barley here:

Pearl barley could be the perfect food and yet most of what we grow gets fed to farm animals. According to this article in Nature, 75% of global barley production is used as animal feed, 20% is malted into things like beer and whiskey and only 5% is used by humans in cooking. Humans eat it in soup but not much else. But barley makes a tasty replacement for rice and pasta and this evening I adapted one of my pasta recipes to include pearl barley instead and it turned out really well so I thought I’d share it:

Pearl barley with cashews and vegetables

* 1 cup of pearl barley
* 1 vegetable stock cube
* 1 leek
* 3 tomatoes
* 2 stalks of celery
* 2 tblsp soy sauce
* 1 tblsp balsamic vinegar
* juice of 1 lemon
* 2 carrots
* 1 cup cashew nuts finely ground
* about 1 cup of water

Bring some water to the boil and cook the pearl barley until soft. This will take about 40 minutes. Once the barley is soft, drain it and put aside.

Fry the leek in olive oil until soft then add the other vegetables and fry for a couple of minutes. Then add all the other ingredients. If it’s too dry add some more water. Simmer for 5 minutes. Eat!


24 responses to “Is pearl barley the perfect food?”

      • That’s me in a nutshell. And I think meat eating is both a good thing and entirely natural but as with all good things better in moderation.

      • Thanks! Fascinating of course. This is the sort of thing that irritates me because it states everything as fact without a counter view and there are counter views. That said, and I’m open minded here, really, I do love how we can conjure up these disruptive technologies. If we can reach the point of replicating our diet organically then yippee I’m buying the grass steaks. But I’ll use an analogy. There are people into stoping genetic research on human embryos because it is killing a life. But so far that is the only way to create pluripotent stem cells. Which we need to combat disease etc. Once we have the technology to create them from skin (and it will come) and then entirely artificially I will support a ban on using embryos. To my mind you are making a case for the future, to continue research and that I will join you with. Just you can’t stop the status quo (the horse and cart) until you have a workable replacement (the internal combustion engine) and even then you can’t be sure about the unintended consequences. Thank you Rachel for engaging in this debate. I’m learning a lot and if anyone can kick start this Bill Gates can. One day I’ll get you to bring your family to London and do this properly (over organic lemonade of course!)

      • For what it’s worth I am PRO stem cell research. I’m not sure how you went from my argument that livestock farming is bad for the environment to stem cell research is wrong. I disagree and so I agree with you! I’m in favour of stem cell research, abortion, assisted euthanasia and even, in very narrow circumstances, infanticide. I do not hold the view of the sanctity of human life which seems to be where pro-lifers are coming from. I’m also pro GM foods and nuclear power (just to clear things up a bit).

      • Oh dear, I wasn’t suggesting you were pro or anti…, really! The dangers of a flat debate on line!!! It was an analogy which I hoped I made clear.

      • Ok, sorry. I see what you meant. I guess I don’t think it’s a very good analogy because humans can survive and live very healthy lives without eating meat. So there is an alternative which is available right now.

      • No ok, most analogies are flawed but it was there to explain where I stand. I want the alternatives proven before we completely change our ways. You think they are, clearly; I don’t.

      • I hope you don’t mind if I steal your argument and say that Hindu vegetarians have been eating a plant-based diet in India for millennia and the 500 million or so of them today seem to manage ok πŸ™‚ I also haven’t dropped dead just yet.

      • Not at all. And so the billions of people who have eaten meat have not all had the cancers etc you cite. And the world population gets stronger and lives longer on a predominantly omnivorous diet.

      • Not at all. And so the billions of people who have eaten meat have not all had the cancers etc you cite. And the world population gets stronger and lives longer on a predominantly omnivorous with an increased protein content. As I said once science has replicated that diet I’ll sign up. We aren’t there yet.

      • Oh and I’m pro GM ( we’ve been modifying dogs for centuries as well as crops and we haven’t killed the planet yet) and nuclear power. So at least we are on some of the same pages…

  1. That dish looks yummy!

    Didn’t know it is called pearl barley. I only know it as barley and we used to drink barley water in my childhood.

  2. Pearl barley has been processed to remove the hust and some of the bran, but it’s still regarded as a whole grain by many because it’s got such good nutritional values.

  3. Chinese people have it in soup. It’s one of those things I might have been put off by my mum’s sometimes inappropriate cooking though, such as marrow in a soup and beef that’s been fried too long. I have the impression of pearl barley as being a very tasteless thing. Good stuff though, very nutritious.

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