Home » Ingredient Substitutes » Best substitute for barley, 13 options to use.

Best substitute for barley, 13 options to use.

Whether you’re seeking gluten-free alternatives or exploring new flavors, this food guide will help you discover a barley substitute.

Finding suitable substitutes for barley is not easy for those with dietary restrictions or simply looking to diversify their pantry. We’ll delve into a range of grain and grain-free options that can seamlessly replace barley in your favorite recipes.

Wooden bowl filled with barley grain.

What is barley?

Barley is a type of cereal grain that belongs to the grass family. 

It has a distinct nutty flavor and chewy texture. People describe it as earthy, rich, and wholesome. 

Barley grains come in different forms, including hulled barley, pearled barley, and barley flakes. Pearl barley, which has had the outer bran layer removed, has a slightly milder flavor compared to whole barley. 

This grain has been growing for thousand years. It’s highly versatile and used in various culinary creations. You can often find it in soups, stews, salads, and pilafs.

Purpose of using barley in recipes

Barley serves several purposes in recipes, depending on the dish and cooking method.

Here are some purposes for including barley in recipes:

  1. Texture and Mouthfeel: It has a distinct chewy pleasant texture that adds depth and substance to dishes.
  2. Thickening Agent: It has a natural thickening effect when cooked. As it absorbs liquid, it releases starches that can help thicken soups, stews, and sauces.
  3. Flavor Absorption: Barley can take on the flavors of herbs, spices, vegetables, and meats, enhancing the overall taste profile of a dish.
  4. Satiety and Balanced Meals: Barley can contribute to the feeling of fullness and satiety due to its high fiber content. Including barley in recipes can help create satisfying, well-balanced meals that provide sustained energy.

Best Barley Substitutes

When it comes to substituting barley in recipes, you can consider a few alternatives. 

Here is the list of the 13 best substitutes for barley, with tips on where to use them. 

1. Wheat Berries

Wheat berry grain in the bowl on the blue background.

Wheat berries are whole, unprocessed wheat kernels with a texture and earthy flavors similar to barley. They make an excellent pearl barley substitute. 

Cook them according to the package instructions and use them in the same amount as you would use barley.

They can be used similarly in recipes and provide a comparable mouthfeel.


Wheat berry can be used as a substitute in salads, side dishes, and grain bowls. 

2. Farro

clay bowl filled with farro on the beige background.

This is another ancient grain that makes an excellent pearl barley substitute. This wheat grain shares some similarities with barley, including an earthy flavor. 

Farro can be used as a barley replacement in many recipes.

Cook farro according to the package instructions and use it instead of barley in equal quantities.


It can be used as a substitute in soups, stews, salads, and pilafs. 

3. Quinoa

Quinoa with spices inside the white bowl on the table.

Although quinoa has a slightly different texture compared to barley, it has a mild, nutty flavor and provides a pleasant bite when cooked.

Follow package instructions to ensure the perfectly cooked quinoa. Use it as a replacement for barley in equal quantities.


Quinoa is a suitable substitute, especially in salads, pilafs, and grain-based dishes. 

4. Millet

White scoop filled with millet grain.

Millet is a gluten-free grain that has a mild flavor and a slightly nutty taste.

While the texture of millet is not exactly the same as barley, it can provide a similar grainy and chewy element to dishes.

It pairs well with a variety of different flavors and ingredients.


You can use millet in soups, stews, pilafs, salads, and other dishes.

Remember, that millet cooks at different rates and you will need to adjust the cooking time and liquid ratios.

5. Buckwheat groats

Cooked buckwheat groats in the serving bowl.

Buckwheat is a versatile gluten-free grain with a unique nutty flavor. It has a different texture than barley, but still can provide a satisfying and hearty element to dishes.

Again, remember that to cook buckwheat groats you will need to adjust the cooking time and liquid ratios.

Buckwheat pairs well with a variety of flavors and ingredients. It is delicious and provides many nutrients like fiber and minerals, making it a healthier barley substitute.


You can use buckwheat in soups, stews, salads, and grain-based dishes. It can also be ground into buckwheat flour and used in baking.

6. Kamut

Wooden bowl filled with dry kamut grain.

Kamut, also known as Khorasan wheat, is an ancient grain that has a rich, buttery flavor and a pleasant texture. Many people often consider it a nutritious alternative to barley.

Since this is a hard grain, you will need to adjust the cooking time and liquid ratios accordingly to ensure it reaches the desired tenderness.

This sub will add a hearty and wholesome element to dishes, plus it pairs well with different ingredients.


When using this barley substitute, keep in mind that kamut typically requires a longer cooking time compared to barley.

7. Bulgur

White dish with dry bulgur.

Bulgur also can be used as a substitute for barley. This is a wheat grain that has been partially cooked and cracked. You will notice that it has a light, nutty flavor and a tender yet slightly chewy texture.

This substitute can be used in various dishes where barley is commonly used, including soups, salads, pilafs, and stuffings.

You will find it very versatile since It adds a pleasant texture and absorbs flavors well.


When using bulgur as a sub, remember that it cooks much faster than barley. You will need to adjust the cooking time accordingly, since bulgur will require much less time to become tender.

8. Brown rice

Package with brown rice in the hand.

While brown rice has a different texture and flavor profile than barley, it can work as a substitute in specific recipes.

It also has a nutty taste when cooked.

Cook brown rice according to the instructions on the package and adjust the cooking time based on the recipe requirements.


 It is a good option if you are making risotto, stir-fries, or casserole. Brown rice also works wonders as a side dish. 

9. Couscous

Serving dish with cooked couscous and herbs.

Couscous is a small grain made from semolina or durum wheat. It will offer you a tender texture and a mild, slightly nutty flavor. 

While the texture will be much different from barley, couscous can be used in recipes where the focus is more on the grain’s neutral base.

When using couscous as a barley sub, remember that the cooking method and time will differ.

Couscous works well in recipes where barley is used, such as salads, pilafs, and side dishes. It absorbs flavors easily and provides a soft and delicate texture to the dish.


Couscous typically requires less cooking time compared to barley, as it only needs to be hydrated with hot liquid.

10. Orzo

Wooden bowl with dry orzo.

Orzo is a small, rice-shaped pasta that is commonly used in the Mediterranean and Italian cuisine. This pasta has a smooth texture and a mild flavor.

When using orzo to sub barley, pay attention to the different cooking process.

You can use orzo in various recipes including soups, salads, pilafs, and casseroles. It adds a pleasant bite and absorbs flavors well.

Keep in mind that orzo will provide a pasta-like quality rather than the chewy texture of barley.


Orzo cooks relatively quickly and becomes tender and al dente in a short amount of time.

11. Rolled Oats

Grocery store with packages of rolled oats.

Oats can be used as a barley alternative in certain cooking applications. However, it’s important to note that oats have a softer texture compared to barley.

This substitution works best in recipes where the texture of the oats is not a significant factor.

When using oats as a substitute for barley, be aware of any gluten sensitivities or allergies, as oats are often processed in facilities that handle gluten-containing grains. Opt for certified gluten-free oats if necessary.

While oats may not provide the exact texture and flavor of barley, they can still add their own unique characteristics to recipes and serve as a suitable substitute in many instances.


In specific stuffing recipes, oats can replace barley to add a grain-like element. They can be used as a filler along with other ingredients like vegetables, spices, and herbs.

12. Lentils

Scoop filled with lentils.

Lentils can be used as a substitute for barley in cooking, particularly in recipes where the chewy texture of barley is not the primary focus.

They cook relatively quickly and offer a creamy texture when cooked down. This barley replacement provides a similar heartiness and nutritional value.

Use lentils in soups and stews and also as a base for salads or grain bowls, side dishes, and stuffings. They can provide a satisfying texture and absorb flavors well.


Remember that lentils have a different cooking time and texture than barley. Adjust the cooking time and liquid ratios accordingly based on the specific recipe.

13. Cauliflower rice

Bowl with cooked cauliflower rice.

If you’re looking for a low-carb or gluten-free alternative to barley, cauliflower rice can be a suitable substitute. 


Although it won’t mimic the exact texture of barley, it can add a similar bulk and absorb flavors well in dishes like pilafs and stir-fries.

Tips on How to substitute barley in Recipes

  1. Consider the cooking time: Since different grains have varying cooking times, you will need to adjust the cooking time accordingly. Barley generally requires longer cooking than substitutes like quinoa or cauliflower rice.
  2. Match flavors and textures: It is better to choose a substitute that complements the flavors and textures of the dish you’re preparing. The most important factor is to consider the nuttiness and chewiness of barley and try to find a replacement with similar characteristics.
  3. Experiment and adapt: Substituting grains in recipes can be a matter of personal preference. Feel free to experiment with different substitutes and adjust the quantities and cooking methods to suit your taste.
  4. Be mindful of dietary restrictions: If you or someone you’re cooking for has specific dietary restrictions, such as gluten intolerance or a low-carb diet, choose substitutes that align with those requirements.

Pro Tip:

Remember that a dish’s flavor, texture, and overall outcome may vary when using substitutes. It’s always a good idea to taste and adjust the seasoning to achieve the desired results.

Famous recipes with barley

These are just a few examples of famous recipes that feature barley. Since it’s so versatile, you will find it in a wide range of dishes. 

  1. Beef and Barley Soup: This hearty soup is a classic comfort food. It typically includes tender chunks of meat, vegetables like carrots, celery, onions, and barley. The barley adds a chewy texture and helps thicken the soup.
  2. Mushroom Barley Risotto: A twist on the traditional Italian risotto, this recipe uses barley instead of Arborio rice. The barley is cooked in a flavorful broth with sautéed mushrooms, onions, and garlic, creating a satisfying, creamy dish.
  3. Greek Salad with Barley: A variation of the classic Greek salad, this recipe incorporates cooked barley and fresh vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions, feta cheese, and Kalamata olives. The barley adds a delightful chewiness to the salad.

What is the best substitute for barley in soup?

Farro and wheat berries have a similar chewy texture and flavor to barley. They both can be used as a substitute in soups. Follow the package instructions to cook this grain properly. 

What is the best grain-free substitute for barley?

Cauliflower rice is a popular grain-free substitute. You can use it in various recipes, including soups, stews, and grain-based dishes. You can also use legumes such as lentils as a grain-free substitute for barley in specific recipes.

Is barley gluten-free?

No, barley is not gluten-free. Barley contains gluten, which is a mixture of proteins that can cause adverse reactions in individuals with gluten sensitivity.

What is the Best gluten-free Barley substitute?

There are gluten-free alternatives to barley, such as grains like rice, quinoa, millet, and certified gluten-free oats.


Farro, known for its nutty flavor and chewy texture, has become a popular grain choice for many dishes. However, if you’re looking for alternatives to farro due to dietary restrictions or simply seeking variety, this article is here to help. 

We explore a range of delicious farro substitutes that can seamlessly replace this ancient grain in your recipes. From hearty wheat berries to versatile quinoa, we provide insights into each substitute’s unique characteristics, flavor profiles, and suggested culinary applications. 

More ingredient substitutes

Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document her recipes and share home cooking tips. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!
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