Barley, commonly regarded as a cereal grain, is one of the oldest crops known to mankind. A steppingstone for ancient civilizations to flour and beer, it has been a cornerstone of culinary innovation.
Barley is used in a variety of dishes, most often used in soups or stews. Barley groats contain immense amounts of protein, potassium, and iron that were key to ancient survival, making it notoriously hard to replace.
The best substitutes for whole barley are buckwheat, quinoa, and rice.
Buckwheat is a great cereal grain to replace barley in soups and stews, due to the similar taste and texture. While it’s not nearly as popular as wheat and barley, its nutty flavor is truly something to be appreciated.
To properly prepare buckwheat for soups and stews:
- Get a package of pretoasted buckwheat. This is most found at Russian, European, and Asian markets.
- If you can’t find any pretoasted buckwheat, toast it in a dry skillet on medium for about 5 minutes.
- Place one cup of toasted buckwheat into a strainer and rinse it the same way you would rice, until the water comes out clear.
- In a small pot, put enough water to cover the buckwheat, 1-2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, and a pinch of fine salt.
- Stir continuously for about a minute and cover the pot with the lid, bringing the heat to low.
- Cook for about 15 minutes, unless you’re using a nonstick pot, in which you should do it for about 17 minutes.
- Remove from heat and leave the buckwheat in the pot covered for 10 minutes.
- Fluff with a fork and serve!
After this, you should either refrigerate or eat the buckwheat, as leaving it out for about 2 hours will make it stale.
Quinoa is a pseudo cereal that is often used as a replacement for rice. The fresh flavor and health benefits of quinoa are plentiful, and it shares a very similar taste to barley with only a slightly differing texture. Quinoa is currently sold in two ways, in the leaves and the seeds, and the seeds are what are commonly eaten like rice.
There are currently over 120 different types of quinoas, but easily the most available are red, white, and black quinoa.
Quinoa can be added to soups and stews, but it is easily at its best as a sort of bed for the protein that it is served with, such as in the Spanish dish paella. The slightly vegetal taste of the quinoa works well with lean proteins such as chicken and rabbit. Paired with other vegetables, it may even be healthier than barley at times.
Quinoa actually may be better to pair with proteins than even barley is, as once it is paired with a lean protein, adding fresh components can make the dish nutrient rich and absolutely delicious. Quinoa pairs really well with both mint and lemon, allowing the chef to have fun with spice combinations due to the taste of the quinoa.
Rice is an easy catch all substitute for cereal grains, due to its general versatility. Rice has become an economic cornerstone of the world as well, with many societies depending on its export in order to fully survive.
The best rice that can replace barley is parboiled rice. Treated in a similar way as pretoasted barley, it only takes 1-2 minutes to cook while also having the added nutrients, like barley. The only risk that you have with parboiled rice is that it may overcook in soups and stews, but that risk is eliminated whenever you add it into a different dish, such as using it for a bed of the main dish.
The main difference between rice and buckwheat can be contributed to the softer texture of rice, but even with the difference in texture, there is minimal difference in the taste of the dish overall.
Arguably, it makes the best substitute if you take care not to overcook the rice, or if you take less conventional option and make the rice crispy using vegetable oil. To do this, all you have to do is place the cooked rice in the vegetable oil until one side gets golden brown and flip it on the other side once finished.
This will mimic the texture of the barley without compromising the flavor of the rice.