Barley groats are the hulled seeds of the barley plant. Like other grains which retain bran, endosperm, and germ, barley groats are considered to be a whole grain. Whole grains are highly nutritious and especially high in fiber, making them popular in the diets of people who are concerned about their health. Groats are used in things like soups, pilaf, and stuffings.
Among cereal crops, barley is one of the oldest cultivated grains in the world. It thrives in temperate zones, and is relatively easy to grow. Barley and its products have been eaten by humans all over the world for thousands of years, in dishes ranging from bread to nutritious porridge. Like many other grains, barley is a grass which produces a cluster of roundish grains in the fall. These grains are harvested and processed into an assortment of products.
When barley is first picked, it has a woody husk which must be removed. Barley which has been thus treated is known as hulled barley or barley groats. If the next layer of barley, known as the bran, is removed, the result is pot barley. Pot barley takes less time to cook, since the fibrous bran has been removed, but it also has less nutritional value. Finally, pearl barley is made by polishing off the endosperm, leaving behind a small, smooth grain which cooks quickly. When whole barley is toasted and cracked, it is is known as barley grits.
The majority of barley grown around the world is used to produce animal feed. Barley is also malted for use in beer production. The remaining barley is processed for sale to consumers as is. Groats can often be found in the bulk section of health food stores, and they can also be purchased in packages along with other grains. They should be washed and briefly soaked before cooking for best results.
In soups, barley groats add a chewy texture and a great deal of fiber. The long cooking time means the groats should be added to soups early, and as a result, they will absorb a great deal of flavor. Barley groats can also be used in place of other grains in foods like stuffings and risottos, although these dishes may take longer to cook when the groats are added.
The high nutritional value and nutty flavor of barley groats are worth the increased cooking time for some cooks. Others prefer to use pearl or pot barley, which takes less time to cook. Even without the hull, barley is still a very nutritious grain. It also contains gluten, so barley should be avoided by people with gluten intolerance.