8 Best Substitute For Pearl Barley

Pearl Barley

Pearl barley, a staple in pantries around the world, is appreciated for its unique texture, nutritional benefits, and versatility in a plethora of dishes. But whether it’s due to dietary restrictions, flavor preferences, or even just availability, there may be occasions when you find yourself in need of a substitute for this popular grain.

Dive into this comprehensive guide to discover a world of viable pearl barley substitutes, their origins, flavor profiles, nutritional values, and how to incorporate them into your cooking repertoire.

The Versatility of Pearl Barley

Pearl barley is a type of barley that has been processed to remove its husk and bran, leaving behind a polished, ‘pearl-like’ grain. It has a rich, nutty flavor and a slightly chewy texture that holds up well in soups, stews, salads, and even desserts.

Packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, pearl barley is a hearty addition to any meal. But the universe of grains does not end here. There’s a veritable cornucopia of grains and seeds that can easily step into pearl barley’s shoes.

The Art of Substitution

Substitution in cooking is both a science and an art. The best substitutes are not just those that mimic the physical properties of the original ingredient but those that also match or complement the flavor, nutritional profile, and even cooking time.

Our journey through the world of pearl barley substitutes will introduce us to a number of grains that tick these boxes, and you may even discover a new favorite!

Exploring Pearl Barley Substitutes

Brown Rice

A globally beloved grain, brown rice is a standout substitute for pearl barley. While it mirrors the latter’s chewy texture, its distinct, nutty flavor can add depth to various dishes. What’s more, brown rice is rich in essential nutrients like magnesium, iron, selenium, and a host of B vitamins, making it a nutritious alternative to pearl barley.

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To use brown rice as a substitute for pearl barley, simply follow the same cooking instructions as you would for barley. It works wonders in soups, salads, and stuffing recipes.


With its origins tracing back to the Fertile Crescent, farro, an ancient grain, brings a slightly chewy texture and a complex, nutty flavor to your meals. Just like barley, farro holds up well in soups and stews, and its rich nutritional profile includes a bounty of fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Keep in mind, though, farro’s cooking time can be longer than pearl barley, so it’s best to soak it in water overnight or use a pressure cooker to speed up the process.


This South American native is a must-have for the health-conscious cook. Although it’s technically a seed, quinoa’s cooking characteristics and versatility align it with grains. Its soft texture and subtly sweet and nutty flavor make it a good match for recipes that call for pearl barley.

In terms of nutrition, quinoa is a complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids. It’s also packed with fiber, iron, magnesium, and B vitamins. Try it in salads, bowls, or as a side dish to lend a protein punch to your meals.

Buckwheat Groats

Also known as kasha, buckwheat groats are another excellent alternative to pearl barley. Despite its name, buckwheat is not a type of wheat, but a seed that cooks up like a grain. It offers a robust, earthy flavor and a hearty texture that closely resembles that of pearl barley.

Nutritionally speaking, buckwheat is rich in antioxidants, and it’s a great source of plant-based protein. It can be an intriguing choice in risottos, pilafs, or anywhere you would typically use pearl barley.

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Bulgur Wheat

Bulgur wheat, a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine, brings a slightly nuttier flavor and a similar texture to pearl barley. Bulgur is a whole grain that’s been cracked and partially cooked, so it has a quick cooking time.

Rich in fiber and packed with vitamins and minerals, bulgur wheat is a solid nutritional substitute for pearl barley. It’s commonly used in salads like tabbouleh but can easily be incorporated into soups, stews, and side dishes.


Freekeh, another ancient grain, is harvested while young and then roasted, giving it a distinct smoky flavor and a pleasingly chewy texture. Its nutritional profile is similar to other whole grains, being rich in fiber, protein, and various important minerals.

Just bear in mind that freekeh’s unique flavor may not be suitable for all recipes. It’s best used in dishes that complement its smoky notes, like hearty stews and warm salads.


While it’s actually a type of pasta, couscous can serve as a quick-cooking substitute for pearl barley. Its texture is softer and its flavor milder, but in a pinch, it can fill in for pearl barley, especially in salads and side dishes.

Couscous cooks up in just a few minutes, making it a great option for quick meals. However, do note that its nutritional profile isn’t as robust as some of the other substitutes on this list.

Spelt Berries

Spelt berries are an ancient variety of wheat with a slightly sweet flavor and a texture similar to pearl barley. They’re a good source of fiber and provide a decent amount of protein as well.

Spelt berries can be a great substitute in soups, stews, or salads. Like farro, they have a longer cooking time, so pre-soaking is recommended.

Unveiling the Best Substitute: A Comparative Study

Now that we’ve navigated through the landscape of pearl barley substitutes, let’s put them side by side to better understand their differences and similarities.

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GrainFlavorTextureNutritional Highlights
Brown RiceNuttyChewyMagnesium, Iron and B Vitamins
FarroNutty, ComplexChewyFiber, Protein, Vitamins, Minerals
QuinoaSubtly Sweet, NuttySoftComplete Protein, Fiber, Iron, Magnesium
Buckwheat Groats (Kasha)EarthyHeartyAntioxidants, Plant-Based Protein
Bulgur WheatNuttySimilar to Pearl BarleyFiber, Vitamins, Minerals
FreekehSmokyChewyFiber, Protein, Minerals
CouscousMildSoftConvenient, Quick-Cooking
Spelt BerriesSlightly SweetSimilar to Pearl BarleyFiber, Protein

Choosing the best substitute really depends on the specific recipe and your personal preference. It’s worth experimenting with different grains to find your own favorite!

Cooking with Pearl Barley Substitutes

Taking the leap from theory to practice, let’s delve into how you can incorporate these substitutes into your meals.

For brown rice, farro, or spelt berries, consider using them in hearty soups or stews, where their chewy texture can truly shine. These grains can also work well in salads, providing a satisfying bite and an interesting flavor contrast to your greens and veggies.

Quinoa, with its high protein content, makes for a healthy and filling salad on its own. Add some roasted vegetables, a drizzle of olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon, and you’ve got yourself a quick, nutritious meal.

Buckwheat groats and bulgur wheat can be used in pilafs, much like you would use pearl barley. Their robust flavors add a new dimension to these classic dishes.

As for couscous, its quick cooking time and mild flavor make it a great side dish. Toss it with some sautéed vegetables and a bit of your favorite seasoning for a meal that comes together in minutes.

Final Thoughts

While pearl barley holds a cherished spot in our kitchens, it’s clear that there’s a whole world of grains and seeds waiting to be explored. So why not take a culinary adventure? With the various pearl barley substitutes at your fingertips, you can transform your cooking, making it more versatile, exciting, and healthful.

As with all things cooking, don’t be afraid to experiment. The perfect substitute isn’t always about finding an identical match, but about discovering new flavors, textures, and ingredients that make your dishes uniquely yours. Happy cooking!

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