Pearl barley is a highly versatile grain known for its nutty flavor and chewy texture, making it a popular ingredient in many dishes, including soups, stews, and salads. However, it can be difficult to find or expensive for some individuals.

Thankfully, if you are in need of a substitute for pearl barley, there are several options to choose from. From quinoa and farro to wheat berries and spelt grains, this article will outline the 7 best substitutes for pearl barley, allowing you to enjoy your favorite recipes without the added expense.

What is Pearl Barley?

Pearl barley is a type of cereal grain that belongs to the hulled barley family. It’s commonly utilized in soups, stews, salads, and side dishes due to its versatility.

To obtain pearl barley, the outer husk is removed, and the inner bran layer is polished, which gives it a signature pearl-like appearance. Compared to unprocessed barley grains, pearl barley cooks faster, and its chewy texture is akin to al dente pasta.

In addition, pearl barley is rich in dietary fiber, making it a healthy ingredient choice. If needed, pearl barley can be swapped with other types of whole-grain barleys such as pot or Scotch barleys, depending on the recipe’s requirements.

Pearl Barley Vs Regular Barley

Barley comes in two varieties, hulled and pearl, which are easily confused due to their similar appearance. However, these grains differ in several ways.

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Pearl barley undergoes a multi-step process that involves removing its outer hull and bran layer through polishing. This processing results in grains with a pearl-like appearance, distinct from regular barley.

The taste and texture of pearl barley also differ from those of regular barley due to the multiple layers being removed. This processing creates a chewier texture and nuttier flavor in pearl barley compared to the nutty and slightly chewy texture of regular barley.

In essence, pearl barley can be likened to white rice, which undergoes processing to create polished grains, whereas regular barley retains all its natural layers.

The 7 Best Substitutes For Pearl Barley



Farro is an ancient grain that boasts a nutty flavor and chewy texture. It is rich in fiber, protein, iron, and magnesium, making it a nutritious alternative to pearl barley.

Farro can be cooked in a similar manner to pearl barley, but it requires less cooking time because it’s partially pre-cooked. Additionally, it is more versatile than pearl barley, as it can be used in salads, soups, risottos, or as a side dish.

Its unique flavor and chewy texture make it a great addition to any dish, providing contrast to softer ingredients like vegetables or legumes.



Quinoa is a versatile and nutritious grain that can be used in place of pearl barley. It has a mild, nutty flavor and a chewy texture, making it ideal for salads, soups, pilafs, and side dishes.

Quinoa is an excellent source of protein, containing all nine essential amino acids, and is also high in fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and B vitamins. Unlike pearl barley, which requires boiling before use, quinoa only needs to be rinsed before cooking. It cooks quickly and can be ready in just 15 minutes on the stovetop.

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Couscous is a small, round grain made from semolina flour and is popular in North African and Middle Eastern cuisine. It has a light, fluffy texture and a nutty flavor that makes it an excellent substitute for pearl barley in salads, soups, and side dishes.

Compared to pearl barley, couscous requires a shorter cooking time and can be ready in just five minutes. Its smaller grains absorb liquid more quickly, making it a good option for dishes that require a lot of liquid.

Brown Rice

Brown Rice

Brown rice is a commonly consumed grain that can easily replace pearl barley in recipes. It shares similar characteristics and is also nutritionally superior. Although it takes a bit longer to cook, brown rice is highly versatile and can be used in any recipe that calls for pearl barley. A cup of brown rice can be used as a substitute for every cup of pearl barley.



Millet is another grain that has been a dietary staple for centuries. It is easy to cook and provides essential nutrients, especially protein. While it may not have the same appearance as pearl barley, millet offers a similar texture and flavor. It has a lightly chewy texture that resembles white rice, but it cooks much faster than brown rice. Equal portions of millet can be used to substitute pearl barley in any recipe.



Unlike pearl barley, sorghum has a distinct nutty flavor. It has also been consumed for centuries and is an important source of nutrition, especially fiber. Sorghum is smaller than pearl barley and can be compared to corn, but its flavor can complement any recipe. To replace pearl barley, use one cup of sorghum for every cup of pearl barley.

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Bulgur Wheat

Bulgur Wheat

Bulgur wheat is a whole grain that has been partially cooked, dried, and cracked. It has a nutty flavor and chewy texture that makes it ideal for a variety of dishes such as salads, pilafs, and stuffing. Bulgur wheat is high in fiber and protein and contains essential vitamins and minerals.

When substituting bulgur wheat for pearl barley, it may be necessary to adjust the cooking time since bulgur cooks faster. To prepare dishes like tabbouleh or kibbeh, use one part bulgur to two parts liquid. Bulgur can also be used as a replacement for rice or couscous for added nutrition.


To sum up, if you’re seeking an alternative to pearl barley, there are numerous options to choose from that can offer a flavorful and healthy substitute.

These alternatives comprise farro, quinoa, couscous, bulgur wheat, brown rice, millet, oats, and sorghum.

All of these grains offer comparable nutritional advantages and can be utilized in a diverse range of dishes.

It’s essential to adjust the cooking time and liquid proportion as needed when replacing pearl barley with one of these grains.

Nicholas Thomas is a dedicated father, food lover, and entrepreneur. He is the founder of, a popular food blog that offers delicious recipes, cooking tips, and culinary inspiration to foodies around the world.

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