In most supermarkets, next to the rice, a curious little bag of grains awaits you. If you’re unfamiliar with them, the contents may look like rolled oats at first. But, oats they are not. This is barley (mugi in Japanese) and you should absolutely be cooking with it.
There are different kinds of barley, but you are most likely going to run into one main type: “pressed barley” or “rolled barley.” As with rolled oats, the kernels have been run through a roller and flattened. This reduces cook time significantly without destroying the nutritional integrity of the grain. And oh, what integrity! Let me sing barley’s praises to you:
- Has a lower glycemic index than rice, meaning it’s better for those with diabetes or insulin resistance problems. It stabilizes blood sugar, whereas other grains tend to spike it.
- It’s higher in fiber than oats and wheat, meaning it digests slowly and make you feel fuller longer. It’s especially helpful as a weight-loss aid, since you’re less likely to eat if you feel satiated.
- It’s high protein. In fact, it has twice the protein of wheat. Vegans and vegetarians, take note!
- Some studies have shown that it reduces cholesterol and blood pressure. I’ll believe it, though I’m fairly sure you can still commission a study to prove gay marriage causes cancer if you know the right people.
- TASTES F***ING AWESOME. Fluffy yet pleasantly chewy and substantial, barley is that bespectacled nerd whom you never notice until the day you find out he’s actually a superhero from the planet Krypton, has a 401(k), and totally respects women. Yeah, that’s barley.
- Cheap. I bought an 800g bag for ¥368 at my local supermarket. That’s much cheaper than rice, by the way.
Barley can be mixed with rice to make mugi-gohan, a popular sight on many a school lunch tray in Japan. It can also be toasted and strained into a deliciously refreshing tea, mugicha. But it stands up well on its own, too: use it in soups, pastas, salads, stir fries, or plain with a little salt and pepper. The possibilities are innumerable!
And did I mention, you can make it in your rice cooker? Of course, you can also make it in a pan; just stir every now and then to avoid burning.
What are your favorite ways to eat barley?