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Organic Whole Grain Barley: Buying and Cooking Tips

Hulled or whole grain barley comes in many forms – grits, rolled flakes, flour, and hulled whole kernels – and a couple of colors, including white, black and purple. And then there's the popular refined variety, white pearl barley, which is today available in many grocery stores in the US and UK (increasingly also in organic quality). Finding whole grain barley kernels in regular supermarkets, on the other hand, may still be difficult, despite the recent news about the extraordinary health benefits of hulled barley. And, getting flour for baking or rolled flakes for breakfast cereals made from whole grain barley may turn out to be even more challenging, especially if you are looking for certified organic products or products made from a less common variety, such as black or purple barley.

So what do you if you cannot find whole and/or purple barley products in the grain, breakfast cereal or baking section of your favorite supermarket or organic health food store? You turn to the World Wide Web! Here are some tips on where to buy whole grain barley products online and how to use them in cooking and baking:

Organic Whole Grain Barley

Regular Whole Grain Barley Kernels

Hulled or whole grain barley, which has been neglected for a long time due to its long cooking time, is slowly but steadily gaining popularity among health-conscious shoppers who appreciate the high nutrient content of this minimally-processed whole grain (it has been processed only to remove the tough inedible outer hull). These chewy, mild nutty-tasting kernels are extremely versatile and can be used in anything from soups and stews to salads and casseroles. They can also be roasted at home to make mugicha tea, a caffeine-free infusion popular in Japan, China and Korea, or ground into fine flour and used in baked goods.

Cooking time: 1 to 2 hours in a regular pot on the stove-top, or about 25 to 30 minutes in a pressure cooker

Culinary uses: soups, stews, salads, stuffings, pilafs, casseroles; roasted kernels can be used to make caffeine-free grain tea; whole kernels can also be ground at home and used in baking

Where to get it: Less readily available in regular grocery stores than pearl and pot barley. Also called 'hulled' or 'hulless' barley, this versatile whole grain can be purchased online through Amazon here (if you live in the US) and here (if you live in the UK).

Purple Whole Grain Barley Groats

Purple whole grain barley, also known as black hulless barley or purple prairie barley, is a heirloom grain that has been making a comeback in recent years. Increasingly popular among health-conscious gourmet chefs, this unusual-looking whole grain provides a beautiful contrast when combined with white or brown rice, or when served with colorful fruit, vegetables or salads. Uncooked, whole purple barley groats can also be ground in a coffee or spice grinder into fine flour, which can then be used in baking.

Culinary uses: Makes a funky-looking side dish, whether cooked alone or mixed with other grains; adds color and texture to salads and pilafs; can be ground into purple barley flour and used in muffins, pancakes and other baked goods

Cooking time: At least an hour on the stove-top or around 20 to 30 minutes in a pressure cooker, if un-soaked (soaking overnight reduces cooking time)

Buying purple barley: This exotic gourmet grain is mainly sold online. You can order it in USDA certified organic quality from Amazon here.

Rolled Flakes Made from Hulled Barley

Eating porridge made from rolled whole grain barley for breakfast is a great way to start your day off right. This fiber-rich, low-glycemic breakfast dish provides you with plenty of nutrients and slow-release energy to keep you going. You can also used barley flakes to replace rolled oats in recipes for home-made cookies, granola bars and breads.

Culinary uses: great substitute for rolled oats in home-made granola bars, cookies, and breads; can also be turned into barley porridge, a tasty and nutritious hot breakfast cereal

Cooking time: To make barley porridge, cook thin-rolled barley flakes for about 7 to 10 minutes (or as long as the instructions on the package indicate)

Where to buy them: Available from here and here.

Flour for Use in Baking

Barley flour is typically made by grinding whole barley kernels (but it can also be made by grinding pearl barley). This fiber-rich, nutrient-dense flour can be used to replace part of wheat flour in bread recipes to produce a distinct nutty flavor and wonderful texture. It contains less gluten than wheat flour, however, so it may not rise as well as recipes that only use wheat. Barley flour can also be used to thicken soups and sauces, and to improve the nutritional profile of pancakes, cookies, biscuits or muffins.

How to use it in baking: you can use it to replace up to a quarter of wheat flour when baking yeast breads and up to half of wheat flour when making quick breads

Cooking time: Depends on the recipe

Where to find: If you cannot find barley flour in the health food stores in your area, you can always order it online through Amazon here (US shoppers) or here (UK shoppers).

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