Pearl barley in a wooden spoon on pearl barley background. Close-up.
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11 Best Substitutes For Pearl Barley

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Pearl barley is a quick and easy-to-cook version of barley that can be used in many delicious recipes. But if you want to substitute barley completely, then there are quite a few alternatives that you can use!

What are the best substitutes for pearl barley? Pearl barley has a neutral flavor and can cook much quicker than regular or even hulled barley. You can find similar flavor and textural characteristics in other foods like oats, millets, quinoa, farro, brown rice, buckwheat, sorghum, and much more.

Read below to learn more about pearl barley, its characteristics, and the best substitutes for it!

Pearl Barley Vs Regular Barley

Most people get confused between hulled and pearl barley because of how similar they both look, but these grains have a few key differences!

Pearl barley is barley that has been processed to remove its outer hull and then polished to remove its bran layer. 

You can think of it in terms of a multi-processed grain that is stripped of its layers — much like how brown rice is processed to create polished white rice!

All this processing turns barley into pearl-like grains that take on a much different flavor and textural profile than regular barley.

Characteristics of Pearl Barley

Before we discuss its substitutes, let’s first take a look at the characteristics of pearl barley!


Pearl barley has a very cereal-like, neutral flavor. Since it is highly processed, all of its fiber and, consequently, its flavor has been removed. 

Of course, this doesn’t mean that pearl barley is completely tasteless! 

You still get hints of barley in the grain, but its natural flavors are often masked when pearl barley is added to complex recipes.  


Pearl barley has a shiny outer surface and is much different from a regular barley grain. 

As mentioned, you can compare the difference to other hulled and polished grains like white rice to get a good idea of what to expect from pearl barley! 

Another consequence of its processing is that pearl barley is easier to cook. 

Unlike regular barley, which is surrounded by its hull and bran layers, pearl barley is much easier to render in boiling water. The grain is also able to absorb flavors much more efficiently than its unprocessed form!


Pearl barley is widely used in soups, stews, and potage recipes. 

This version of the grain is also used to prepare fine barley flour that can be used in many ways! Pearl barley is also used as the main ingredient in a lot of traditional recipes. 

Orzotto is an Italian dish that is similar to risotto, but instead of rice, it is made using pearl barley! This grain is also used to make Cholent, which is a traditional Jewish dish, as well as a delicious Polish soup called Krupnik!

Pearl barley can also be used in the same way as rice in many recipes, and you can also use seasoned grains in salads to add bulk and a great flavor too! 

Why Substitute Pearl Barley?

barley (hordeum) with pearl barley isolated on white

The primary reason why most people substitute pearl barley is that it is not gluten-free. Apart from that, barley isn’t as nutritious as its unprocessed counterparts either. 

In the context of health, pearl barley can cause gas, bloating, and other stomach issues in people who aren’t accustomed to eating any type of barley. 

This grain has also been shown to cause allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to the compounds found in barley. 

Apart from its nutrition and allergen indications, another simple and less nefarious reason to substitute barley can also be its lack of availability in your pantry!

Best Substitutes For Pearl Barley 

Now that you know all about pearl barley, let’s take a look at its many substitutes!

1. Farro

handful of whole Emmer farro hulled wheat grains closeup on white background

Farro is perhaps the best substitute for pearl barley because of how similar both these grains are.

Not only do they look more or less the same, but they provide the same uses and textural benefits too!

Farro is known to be the better-tasting grain of the two, and you can even get slightly better nutrition from it! 

We recommend using farro in the same proportion as pearl barley — since it is also cooked in the same way as pearl barley, you can rely on the same instructions to cook farro! 

2. Quinoa

If you are looking for a nutritionally better substitute, then we highly recommend that you try out quinoa

Technically a seed, quinoa has all the qualities of grain and can mimic the texture and flavors of pearl barley.

Quinoa provides a much broader amino acid profile and can be used in the same way as pearl barley in any recipe. 

Go for equal proportions when using quinoa in any recipe! 

3. Brown Rice

Brown rice is already an important part of many peoples’ diets around the world — and it can also easily substitute pearl barley. 

This starchy grain shares a lot of similarities with pearl barley and is also nutritionally better.

While brown rice takes a bit more time to cook, it is just as versatile and can replace pearl barley in virtually every recipe!

We suggest going with a cup of brown rice for every cup of pearl barley for the best experience. 

4. Millet

millet in a ceramic bowl

Millet has been part of the human diet for centuries — and for good reason! It’s easy to cook and can provide essential nutrients, especially protein. 

While it may not share the same appearance as pearl barley, millet does provide more or less the same texture and flavor in any recipe. 

Specifically, millet has a lightly chewy texture that resembles that of white rice — but it’s much quicker to cook than even brown rice!

Go with equal portions of millet in any recipe to substitute pearl barley.

5. Sorghum

healthy, gluten free, white sorghum grain on a rustic wooden scoop

Unlike pearl barley, sorghum isn’t as neutral in its flavor!

Just like millet, sorghum has also been consumed for centuries and has played an important role in providing nutrition, especially fiber. 

The grain is smaller than pearl barley and can be best compared to corn — but it provides a much nuttier flavor that can pair well with any recipe. 

Use a cup of sorghum for every cup of pearl barley to get more or less the same value.

6. Buckwheat

Buckwheat seeds on wooden spoon in closeup

Despite its name, buck “wheat” is technically a seed that is also completely gluten-free. 

Buckwheat may not provide the same nutrition as pearl barley, but it comes very close to tasting like it — it can even provide the same texture and mouthfeel!

If you can look past its irregular and different appearance, we think that this grain can be a great substitute for pearl barley in any recipe. 

7. Corn Kernels

Popping corn, top view, isolated on white.

Corn kernels may not be your first choice, but trust us — this grain (yes, corn kernels are considered a grain) is one of the healthiest and tastiest substitutes for pearl barley. 

Not only can they be used in the same way, but you can mix and match corn kernels with many seasonings and recipes to get even more value out of them.

We recommend going with equal proportions in every recipe!

8. Teff 

Pile of uncooked  teff grain with a spoon close up

Teff is arguably the most expensive grain on our list — even though it looks nothing like pearl barley, it shares the same texture and is nutritionally better in every way!

Teff has been a staple in Ethiopian kitchens for centuries and is a great-tasting grain that can be used in many different recipes. 

Although you might face difficulty finding teff in some regions, if you do find it, we recommend trying it instead of pearl barley for a better experience!

9. Oats

Nothing beats oats in porridge and oatmeal! Oats are one of the healthiest grains on the planet and are just as versatile as pearl barley. 

The best thing about them is that they have a similar neutral flavor and can be used in the same way as pearl barley in most recipes. 

Go with steel-cut oats to get the same texture and cooking time as pearl barley! 

10. Amaranth

Bowl of Raw Amaranth Grain  top view on a white table

Amaranth may not look like pearl barley, and it can have a very different mouthfeel, but it is undoubtedly a highly nutritious grain that can mimic the flavor and texture of pearl barley. 

Amaranth can be boiled in water or popped like popcorn in a non-stick pan.

This grain is highly versatile and you can substitute it in breakfast recipes, and even other complex recipes that call for pearl barley! 

11. Bulgur Wheat

Bulgur wheat, also known as cracked wheat, is a small and irregularly shaped grain that shares the texture and mouthfeel of pearl barley. 

It can also be “overcooked” and softened, which makes it highly suitable for porridge and other soft-food recipes. 

Bulgur wheat has a noticeably nuttier and earthier flavor than pearl barley and it mixes well with savory and even sweet ingredients! 

Related Questions 

Now that you know all the substitutes for pearl barley, here are some related questions.

Can I use Arborio rice as a substitute for pearl barley? 

Yes. Arborio rice is a short-grain rice that can substitute pearl barley in any recipe. This type of rice has a softer texture and a starchy flavor — plus it’s great at absorbing ambient flavors from other ingredients!

Can I use lentils as a substitute for pearl barley?

Yes. You can use either red or green lentils to substitute pearl barley. Please keep an eye on the cooking time, though, as some lentils can cook faster than barley! 

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