Naked Barley: The Best Grain

Patient Expert

Pearl barley has by far the lowest glycemic index of any grain ever tested. Its GI is 25. Next lowest is rye, but only in the form of its whole kernels, with a GI of 34. Low glycemic is good for people with diabetes, because it has little effect on our blood glucose levels.

But pearl barley is not a whole grain, according to the National Barley Foods Council. When processors prepare pearl barley, we lose some of the insoluble fiber, trace minerals, and micronutrients.

The government's "Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005" encourages us to eat whole grains. Its definition of a whole grain is one that "must retain nearly the same relative proportions of bran, germ, and endosperm as the original grain."

If we look hard enough, we can get the whole grain form of barley. It almost certainly has an even lower glycemic index than pearl barley.

Whole grain barley goes by many names. Most common is "hulless barley," at least according to a Google search, which returns 31,300 hits. But 16,000 sites call it "hull-less barley." Even less common is "hullless barley," with just 61 hits.

Because all those letter "l's" come together, the name is awkward. I prefer to call it "naked barley." Anyway, that's what processors often call it. It's not what most people have in mind when they put a "Get Naked" bumper sticker on their cars, but it's probably a better idea.

You can get naked barley, aka hulless barley, at some of the larger Wild Oats stores. A great Internet and mail order source of hulless barley that I have used for years is Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods in Milwaukie, Oregon.

Naked barley has a pleasant chewy texture and more fiber and nutritional value than pearl barley. Unlike most grains, it takes 4 cups of water to every cup of barley. I learned that lesson early on, when I used just a 2 to 1 proportion and produced something that was almost inedible.

Nowadays, I cook it in a small rice cooker that has become solely my barley cooker. I add the naked barley to soups - particularly Campbell's very low sodium cream of mushroom soup, stews, and curries. You can use naked barley everywhere that you formerly used rice.

Naked barley makes a great low-GI breakfast. Sweeten it with Splenda, add some cinnamon and soy milk, and you have a real comfort food.

Whole Control's Golden Barley Cereal that I wrote about in November 2005 is a special, all-natural variety of naked (hulless) barley. This is my most frequent breakfast.

In the United States we use barley as food for our animals and as malted barley for the beer industry. There is a new demand for it for in ethanol production. I prefer to drink my malted barley as single malt Scotch whisky and to eat it naked.