Close-up of pearl barley grains in a ceramic dish on a napkin surrounded by scattered barley grains.
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9 Best Gluten-Free Substitutes For Barley

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Barley is an incredible superfood that is consumed all around the world. It’s a multi-purpose grain that can be cooked in many ways!

But it also has a huge drawback: it contains a lot of gluten

If you’re someone who can’t handle gluten, don’t worry! There are plenty of barley substitutes that can deliver the same nutritional benefits, flavor, and texture.

What are the best gluten-free substitutes for barley? We recommend substitutes such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, cauliflower rice, corn, millet, and other delicious grains that provide the same nutty flavor and chewy texture if your recipe calls for barley yet you are gluten-free.

Read below to learn more about barley, how it is commonly used, and the best ways to substitute it in different recipes!

Barley And Its Benefits 

Barley (hordeum) by pearl barley grains isolated on white background.

Barley is a cereal grass that is cultivated for its grains. It has been part of the human diet since the prehistoric era and its consumption has only grown over the centuries. 

This grain looks just like wheat, if not for its subtle differences. 

Barley grains are slightly bigger than wheat and have a shell-like appearance. They are consumed in the same way as rice but can also be eaten in soups, porridges, salads, and more. 

The grain is available in many sub-varieties with some being sold with only the hull removed while other varieties can also be fully processed – much like how brown rice and white rice are processed. 

Hulled barley has only its outer husk removed, which is disposable and indigestible. This means that you will get more fiber and nutrition from this variety than from pearl barley – which has its husk and bran layers removed. 

These variations allow people to choose what type of grain they want to use – and you can get a fair bit of nutrition out of each type, too! 

Before we dive into its gluten-free substitutes, let’s first take a look at barley’s characteristics. This will also help you pick the best substitutes for your needs!


Barley is incredibly nutritious. Just one cup can provide you with up to 32g of fiber, a whopping 23g of protein, and a lot of micronutrients like potassium, magnesium, iron, and vitamin B6. 

It is one of the most nutritionally dense grains and a great source of energy for diet-conscious people or fitness enthusiasts. 

A lot of its nutrition, especially its fiber content, comes from its bran and outer layer. Barley’s nutritional content can be comparable to the difference between brown and white rice.


Barley is prized for its chewy texture. This food provides just the right mouthfeel when it is cooked properly and can add a whole new dimension of texture to plain foods, especially when it is paired with soft vegetables. 

Barley is cooked in the same way as pasta, where you are required to boil it for some time until the grains hydrate and become tender. 

It’s an excellent choice for adding bulk to food and its texture can also complement proteins like fish, poultry, and even red meat!


To say barley is versatile would be an understatement. 

Barley is used in a range of foods. You can virtually create multiple dishes using any type of major food group – this even includes ice pops made from barley-infused water or powder! 

This grain can be used as a substitute for rice and can be cooked and added to salads, soups, and gravies. It can also be served as a delicious side dish for main courses. 


If you think that we should have started this guide by describing the flavor first – then there’s a reason for that!

See, barley has a generic nutty flavor. It can be best described as having a very mild, slightly nutty taste that stays true to its original flavor regardless of the ingredients you add to it. 

This doesn’t mean barley recipes are tasteless – no! They are quite pleasant since this grain doesn’t overpower the overall flavor in any recipe it’s added to. 

You could perhaps coat barley with condiments and seasonings to superficially alter its taste, but the main reason why people enjoy this grain is its texture and nutrition.

Best Barley Gluten-Free Substitutes 

Even with all of its benefits, barley is not suitable for people with celiac disease or those who are gluten-intolerant. 

The grain contains a type of plant protein called gluten which, while making the grain nutritious, also causes an autoimmune response in people sensitive to gluten.

So, now that we know all of the qualities of barley, its time to look at some of the very best gluten-free substitutes for it:

1. Oats

Oats in Glass Container with Wooden Lid by Wooden Spoon.

Oats can be an excellent source of nutrition, flavor, and texture. You can even use different types of oats to add textural variations to your dishes! 

These grains might not share the same firm and chewy texture as barley, but they can come close to substituting it in multiple recipes without tasting odd. 

Oats are typically completely gluten-free, and you can prepare them in a variety of ways.

Please make sure to check the packaging for any potential cross-contamination at processing plants if you have a more severe reaction to gluten.

2. Cauliflower Rice

Bowl of cauliflower rice on rustic wooden table.

Cauliflower rice ticks all the checkboxes! 

It has the same nutty flavor, slightly chewy texture, and versatility – it can also provide a fair bit of nutrition, too!

Best of all, it’s completely gluten-free so you can use it in virtually any recipe that calls for barley!

The trick, however, is to cook it the right way. You can create cauliflower rice at home by simply chopping it by hand or processing it in a food processor. 

3. Brown Rice

If you want to highlight chewiness in your dish, then we highly recommend that you use brown rice as a substitute. 

This grain retains the yellowish-brown layer which provides extra nutrition and also makes the rice chewier than processed white rice. 

It’s the perfect gluten-free grain that offers earthy, nutty flavors and can even pair better than barley in many recipes since it absorbs flavors and provides a much better mouthfeel

4. Quinoa 

Quinoa on wooden spoon.

Quinoa has been a fan favorite among health enthusiasts for some time.

It also happens to be the perfect gluten-free substitute for barley in several recipes. 

It offers the same chewy texture and a mild, nutty flavor. Add it to soups, stews, salads, or even meat dishes. 

Quinoa is also loaded with antioxidants and can provide balanced nutrition with a decent amount of plant protein, too! 

5. Corn

Corn bulk.

If you are looking for something more flavorful and less chewy than barley, then corn would make a great substitute! 

Corn is one of the most consumed and popular foods in the world and can be used in many different ways.

Corn adds a different level of flavor and texture to food, which can even be seen as an improvement over barley’s mild flavor in some recipes.

6. Buckwheat

Buckwheat seeds on wooden spoon in closeup.

Before you sound the alarm, this seed (not grain) is completely different from wheat, even if it shares the same moniker.  

Buckwheat is perhaps the closest gluten-free substitute for barley.

It is completely gluten-free and can be prepared in the same way as barley. It provides a decent texture and a delicious nutty and earthy flavor

You can use it in virtually any recipe with barley — the best part is that it also contains a lot of antioxidants and macro/micronutrients, too! 

7. Millet

Millet seeds in a ceramic bowl.

Millet seeds may not share the same chewy texture as barley, but they do offer more or less the same versatility, nutrition, and a sweeter flavor.

These seeds are completely gluten-free and are considered one of the cheapest foods in the world. 

It can be cooked in the same way as barley and you can pair it in soups, stews, and salads – you can even make bread with it! 

8. Teff

Pile of uncooked teff grain with a wooden spoon.

Teff has a gritty texture and is an incredibly small grain.

If you want the same mild flavor, nutrition, and ease of use, then teff can be an excellent gluten-free substitute for barley. 

We recommend using teff in soups and stews, but you can get a lot of utility from it in a range of dishes.

Teff also contains a lot of important micronutrients like vitamin B and thiamin, as well as high-quality plant protein

9. Sorghum

Healthy, gluten free, white sorghum grain on a rustic wooden scoop.

If you haven’t tried sorghum before then you are missing out on one of the most nutritious and delicious grains out there!

It is loaded with nutrients and evidence shows that it can also help combat illnesses too! It is a 100% gluten-free flour alternative that can fit anyone’s diet. 

Sorghum can be prepared in the same way as barley and it offers the same mild, nutty flavor and chewy texture

Related Questions

Barley is super healthy, but the high amount of gluten that it contains can cause discomfort for people with celiac disease or those who are gluten-intolerant. Thankfully, there are plenty of gluten-free substitutes for it! 

Now that you know how to substitute barley, here are some related questions.

Is there a gluten-free variety of barley? 

No variety of barley is gluten-free. 

Some people claim that barley grass is gluten-free and can be consumed for its benefits, but scientists caution against consuming barley grass because it needs to be harvested at a certain point to be gluten-free and even then, there is no guarantee that the grass will be 100% gluten-free. 

Can chickpeas substitute barley?

Yes! Chickpeas are an excellent source of nutrition and flavor. They are gluten-free and can be used in the same way as barley – but they will not provide the same chewy texture as they are predominately soft and tender. 

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