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The Health Benefits of Pearl Barley

In these days of food enlightenment, people are broadening their culinary repertoire and many for health reasons are trying the ever expanding list of “New Foods” available to the consumer.

One of these “New Foods” is in reality one that our Grandmothers would have used quite routinely, Pearl Barley (Hordeum distichon)

A staple of our grandmother's’ larder it would routinely be added to soups and stews to thicken and add texture.

It was also used as a “Health Drink” a nutritive and demulcent drink in febrile conditions and in catarrhal affections of the respiratory and urinary organs(Grieve 2016)

Some studies have shown that Barley may also have an effect on cholesterol levels.

A recent Swedish study showed a 5% reduction in LDL cholesterol (Ames & Rhymer 2008) This appears to be caused by the β -glucan components which help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease (Dykes & Rooney 2007)

Phenolic compounds are also found in Barley which have antioxidant properties and can protect against degenerative diseases (i.e., heart disease and cancer) (Urooj et al. 2009)

Here are some recipes for drinks that can be made from Pearl Barley

Barley Horchata (Horchata de Cebada)

A refreshing Mexican creamy drink to enjoy in the sunshine (or at any time you like)


  • 60g Pearl Barley

  • 200mls Water to cook plus 120mls

  • 80mls Lime Juice

  • Agave Syrup/Honey to taste


Put the Barley into a pan and cover with water

Cook on a low heat until tender, then put into a blender with 120mls water and blend till smooth, add the Lime Juice, blend again and then sieve.

Top up to 2ltrs and add Agave syrup/ Honey to taste.

Serve chilled with ice.

Variation: Omit the Lime Juice, add an extra 80mls water and 1tsp. Ground Cinnamon before blending.

Lemon/Fruit Barley Water


  • 240g Pearl Barley

  • 1200 mls water

  • Juice of ½ - 1 lemon (to taste, Lime, Grapefruit or Orange taste good too)

  • 1 tablespoon Agave Syrup or Honey (optional)

  • Cinnamon stick (optional)

  • Fresh Root Ginger (optional)


Rinse the Pearl Barley and then soak in water for 1-2 hours.

Transfer the Pearl Barley and Water to a saucepan, add the Ginger and Cinnamon

Bring to the boil and then simmer for 20-25 minutes. The water will be reduced by roughly a third.

The Barley will be cooked and soft.

Strain the liquid into a jug and add the lemon (fruit) juice to the water

Add Agave Syrup/Honey to taste, stir and leave to cool.

Serve cold with ice or hot as a toddy with a piece of Cinnamon stick and a splash of Rum (optional)

Best drunk on the day you make it but it can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.


Keep the cooled, cooked Barley in the freezer, split into batches. Defrost and add to stews or soups near the end of cooking time to bulk and thicken. (Remember it will have a warm, slightly spicy taste from the Ginger and Cinnamon, great in Pumpkin or Butternut Squash soup)

Or sauté a Red Onion, and a chopped clove of Garlic, until translucent, add 1 Tsp. Turmeric, and chopped herbs of choice (Mint or Coriander works well), 8 halved Cherry tomatoes and a small handful of raisins. Stir until warmed through. Season with Chilli flakes or Black Pepper to taste. Serve as a side dish or cold as a salad.


Ames, N.P. & Rhymer, C.R., 2008. Issues surrounding health claims for barley. JOURNAL OF NUTRITION, 138(6), p.1237S–1243S. Available at: [Accessed June 30, 2016].

Dykes, L. & Rooney, L., 2007. Phenolic Compounds in Cereal Grains and Their Health Benefits. Cereal Foods World, 52(3), pp.105–111. Available at: [Accessed June 30, 2016].

Grieve, M., 2016. Barley. Available at: [Accessed June 30, 2016].

Urooj, A. et al., 2009. Effect of barley incorporation in bread on its quality and glycemic responses in diabetics.

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