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13 Top Barley Substitute To Try Out

Some of the top barley substitute you can try include corn, quinoa, sorghum, farro, oats, millet, buckwheat, amaranth, brown rice, bulgar wheat, spelt, teff, and couscous. 

The craze for healthy foods is growing even bigger every day, and people are looking for options that are more nutritious and give a deeper flavor. Barley being one of the most cultivated cereals, is often great for choice as it suits most recipes since it’s exceptionally versatile.

Barley is a whole grain that has an enticing taste as it has a subtle sweetness to it that is brought about by the milk creaminess of the seed, making the nutty flavor more pronounced. Barley has a chewy texture that makes the woody aftertaste stand out even more for a considerable amount of time.

Even though barley is a whole rounded grain, many other grains can be used as substitutes. Here are 11 barley substitutes you might want to try. 

Quick Table: Barley Substitutes

Brown Rice111
Bulgur Wheat76

1. Corn

First on the list is Corn. It is a classical choice as a barley substitute and works as a staple dish in most cultures worldwide. It is hailed as one of the American BBQ staples and is often eaten roasted or boiled with an array of spices added on top and is considered a vegetable as long as it is whole.

It can also be crushed to make a corn meal that is used as a side dish for many soups and stews. Corn can be found in almost every other dish, from corn tortillas to popcorn and even corn syrup. 

How To Substitute

When substituting corn for barley, it’s important to remember that corn lies on the sweeter side and has a soft buttery flavor. It is different from barley which is nutty and woody. Still, barley has a subtle sweetness to it as it is cooked. Depending on the recipe in question, just use the identical ratio amounts but expect different tastes.

 2. Farro

Right off the bat, the closest thing that mimics barley is undoubtedly farro. A simple side-by-side comparison shows that farro looks similar to barley in that they are both small and long-bodied (although farro is just slightly bigger than barley, and its shape can also be considered unique). In terms of nutrition, they are both identical in nutritional value.

The same principle applies when it comes to the number of calories of both, as each range at around 190 calories per every 100 grams.

The tastes are alike, and it can be easy to mistake one for the other – they are both slightly nutty and have a chewy texture.

How To Substitute

The easiest barley substitute to use is farro, and the measurements can be done in one to one ratio. The best part is that all other ingredients added to the recipe will remain the same to ensure that the flavor tastes just the same.

3. Millet

Millet is one of the few gluten-free option barley substitutes available. Small and round shaped, it is often mistaken for sesame seeds, although it is slightly more light-colored in nature.

Millet, however, is not a complete protein but boasts more significant amounts of amino acids than other grains. In terms of taste, millet is similar to corn and has a slightly sweeter undertone. When compared to barley, it also carries that delicate nutty flavor. 

How To Substitute

Millet works great in replacing barley in most recipes. However, one thing you want to consider is the number of spices to use. Millet has a trait of taking in other flavors very quickly, and it might be easily overpowered if other spices and herbs used are not controlled.

4. Amaranth

Amaranth is another gluten-free grain that has been around for thousands of years. More recently, it has been gaining popularity for people looking for healthier alternatives as it is a complete protein grain. It helps users avoid carbohydrate calories and stay fuller longer with a higher protein intake. 

Amaranth delivers in terms of flavor since it has a sweet, nutty flavor and becomes slightly crunchy when cooked. Amaranth leaves can also be eaten and cooked as a vegetable; they have a particularly sweet flavor.

How To Substitute

Amaranth only works as a barley substitute if the cooking method takes into account that amaranth gets dry and crunchy faster than barley. The amount of water used should be adjusted accordingly. The ratio to use is one-to-one, as initially prescribed in the recipe.

RELATED: 12 Best Farro Substitutes For Your Recipes

5. Quinoa

Quinoa, just like barley, is considered more of a seed than a grain. The seed has its origins traced back to the Andes, and it comes in three distinct colors.

However, quinoa is unique because it has all the essential amino acids that are vital for the body, a quality only animal products offer.

Additionally, it being a complete protein makes it one of the most sought after grains in the world to achieve a healthy lifestyle.

How To Substitute

When substituting barley for quinoa, the one clear thing is the added benefits of having all essential nutrients. However, the taste is something to go for as the barley substitutes are considerably soft yet earthy and nutty but milder than brown rice.

6. Couscous

Couscous is a gluten substitute similar to barley. The grain is really small and coarse and mimics big sand granules but is bright yellow. Couscous, traditionally known as North African pasta, is sweet.

Couscous is high in protein and generally an all-rounded grain perfect for adding to your recipes.

How To Substitute

One thing about couscous is it behaves just like pasta and thus cooks thoroughly in a few minutes. Although it cooks fast, it is different from barley as it needs at least 30 minutes to be ready. However, the grain tastes similar to barley with a sweet, nutty flavor, making it perfect for pairing with stews and roasted vegetables.

7. Brown Rice

Brown rice is one of the most versatile grain options available in the market and can be found in practically all well-stocked grocery stores. Rice in many households is a staple food that is enjoyed when paired with a variety of dishes.

The fact that brown rice is gluten-free makes it perfect for those having a gluten allergy or celiac disease.

Although white rice and brown rice are both great options, brown rice as a barley substitute is better since it is more nutritious and has more fiber than white rice. The best part is that it mirrors barley by being chewy.

How To Substitute

Brown rice is less processed than its white counterpart and takes slightly more time to cook. When substituting barley, ensure that there is sufficient time to cook the rice as you would with barley. Note that, unlike barley which is usually an accompaniment, rice acts as the main dish that will need accompaniments for a satisfactory scrumptious meal.

8. Bulgur Wheat

Bulgar wheat is one of the few barley substitutes you don’t want to miss out on. Bulgar wheat is more commonly used in middle eastern tabbouleh salad. There are many reasons why barley is a good barley substitute.

First, when cooked, it is perfectly chewy and has a bold nutty taste to it. The fact that it looks just like barley when cooked can fool any barley lover. 

How To Substitute

One thing about bulgar wheat is it comes in different types of grinds. Choosing the suitable barley substitute, in this case, depends on the recipe type to be used. Some call for stews, while others call for roasted veggies. Although the taste is light and nutty when cooked, the coarseness of the grain might make or break a dish, but overall you will enjoy a sweet flavor.

9. Sorghum

Sorghum is a gluten-free grain that is often used as a barley substitute. Round-shaped when it is ready to be harvested, the grain turns from green-white to a beautiful golden brown color (Exposure to sunlight makes some pale in color).

Sorghum has a unique nutty flavor that carries the whole dish along for a particularly earthy experience due to its woody aftertaste.

How To Substitute

Sorghum is described by many eating it for the first time as a mild-flavored round grain that has a similar taste to wheat berries. Substitution is easier this way as it can be used in side dishes, soups, salads, and pilafs. The substitution is done comfortably without having to worry about texture variations or flavor disappointment.

 10. Oats

For many people, oat is that one grain that they love or hate; there is no in-between. For one, oat is usually bland and tastes woody with no added sugars. This makes them perfect for those who have allergies or are presently affected by various tastes and smells.

Compared to barley, oats also have a coarse texture and, surprisingly enough, are the same size as barley. When cooking oats, give them almost the same amount of time as barley – it reacts almost the same way.

Oats, however, are particularly loved as studies worldwide have shown they are beneficial in weight loss. The fact that oats are low in sugar content makes them the perfect option to help reduce sugar levels and the risk of heart disease.

How To Substitute

Gluten-free oats call for a little more concentration when cooking, as oats take in a lot of water, getting almost twice the original size. It also means that it can take in flavors easily and can be overpowered by stronger flavored ingredients it is cooked with. When substituting, stick to a one-to-one ratio, but season the oats just right to enjoy a truly hearty meal.

RELATED: 8 Best Bulgur Substitutes

11. Buckwheat 

Buckwheat is a grain that has a darker husk color grain than any other grain in the list of barley substitutes. Buckwheat is originally used as a supplementary grain to fill holes where there is a shortage of other preferred grains, such as barley.

The popularity of the grain gained traction in Europe and Russia in the late 1800s and is used widely today in most recipes. The fact that buckwheat is a complete protein or better known as a seed; it is gluten-free and perfectly safe for people suffering from various health afflictions. 

Buckwheat has a distinct earthy but bitter taste that arises from its high concentration of minerals, particularly copper and magnesium. It is, however, low in vitamins and calories and has a lot of fiber compared to your average grains. 

How To Substitute

When substituting, you might want to stick to roasted buckwheat seeds as they have a great taste to them and can be easily incorporated into many dishes.

12. Spelt 

Spelt is a unique wheat cultivated from 5000 B.C and has been a large part of European cruising from medieval times.

Spelt is a perfect barley substitute in that it has a pleasing nuttiness, although it tastes a little lighter than traditional wheat and is a bit sweeter than barley. 

How To Substitute

When substituting, stick to the original recipe’s measurements as directed. However, you should never substitute spelt in recipes that rely on the bluntness of barley – the sweetness will be rather noticeable.

13. Teff

Eragrostis tef, also known as teff, is an annual brunch grass species native to Ethiopia. Unlike other grass, it is one of the few edible grass seeds for human consumption. Teff comes in various colors, from red, brown, and even beige. 

The fine grain is the size of poppy seeds and has a nutty and earthy flavor, just like barley, making it an excellent barley substitute. 

How To Substitute

When substituting, go for porridge, stews, and soups, as the seeds are tiny and usually bond together under heat. Although they have the same unique nutty and earthy taste, they also have distinct tastes and can be prepared for a hearty meal.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is The Difference Between Barley And Wheat?

For one, wheat lacks the bran layer, which contains most of the fiber. On the other hand, Barley is ground with the outer layer still intact or cooked with the outer layer (its pearly form). However, they both contain reasonably similar amounts of gluten and calories. 

Is Barley Ideal For Gluten Intolerant Persons?

Individuals having coeliac disease are allowed to eat different grains, cereals, plants, flours, and seeds such as polenta, corn, soya, potatoes, and rice. However, some of the things they should avoid include rye, wheat, semolina, couscous, and barley, as they aren’t gluten-free.

What Is Barley Famous For?

Barley is mostly known for the alcoholic beverage malt, a special kind of beer. Some specific recipes use barley in their bread and stews but are mostly used in healthy journey products.

Is Barley Sweet Compared To Its Substitutes?

Barley is a nutty yet sweet grain. Compared with other cereal grains and substitutes, it is relatively sweeter than other grains that usually have a bitter aftertaste.

13 Barley Substitutes To Add

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Barley is versatile and has a nutty, sweet flavor that makes it a perfect choice for soups, salads, and casseroles.


  • Corn

  • Farro

  • Millet

  • Amaranth

  • Quinoa

  • Couscous

  • Brown Rice

  • Bulgur Wheat

  • Sorghum

  • Oats

  • Buckwheat

  • Spelt

  • Teff


  • Choose your favorite substitute from the list given above
  • Follow the directions given in the recipe after having substituted the ingredient in the correct ratio

Recipe Video

Jess Smith