The 10 Best Substitutes for Barley

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If you don’t have barley for a recipe, don’t worry! There are many substitutes for barley that will create a similar texture and flavor for your dish including quinoa, buckwheat, farro, bulgur, sorghum and many more.


What is barley?

Barley is a type of grain from the grass family. The barley plant looks similar to wheat but it has different nutritional content including a higher fiber and protein content.
Barley is used for a lot of dishes including soups, stews,and breads. It is also well-known for its role in producing beer. It’s is also great in buddha bowls, as a substitute for rice or pasta, in risotto or pilaf, in a salad, in a muffin or as a breakfast porridge or simply as a delicious side to a main!

What does barley taste like and how can I find the right substitute to match that?

Barley has a nutty and chewy texture so the best substitute is one with this similar profile. Depending on the recipe, the proper substitution can vary.

What is a good substitute for barley in soup?

The best substitutes for barley in soup are farro, wheat berries, millet, or bulgur.

What is the best gluten-free substitute for barley?

Barley is not gluten-free and suitable for those with Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance. The best gluten-free substitutes for barley include quinoa, brown rice, sorghum, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, or old-fashioned oats.

How long does barley take to cook?

It depends on the type of barley you have. There are two types of barley: pearl barley and pot barley. Pearl barley is more common, cooks more quickly (25-30 min), but is slightly less nutritious compared to pot barley. In comparison, pot barley is harder to find, takes longer to cook (40-50 min), but has a higher nutritional value.

When substituting barley in a recipe, pay attention to the cook times and adjust accordingly.

The Best Substitutes for Barley

1. Quinoa

Quinoa is a great substitute for barley because also has a nutty and earthy flavor like barley.

Unlike barley, it has a softer texture. It also cooks faster.

Where to find it: Nearly all grocery stores or on Amazon.

Cook time: 15 minutes stovetop


Are all the quinoa colors the same?

There are three colors of quinoa: white, red, and black and they each have slightly different flavor profiles.
White quinoa is the most commonly available variety and has a mild, nutty flavor and a fluffy, slightly crunchy texture.
Red quinoa has a slightly stronger, earthy flavor than white quinoa, and a slightly chewy texture.
Black quinoa has a slightly sweeter, earthy flavor than white quinoa, and a firmer texture.
You can purchase multigrain quinoa that is a mixture of the three.

2. Farro

Farro is one of the best substitutes for barley. It is an ancient grain with a similar chewy texture and nutty flavor to barley.

It has a slightly different cook time and water requirements so make sure to adjust accordingly.

Where to find it: Most grocery store in the grain aisle or on Amazon

Cook time: 15-40 minutes stove top depending on the variation

Not gluten-free

3. Brown Rice

Brown rice has a similar chewy texture and nutty flavor like barley.

It takes almost twice as long to cook so make sure to plan appropriately.

Where to find it: Any grocery store in the grain aisle or on Amazon.

Cook time: 45-60 minutes stovetop


Is brown rice healthier than white rice?

Brown rice is generally considered healthier than white rice because of its nutritional qualities. It is a whole grain which makes it higher in fiber and higher in other vitamins such as B vitamins, magnesium, selenium, and iron. It also has a lower glycemic index, meaning it won’t cause high spikes in blood sugar after consuming compared to white rice.

4. Bulgur

Bulgur is a grain made from cracked wheat kernels that have been partially cooked and dried. It is common in Middle Eastern or Mediterranean dishes.

It is a great substitute for barley with a similar texture and flavor.

Where to find it:  Check the bulk foods section, the baking aisle with other whole grain or the cereal aisle near the oatmeal and breakfast grains. It is also on Amazon.

Cook time: 10-15 minutes stovetop

Not Gluten-free

5. Pearl Couscous

Also known as Israeli couscous, pearl couscous can be a substitute for barley in some recipes. It’s chewy, but a smaller and rounder shape to barley.

It cooks more quickly so many not be as hearty as barley in soups or stews. Couscous is great as a side or in salads.

Where to find it: Most grocery stores carry it in the grains aisle but also check the international food section. It is on Amazon as well.

Cook time: 10 minutes stovetop

Not gluten-free

Is couscous a pasta?

Couscous is often referred to as a type of pasta because it is made from semolina flour, which is also used to make many types of pasta. However, couscous is technically not a pasta, as it is not formed into shapes like spaghetti or fusilli. Couscous is made by steaming tiny balls of semolina flour.

6. Sorghum

Sorghum is another type of cereal grain that can be a substitute for barley. It is chewy like barley, but has a slightly sweeter flavor.

Where to find it: Most grocery stores among the other whole grains, as well as in the bulk bins or on Amazon.

Cook time: 50-60 minutes


7. Buckwheat

Try buckwheat as a substitute for barley. Buckwheat has a nutty flavor and a slightly softer texture than barley, which has a chewier texture and a milder taste. Buckwheat is also rich in iron and antioxidants.

Where to find it: Most grocery stores in the baking and cereal aisles or look near the rice and beans. It’s on Amazon too.

Cook time: 13-15 minutes stovetop


Are buckwheat and buckwheat groats the same thing?

Buckwheat comes in two forms at the grocery store: groats and flour. Buckwheat groats are the hulled seeds of the buckwheat plant using in cooking. Buckwheat flour is the ground up seed hulls and is used for baked goods like pancakes, muffins, breads, and more.

8. Millet

Millet is a great substitute for barley because it has a similar texture and taste. It does have a milder flavor so if your dish uses barley as the star ingredient, you may need to add more flavors with millet as your substitute to make your dish more flavorful.

Where to find it: Health food grocery stores with the other whole grains in the bulk bins, the baking aisle, or possibly with the cereals. Find it on Amazon.

Cook time: 18-20 minutes stovetop


9. Amaranth

Amaranth and barley have a similar texture and can be used in dishes like soups, stews, and salads. Amaranth is slightly nuttier and sweeter.

Where to find it: Most health food grocery stores in the bulk bins or grain aisle or on Amazon.

Cook time: 20 minutes stovetop


10. Oats

Old fashioned oats can be used as a substitute for barley in some recipes like soups, cold dishes like tabbouleh, breakfast porridge, or baked goods. Oats are typically softer and have a milder, slightly sweet flavor compared to barley.

Where to find it: Any grocery store in the cereal aisle or bulk bins. Find it on Amazon.

Cook time: 50-60 minutes


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