A simple glossary for understanding barley terminology

An easy-to-understand explanation of 10 commonly used terms

If you’re not sure what pearl barley means, have never heard of a Glycemic Index or maybe need help understanding what germination really is, then this simple barley-specific glossary will help.


Also see: Malt

If you’re using malt for cooking, you’ll come across two varieties. There is diastatic and non-diastatic malt. Simply, diastatic malt contains active enzymes whereas non-diastic malt has no active enzymes. The diastatic variety is used when baking bread, for example, as the active enzymes help with rising. Diastatic malt is also used to enhance colour. Both varieties are used for flavouring.



Also see: Soaking, malt

When barley is kept in a warm, moist environment, it will begin to sprout — that’s germination. That sprouting is then stopped suddenly with hot air. This results in malt. The longer it’s roasted, the stronger the malt flavour.


Glycemic Index

The Glycemic Index is a ranking of carbohydrates based on how that carbohydrate will affect someone’s blood sugar level. A food with a high GI will cause a spike in blood sugar levels while foods with a low GI will control blood sugar levels as well as control appetite and cholesterol levels. Barley has a low Glycemic Index — and is also packed with vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants — making it a healthy addition to your diet.


Hordeum vulgare

Don’t be confused if you see this name — it’s just barley’s Latin name. Hordeum is the genus and vulgare is the species.



Also see: Whole grain

Hulled barley, or covered barley, is when the grain has been only slightly processed to remove the inedible outer shell. Some of the barley’s bran layer is lost in this process too. Hulless barley is when the outer hull is loosely attached to the kernel so the inedible outer layer will fall off during harvesting. With hulless barley, less processing is required and more of the bran layer remains. Both are considered whole grain.


Also see: Soaking, germination

Barley can be processed to become malt, which is an essential ingredient in beer. Malt is produced by soaking the raw barley kernels until they begin to germinate. The germination process is then stopped suddenly when the kernels are dried with hot air. This all happens in a controlled environment. This process produces enzymes that cause the complex carbohydrates in barley to break down into simple sugars, resulting in a sweet taste. It also produces other enzymes used by yeast for beer-making and bread-making.


Pearl barley

Also see: Pot barley

Pearl barley is put through a pearling machine that removes the hard, outer shell of the barley but also polishes the barley kernels by removing the whole bran layer. Pearl barley undergoes pearling in this machine for a longer amount of time than pot bearly.


Pot barley

Also see: Pearl barley, whole grain

Like pearl barley, pot barley is put through a pearling machine that removes the hard, outer shell of the barley. Pot barley undergoes pearling in this machine for a short amount of time, so some of the outer barley bran is still on its kernels. Both pot and pearl barley cook quicker than whole grain barley.



Also see: Germination, malt

Soaking (also known as steeping) is an essential step in making malt. The washing and soaking of raw barley is necessary to start the germination process. Typically, the soaking process lasts one to two days.


Whole grain

Also see: Pearl barley

The bran layer of barley must remain for it to be considered whole grain — pearl and pot barley are not considered a whole grain as some or all of that bran layer has been removed during the pearling process. Yet, even when barley isn’t considered whole grain, it is still healthy because of its high content of fibre, nutrients and minerals.