What’s the Difference Between Hulled and Pearl Barley?

updated Feb 24, 2022
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L: pearl barley in simple clay bowl | R: Close up view of Italian organic Barley on a board
Credit: L: Getty Images/ Евгений Харитонов | R: Getty Images/ post424

In the world of grains, barley is one of those that I am slowly but surely trying to cook with more. I grew up eating a lot (and I mean, a lot) of rice of all different kinds. Barley, on the other hand, is a grain that I most commonly had in soups and stews, like the classic beef and barley soup. My college food court actually served one every once in a while that I looked forward to on a daily basis! Since college, though, I’ve learned that there’s more to barley, such as the different varieties out there. Chances are, you’ve heard of both hulled and pearled barley.

You’ll likely find barley at the grocery store in the same aisle as foods like oats, rice, millet, quinoa and farro. When cooked, barley generally tends to have a tender texture with just a little bit of bite to it, similar to cooked brown rice. If you’re preparing a recipe that calls for barley, however, you might be stumped with the choice of whether or not to use hulled barley or the pearled variety.

What’s The Difference Between Hulled Barley and Pearl Barley?

The main difference between hulled barley and pearl barley is how they are processed. Hulled barley is made up of grains that have only had their outer husks removed, which are indigestible. Hulled barley has a darker and slightly tan color. Pearl barley grains have had both their outer husks and bran layers removed. Additionally, pearl barley is typically lighter in color compared to hulled barley.

More on Hulled Barley

Hulled barley, also known as barley groats, is chewy and rich in fiber and is a whole-grain variety of barley. Hulled barley generally takes longer to cook compared to pearl barley, about an hour or more. Both hulled and pearl barley are typically cooked on the stovetop, similar to rice, quinoa or couscous. Here’s a simple guide on how to cook both hulled and pearled barley!

More on Pearl Barley

Pearl barley, which is often referred to as “pearled barley”, is the most common form of barley. It’s still chewy and nutritious, but less so than hulled barley because the outer husk and bran layers have been removed. Since the grains are polished and softer, they take less time to cook, about 40 minutes. This traditional Persian soup is a great way to use up some pearl barley you might have on hand, by the way!

Can You Substitute Hulled Barley for Pearl Barley?

Yes, you can generally substitute one type of barley for the other, though you should be mindful of the fact that they don’t cook in exactly the same way. Most recipes call for pearl barley or intend for cooks to use this type even if they don’t specify. Just be aware that you may need to adjust the recipe cooking time to make sure the barley is tender enough. Considering that hulled barley is firmer and takes longer to cook, try gradually extending the cooking time.

Here are a few recipes from the Kitchn archives:

Related: Good Question: How Do I Cook Barley?