Pearl barley is the most common form of barley and is used in many recipes — from beer to soups and stews. Pearl barley is one of the oldest cultivated crops in the world and is considered an ancient grain. It is full of fiber and contains many vitamins and minerals.
Since pearl barley is not gluten-free, you may be interested to know that there are many gluten-free grain and seed substitutes for use in recipes that call for pearl barley. And whether your dish needs to be gluten-free to avoid an allergic reaction or you just don’t like pearl barley’s nutty flavor and chewy texture, any of the following alternate ingredients will make your recipes delicious: farro, quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice, millet, and sorghum.
Also an ancient crop, farro’s structure has been largely unchanged over the last several hundred years. Unlike wheat, there has been no hybridization or modifications made to this grain. This makes farro grains more nutritionally valuable than other cultivated varieties of wheat.
Farro’s nutrition and chewy, nutty texture make it almost completely interchangeable with pearl barley in any recipe. If these substitutions were ranked for similarity to pearl barley, farro would come out on top as the best substitute.
Quinoa is actually a seed that is prepared like a grain. It is also called a pseudocereal. Quinoa is a gluten-free substitute for pearl barley and other grains. It contains sufficient amounts of all nine essential amino acids, making quinoa one of the few foods that offer this nutritional profile. As another ancient crop, quinoa is an excellent substitute for pearl barley.
Quinoa is high in protein but falls short of pearl barley in fiber content — in both soluble and insoluble fiber.
The only thing to keep in mind when using quinoa in place of pearl barley is that it will require less liquid for cooking.
Though the word “wheat” is found in this seed, there is no actual wheat to be found. Buckwheat is the seed of the broadleaf plant and is a gluten-free substitute for pearl barley. Like quinoa, it is used and cooked like a grain. Buckwheat is high in vitamins and minerals and has a healthy amount of fiber. It also has more protein than quinoa.
Buckwheat does have a stronger flavor than pearl barley, but it is an excellent addition to savory recipes.
4. Brown Rice
Brown rice is another gluten-free alternative to pearl barley, like quinoa and buckwheat. It is high in fiber, carbohydrates, and calories, but has a low glycemic index so it will keep you feeling fuller longer, as many of the other substitutes mentioned here.
Millet is another seed that functions like a grain. In the United States, it is mostly known and used for its flour. But around the world, millet is used in a multitude of recipes and is a staple in many diets. This seed is full of proteins and minerals, and quickly takes on the flavor of whatever recipe it is added to.
Millet looks like a corn kernel, tastes a bit sweet like corn, and is another example of a gluten-free alternative to pearl barley.
Another gluten-free option, sorghum is an easy substitution for pearl barley and other grains. It is cooked just like rice and is high in fiber and many vitamins and minerals.
Sorghum is also high in protein, but it does fall short in terms of protein absorption. Recent studies have shown that humans digest only 46% of the protein in the sorghum they consume. This is in sharp contrast to the percentage of proteins digested in wheat (81%) and corn (73%).
Grains are mostly interchangeable. Since this is the case, your choice of pearl barley substitute is best if based on your needs — whether you need a gluten-free option, one with more protein, or one that has a texture and flavor that is more well-suited to your recipe and preferences.
You really can’t go wrong with any of these options!