1 August 2005

Low GI Food of the Month

GI 25 (pearl barley)

One of the oldest cultivated cereals, barley is nutritious and high in soluble fibre, which helps to reduce the post-meal rise in blood glucose—it lowers the overall GI of a meal. In fact pearl barley has one of the lowest GI values of any food that we have tested. Pearl or pearled barley (the outer husk and bran layers have been removed in the polishing process) is widely available and you will find it in the supermarket. Whole barley (sometimes called pot or Scotch barley) tends to be stocked in natural or health food stores and, rather like brown rice, takes much longer to cook. Barley flakes, or rolled barley, which have a light, nutty flavour, have a higher GI (66).

Use pearl barley instead of rice (or combined with rice) as a side dish, to make a warming breakfast porridge, a delicious risotto or lemon barley water—that old-fashioned favourite; or add barley to soups, stews and pilafs or grain-based salads.

Photo: Ian Hofstetter, The Low GI Diet Cookbook

If you cook a large batch of barley you can freeze what you don’t use for up to 6 months. Steaming pearl barley takes a little longer than steaming rice, but the method is similar. Place 1 cup (200 g/7 oz) well rinsed barley in a saucepan with 3 cups (750 ml) water and bring to the boil. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer gently for around 35–40 minutes or until the grains are tender but still a little chewy (al dente like pasta). Remove from the heat and leave to stand for a few minutes before fluffing the grains with a fork and serving. Serves 4.

—Dietitian, sports dietitian and public health nutritionist Penny Hunking of Energise Nutrition (www.energise.co.uk) is a great fan of barley and has provided the following recipes to whet your appetite.

Gingery Barley and Rice Salad

Serves 4 as an accompaniment
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time (for the rice and barley): 35 minutes

If you can’t find red rice then substitute wild rice or brown rice (allow for the extra cooking time with brown rice). The barley and rice each take around 35 minutes to cook until tender. Add 1 teaspoon of dried dill to the pot for extra flavour when cooking the barley.

1 teaspoon olive oil
4 spring onions (shallots/green onions), chopped into small slices (use the bulbs and stalks)
1 medium garlic clove, peeled and crushed
2.5 cm (1 inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
100 g (3½ oz/1/2 cup) pearl barley, cooked (or 200 g/7 oz/about 1 cup cooked barley)
100 g (3½ oz/1/2 cup) red rice or wild rice, cooked (or 200 g/7 oz/about 1 cup cooked rice)
1 teaspoon dried dill
Sprig of fresh dill to garnish (optional)

1. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan or wok and add the chopped spring onion, crushed garlic and grated ginger and gently stir fry until soft and slightly browned.
2. Stir in the cooked pearl barley and red rice, mix well until heated through and turn out into a serving dish. Garnish with a sprig of fresh dill and serve.

Nutritional Analysis per Serve
798 kJ (190 kcal), 1.7 g fat (saturated 0.1 g), 4.2 g protein, 41 g carbohydrate

Fruity Beef and Barley Stew

Serves 4
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: about 2 hours

Enjoy this meal in a bowl with warm crusty wholegrain bread and/or a crisp green salad. Add a swirl of low fat yoghurt to each bowl just before serving.

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 large onions, chopped
2 teaspoons turmeric
300 g (10½ oz) lean beef, cut into 2.5 cm (1 inch) cubes
1 green bell pepper (capsicum), de-seeded and thickly sliced
1 red bell pepper (capsicum), de-seeded and thickly sliced
1 x 400 g (14 oz) can chopped tomatoes
250 ml (9½ fl oz/1 cup) water or beef stock
2 medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced
200 g (7 oz) dried apricots
50 g (2 oz) raisins
125 g (4½ oz) pearl barley
1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Stir fry the garlic and chopped onions with the olive oil in a non stick saucepan until softened. Add the turmeric and cook for another 1–2 minutes.
2. Toss in the lean beef and peppers and heat through for another 2–3 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the tomatoes, water, apples, apricots and raisins, stir well, pop the lid on the pan and simmer gently for about 1 hour.
3. Add the pearl barley and cook for another 40–45 minutes, adding a little extra water if necessary. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper and serve.

Nutritional analysis per serve

1873 kJ (446 Cal), 9.0 g fat (saturated 2.6 g), 24 g protein, 73 g carbohydrate


Anonymous said...

Is green barley also low in GI?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great recipes. It would also help if "fat" was broken down into "total" and "saturated" for those who need to keep their saturated fats down.

Anonymous said...

Re green barley. We assume you mean the whole leaf green barley extract that is sold in powdered form. There are no published results for this product, however a serving is usually 1 teaspoon in water and contains so little carbohydrate that, like green vegetables, it would have no measurable effect on your blood glucose levels.

Anonymous said...

What is the difference in using pot barley compared to pearl barley? I realize there is a longer cooking time needed for pot barley. Is pot barley higher in fiber than pearl barley? What is the GI for pot barley? Thanks!

Anonymous said...


We haven't got GI data on pot/Scotch or whole barley (not yet tested). But as it is less refined than pearled (only the hull is removed and it retains the bran) and a little richer in fibre, it would probably have an even lower GI than pearled barley.

1 cup cooked pearled barley has around 6 gm of fibre.

For more information on barley check out:


zahidi said...

Besides Barley what other foods with low glycemic index are ther?

zahidi said...

Besides Barley what other foods have low glycemic index?

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Anonymous said...

How about the Low Glycemic Index diet? It's supposed to be good for low glycemic food chart Here they talk about it. low glycemic food chart

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jeffren said...

Thanks for the information on the effect of green barley on blood glucose levels.

jeffren said...

Would the same be true for Noni Juice as it also has a very small amount of carbohydrates regarding the blood glucose levels.