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Hull-Less Barley vs. Pearl Barley

By Cook's Illustrated Published

What is hull-less barley, and how does it compare with pearl barley?

With increasing interest in whole grains, hull-less barley is cropping up more frequently in supermarkets alongside pearl barley. While the variety of barley used to produce pearl barley has a tough, inedible hull that must be polished off, a process that wears away most of the bran and germ beneath, a different variety of barley is used to produce hull-less barley. Its hull is attached so loosely that it falls off without abrasion, leaving the bran and germ intact.

When we prepared hull-less barley using the pilaf method, we found that it had an appealingly chewy texture and nutty flavor more similar to those of wheat berries than to the familiar soft, slightly fuzzy exterior and al dente core of pearl barley. And while we like to prepare pearl barley risotto-style, we learned that the more intact grains of hull-less barley couldn’t soak up broth and wine and didn’t release starch to create a creamy sauce.

THE BOTTOM LINE: While it shouldn’t be used as a substitute for pearl barley, hull-less barley has a firm texture and nutty flavor that makes it a great choice for grain salads and hearty side dishes.