Pot barley and pearl barley—the difference explained

Home / Blog / Hints and tips / Pot barley and pearl barley—the difference explained

Sign up for our free newsletter

Pot barley and pearl barley—the difference explained

Grain going into pearler

There are various barley products on the market—the most popular being pot and pearl barley. If you’re unsure how to differentiate between the two, you are not alone.

To understand the difference between them, you must also take into consideration a third kind of barley—whole grain or “hulled” barley.

Whole grain or “hulled” barley is the whole grain form of barley because only the outer husk or hull has been removed.

Pot and pearl barley have been put through a pearling machine. This process, called pearling, removes the inedible hull and polishes the kernel.

Finished pearler material

The centre bin contains the barley that has spent a few seconds in the pearler. The outside bins house the inedible hull and other material.

Pot barley has been pearled for a shorter amount of time and still has most of the barley bran intact.
Pearl barley gets its name from the extra rounds of polishing it goes through. The pearling removes the hull, as well as the bran layer.

Regardless of which type you choose, barley is always a healthy option. Whole grain or “hulled”, pot and pearl barley all fall under the Health Canada approved claim that links the consumption of three grams of barley beta-glucan per day to reduced cholesterol levels, keeping you heart healthy.

Barley is versatile and can be used interchangeably in recipes.

Pearl and pot barley

The difference between pot barley (left) and pearl barley (right) is subtle. Except for deserts, like pudding, don’t worry about substituting one for the other.

“Don’t ever think you can’t make a recipe because it calls for a different type of barley than the one you have on hand,” said Linda Whitworth, market development manager with Alberta Barley. “The texture of pearl barley when used in a dessert like barley pudding is finer, but you can still use pot barley.”

A great example of how pearl and pot barley can be interchangeably used is our Barley Casserole. We’ve taken a classic dish, the casserole, and reinvented it using either pearl or pot barley. This recipe is also a timesaver; preparation is minimal, then it goes into the oven for an hour, making it a convenient choice for busy weeknights.

Wendy Elias-Lopez

Wendy comes from a background in communications and public relations. She has been blogging about food for two years and it’s where her passion for writing and food collide.  Read More >


  1. Karen Prytula

    In an attempt to eat healthier, I found this article informative because I never knew the difference before. Thank you. Karen Prytula

  2. Charline

    Exactly what I needed to know. My hubby bought barley in a bag, not labelled, and I had no idea which it was, and whether they were interchangeable.

  3. GoBarley

    We will be posting a blog about barley flour too today! So many ways to eat barley! Glad you are finding it helpful 🙂

    • GoBarley

      Pot and pearl barley take 35-45 minutes to cook. They will continue absorbing moisture the longer you cook them. The only difference between them is pot may take 5 minutes longer and a little more liquid. But the difference is negligible.


      – Linda

  4. Janine Welsh

    Can you soak pearl barley in the fridge for 12 hours and eat it raw? Would you get the same benefits as pot barkey?

  5. Lesley

    I have an unopened packet of organic pot barley dated best before 09/2013.should I discard,or will it still be ok.

    • GoBarley

      According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), “best before” dates are not indicators of food safety. However, when the date has passed, the food may have lose some of its freshness and flavour, have experienced a textural change, or lost some of its nutritional value for things like vitamin content.

      If the pot barley was properly sealed and stored the likelihood of it causing a foodborne illness is low, but still possible. There is a good chance it will have an ‘off’ or stale smell and/or flavour. So, if you have any doubts, we recommend following CFIA guidelines and throwing it out.

  6. Marie

    Thank you for answering my question! And for the Health giving tip as well. I use Pearl Barley in my soups for a stick to your ribs keep you full longer effect. Barley does seem to be agreeable to me. Rogers foods used to make a flaked Barley that also was easy to use and plumped up well when cooked.

  7. Tony

    In love beef barley soup and always used pearl barley. Couldn’t find pearl at grocery store so bought pot. No difference in taste except the kids wouldn’t eat the pot barley because it looked different.


Leave a comment about the Article