Barley vs Brown Rice: The Ultimate Smackdown!

Barley vs Brown Rice + How to Cook Barley

Ever wondered how barley stacks up nutritionally against brown rice? Here’s a side-by-side comparison plus some ideas for how to cook barley.

The other night, two moths flew out of our uncooked rice. New bag. Stored in airtight canister. Ugh! Unfortunately, this is a pattern. It seems every other bag of rice we buy hosts little moth families. So we tossed the rice (contributing to our 40% food waste), and I searched for a stand-in. A fresh bag of barley sitting in the pantry caught my eye.

My husband loves barley. I didn’t eat it much growing up, so I don’t think to cook with it often. But we whipped some up to accompany our chile rellenos. It tasted great — nutty, toothy — much better than our normal boring brown rice. So I started to wonder…

How does barley compare to brown rice nutritionally?

After a bit of research, I had my answer. The two are comparable in many ways; they’re similar in calories, fat, and carbohydrates. The barley is slightly higher in sodium: Four milligrams in the barley, zero in the rice. But the real differentiator is fiber. My Bob’s Red Mill Pearl Barley delivers eight grams of dietary fiber in a single serving compared to only one gram in Mahatma Whole Grain Brown Rice. The barley boasts almost a third of the daily fiber as recommended by the USDA! I know I don’t eat enough of the stuff, so that’s awesome! Here’s the skinny:

Nutritional Information: Barley vs Brown Rice

How to Cook Barley

You prepare barley much the same as you do brown rice, but the water to grain ratio is slightly higher. Brown rice takes 2 parts water to 1 part rice. To make barley, cook up 3 parts water to 1 part barley. It takes a little longer to cook, but not much. I think you’ll find it a powerful substitute for rice as a side dish.

Chicken and rice becomes chicken and barley. Pork chops and rice does the same. You can also use it in other ways: Try a Roasted Carrot, Preserved Lemon and Pearl Barley Salad or substitute it for quinoa in Stuffed Poblano Peppers. You can also use it to make your own chicken feed. Who knew?

I’ve decided happily that barley is my new rice — assuming the moths leave it alone!

Image Credit: Lori_NY via flickr/CC

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About the Author

Hi all! I'm Mary Gerush - a recovering corporate worker bee turned good-farm-real-food advocate and writer who wants to help people understand what they're eating. I tend a tiny urban farm in Dallas, TX, and hope to scale up one day soon. Omnivore through-and-through, there's not much I love to eat more than a butter-basted grass fed steak fresh from a searing hot cast iron skillet. Follow me on , , and !
  • Ann

    Great news on the fiber content! Who’d of thought? Thanks for the idea!

  • Thanks for the comparison – great information.
    When I buy bulk dried items like legumes and rice, etc., I put them in the freezer for at least a day. Since doing that I have not been bothered by unwanted guests. Let the items warm up on the counter before storing in a tightly sealed container as mold can be just as gross!

  • I’m sitting in a cafe in the beautiful city of Edinburgh, the sun is shining and I’m reading up about food, it’s what makes me happy ….amonst other things!!
    I love barley.
    I use flaked barley in porridge with other cereals.
    I use barley in salads
    I eat it hot with a dressing with other scrummy vegan food
    BUT do beware folks it’s has gluten in so don’t serve it up to guests who need to be GF

    Anita x

  • Mary Gerush

    Anita, Roberta, and Ann – thanks for the comments, tips, and barley love!

  • Barley is amazing in tomato soup. The softer it gets, the more it releases its natural sweetness into the soup. It can mellow the acidity in tomato soup and add a tremendous balancing flavor. Thanks for the comparison! The other thought is when I’ve had some trouble with certain types of bulk stuff, I don’t necessarily stop buying it, but I bring it home and chuck it in the freezer for a day or two…usually does the trick for pests.

  • Pingback: Eat Drink Better | Quinoa And Barley Give Healthy Eating A Good Reputation | Page: 1 | Eat Drink Better()

  • wbakel

    It makes more sense to compare pearl barley with white rice.

    Brown rice is the contender for hulled barley.

    I prepare hulled barley in the slow cooker.

    • Mary Gerush

      Thanks for teaching me this! And for the recipe. I will give it a try…

    • Mary Gerush

      Oh shoot I just realized the link wasn’t to a recipe. How do you prepare it in the slow cooker? Same ratio of water to barley as on stovetop? How long and on what temp? Thanks!

  • Kitty

    Why would you throw out brown rice if there were a few moths? It’s recommended to always rinse your brown rice anyway before cooking. Sad to waste food just because it has a bug in it. You wash it, cook it and eat it. Keep your rices and grains in a freezer to kill any bugs eggs and moth larva. Rinse it before cooking and save money.
    The only food food that is not really doable with is oatmeal, :) You can rinse oat groats though.
    Hulled Barley is better for you than pearl. It takes even more water than pearl to cook and it’s great to pan toast the grain a little before cooking, this really unlocks the nutty flavor, and I think it reduces the cooking time. I love barley. I like all whole grains and an occasional serving of the nutritionally thin, white rice.

    • Mary Gerush

      Kitty, thanks for reading! I still must get out and see if I can find hulled barley. I think I’ve only seen pearled… And I agree a bit of white rice has its place in dinner once in a while. ;-)

  • Jan

    Put a few wedges of unpeeled garlic in your rice to prevent the moths! :)