Is Barley Gluten Free?
In theory, the gluten free diet is simple – you just avoid gluten. Unfortunately, it is not always so easy to identify sources of gluten in food. There are many grains like corn and rice that are naturally gluten free while others like wheat and rye contain gluten.
But what about barley? Is barley gluten free?
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what barley is, whether it’s gluten free, and how to make substitutions in recipes.
What is Barley?
Barley is a type of cereal grain that has a mild, nutty flavor and a chewy texture. Technically, it’s the seed of a certain type of grass native to temperate areas around the world, and it was one of the first grains to be cultivated by ancient civilizations. Barley grows naturally in western Asia and northeast Africa but is widely cultivated throughout the world for use in animal feed and in whiskey and beer production.
Each year, over 140 million tons of barley are produced – this makes it the fourth most produced grain around the world (following corn, rice, and wheat). The barley grain has an inedible outer shell that must be removed before consumption – barley with the shell removed is called hulled barley, and it is considered a whole grain. Pearled barley, on the other hand, has had the fiber-rich bran removed, so it is not considered a whole grain.
In terms of nutrition, barley packs quite a punch. A half-cup (100 grams) serving of uncooked, hulled barley contains about 352 calories with 77.5 grams of carbohydrate, 10 grams of protein, and just 1.1 grams of fat. It also contains 15.5 grams of dietary fiber with other essential nutrients such as thiamine, niacin, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium copper, zinc, and manganese.
Though barley provides a variety of healthy nutrients including an important type of fiber called beta-glucan, it does have one downside – it does contain gluten.
Keep reading to learn more…
What Kind of Gluten is in Barley?
Barley may be a healthy whole grain, but it is also one of three primary grains that contains gluten. This makes it a problematic food for those with celiac disease and for people with gluten sensitivity or intolerance.
What many people don’t realize is that there are different types of gluten. Gluten itself is a protein found in certain grains, but there are specific types of gluten you should know about. The scientific name given to the gluten found in barley is hordein. Hordein is most highly concentrated in the seeds of the barley plant – the part we think of as the grain and the part used most often in cooking.
Because the seeds of the barley plant are the product used most often in food and beverage production, it is safe to say that most products that contain barley also contain gluten. Some of the foods and beverages most likely to contain barley include beer, malted products, barley flour, barley pearls, granola bars, cereals, soups, and more.
Identifying Barley in Foods
When it comes to certain gluten-containing grains, it is easy to identify them in foods. Wheat, for example, is a common allergen, so it always appears in the allergen section of a food label when applicable. Barley, on the other hand, not frequently left out and many food manufacturers fail to identify sources of gluten in their products at all.
To identify barley in food, you can’t just look for the word “barley.” Barley can be hidden in things like smoke flavoring or even so-called natural flavoring – caramel color may also contain barley. Other words to look for that may indicate barley include malt, maltose, malt sugar, malt syrup, and dextrimaltose.
Here are some other barley products you might see on an ingredients list:
- Hulled Barley – The grain has had the inedible outer shell removed, but most of the nutrients have been preserved.
- Whole-Grain Barley – This is the same as hulled barley, just a different name.
- Pearled Barley – This type of barley has had the inedible outer shell removed and then the grain is polished – this destroys some of the nutrient content.
- Barley Flour – This is made by grinding pearled barley or whole-grain barley.
- Barley Flakes – These are similar in appearance to oatmeal and are made from whole-grain or pearled barley.
- Barley Grits – These are made from smaller pieces of whole-grain or pearled barley.
- Barley Malt – This is made by soaking and drying the kernels before letting them germinate.
You should be particularly careful about beer and other alcoholic beverages that may contain barley. Beer is commonly brewed with barley which means that it is not gluten free (in most cases). There are, however, gluten free beers and “gluten-removed” beers are on the rise. These beers are made from barley in the traditional method, but the manufacturer then uses an enzyme to degrade the gluten protein. This results in a more traditional beer flavor but a much lower gluten content.
Tips for Making Substitutions
If you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity or intolerance, you should avoid barley as much as possible. Fortunately, there are a variety of gluten free substitutes you can use. Here are some gluten free grains you might try:
Each of these grains has its own unique health benefits, so don’t be afraid to branch out and give them a try! If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few recipes for dishes that might typically contain barley but are instead made with one of the gluten free grains listed above:
1. Beef and (Not) Barley Soup
Servings: 6 to 8
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 1 ½ pounds beef stew meat, chopped
- 4 large carrots, peeled and sliced
- 2 large stalks celery, sliced
- ½ cup sorghum, soaked overnight and drained
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- ½ teaspoon dried sage
- 6 cups beef stock or broth
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- Salt and pepper
- Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat.
- Add the onions and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until browned then add the beef.
- Cook until the beef is browned then stir in the carrots and celery – cook for 5 minutes.
- Add the sorghum, garlic, and herbs along with the beef stock, tomato paste, salt, and pepper.
- Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.
- Test the sorghum – it should be chewy but cooked through.
- Adjust the seasoning to taste and serve hot.
2. Two Grain Salad
Servings: 6 to 8
- ½ cup uncooked buckwheat
- ½ cup uncooked quinoa
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 ½ cups frozen corn, thawed
- ¾ cup pine nuts
- 6 cups fresh salad greens
- Salad dressing, your choice
- In a medium saucepan, add the buckwheat and 1 ¼ cups water with a little salt.
- Bring to a simmer then cover and simmer for 18 to 20 minutes until tender.
- Remove from heat and stir in the butter then let cool.
- While the buckwheat is cooking, combine the quinoa and 1 cup water in another saucepan.
- Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes until tender.
- When the grains are done, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Add the corn and pine nuts and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until starting to brown.
- Stir in the cooked buckwheat and quinoa and cook for another 5 minutes until toasted.
- Remove from heat then toss with the salad greens.
- Drizzle with your choice of dressing then toss well to combine and serve.
3. Easy Mushroom Risotto
- 8 cups chicken broth or stock
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 pound sliced mushrooms
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme
- Salt and pepper
- 2 cups arborio rice
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
- Heat the chicken broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
- Reduce the heat to low and set it aside.
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and add the onions.
- Cook for 4 to 5 minutes until translucent then stir in the mushrooms, garlic, 1 tablespoon butter, and thyme – season with salt and pepper.
- Cook for 3 to 4 minutes until the mushrooms are browned then remove to a bowl.
- Reheat the saucepan with the remaining butter then stir in the arborio rice.
- Cook for about 2 minutes until the grains are toasted then pour in the wine.
- Cook until the wine has mostly absorbed then spoon in 1 cup of broth.
- Let the mixture cook until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid then continue adding broth about 1 cup at a time until the risotto is al dente.
- When the rice is tender, stir the mushroom mixture back in and adjust seasoning.
- Stir in the parmesan cheese and garnish with parsley to serve.