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Barley Water

Barley is a humble little grain that may either be liked or intensely disliked. Ayurvedic literature while listing food items that can be consumed on a daily basis mentions barley amongst the first few grains. Barley must surely carry a list of benefits to make it fit for regular consumption. Let us rediscover its forgotten benefits (and learn to like it too!)

Barley is praised in Ayurvedic literature for helping improve digestion, increase strength and stamina, improve intelligence (interesting, isn't it!), enhancing reproductive function, helping in disorders of the urinary system (barley is often only remembered when we can't wee properly) , helping in regulating fat metabolism (and burn some unhealthy fats!), for being helpful in breathing disorders, cough, runny nose, stiffness in thighs, disorders in the throat region (improves voice by acting on the vocal cord), improving skin complexion and for being excellent in skin ailments. The list surely covers almost all the systems!

So, honoring this humble grain I am creating a series of recipes using barley.

Let's start with 'barley water'.

Before we get to the recipe, let's understand different types of barley. There are quite a few varieties of barley available in the market and it can be confusing for a person to understand what each mean.

Hulless barley: This is barley grains still having the outer inedible hull loosely attached to it. This hull often falls off easily when harvesting and is also referred to as 'naked barley'.

Hulled barley: This is a whole grain with just the outer inedible outer hull removed. It takes longer to cook hulled barley. This is the most nutritious variant of barley. This variant can also be a bit heavier to digest though. Hulled barley is referred to as whole grain.

Pot barley: Pot barley is mildly processed with some layers of its outer bran removed. This variant has a tan color to. The lighter the grain, the more it is processed and the darker it is, the less it is processed. This is easier to find than hulled barley.

Pearl barley: Pearl barley undergoes a lot of polishing called pearling which strips the grain of almost all its outer layers (and some nutrients!). Although this is essentially less nutritious than hulled barley, it is still more nutritious than other refined grains as it still can contain some bran and has quite a lot of fiber. Pearl barley gets cooked faster than hulled barley. But this can also be a bit lighter for the body to process. This is not a whole grain.

Quick cook barley: This is a processed, semi-cooked and dried barley. Although this reduces cooking time considerably, it is not adding much to your health.

Barley grits: These are broken bits of barley.

Barley flakes: Barley kernels are subjected to steaming, then rolled and dried. These can be either made with whole grain barley or pearl barley (read the label!). It is lighter to digest than the grains.

Barley flour: This is finely ground barley. Similar to barley flakes, even these can be made from hulled barley or pearl barley. The nourishment will accordingly change.

Interesting fact: It is believed that barley has been the root of our measurement system. 3 grains laid end to end was known as the 'ynce' (Anglo Saxon) which later came to be known as the 'inch'. And the weight of one barley grain is known today as the metric 'gram'.



Barley grains - 1/4th of a cup

(choose a variant that suits your digestion best)

Water - as required

Lime juice - 1 tsp

Optional top it with a twig of thyme or mint leaves

For a sweet drink (Better suited for Pitta and Vata)

Rock sugar or brown sugar - 1 to 1.5 tsps

For a savoury drink (Better suited for Vata or Kapha)

Rock salt - 1/8th of a tsp

Black pepper - a pinch (optional)


a. Rinse the barley well a few times and then soak it overnight or at least 6 hours. Soaking reduces the cooking time as well as reduces the dryness in a grain.

b. Take a saucepan with about 2 cups of water. Add the barley to this and cook it on a medium flame until it softens completely and starts to look mushy. Add more water intermittently (preferably hot) as needed such that the grains are always soaked in water.

c. Once the barley is well cooked (about 45 minutes to an hour), turn off the heat and let it cool. The cooked grains can be taken with the drink or used in another recipe. (More recipes for barley to follow).

d. Once the barley has cooled down add the cooked liquid (and the grains if preferred) to a glass. Add 1 tsp lime juice, rock sugar or jaggery and mix it well with a spoon for the sweet version.

e. For the savoury version, add lime juice and 1/8th of a tsp of salt (or to your taste) to the liquid along with a pinch of black pepper.

f. Enjoy your drink!

Doshic value of barley water and its variations:

Doshas: The sweet version of barley water is good for Pitta and with the addition of a pinch of salt, it is good even for a Vata. The savoury version is recommended for the Kapha dosha and the Vata dosha.

It is not advisable for a Vata or Kapha in the winter months.

Barley water is a very nourishing drink that helps in building the strength of a person.

Barley water is often touted as a cooling summer drink. But with the addition of some warm spices like ginger, asafoetida and pepper it can be occasionally consumed in the cold season. Barley water infused with these spices can also be beneficial for bloating, regurgitation and gases in the abdomen.

Jaggery and honey are alternatives for rock sugar. Jaggery is better suited for colder months. Honey is beneficial for predominantly Kapha people and enhances the scraping action of barley.

You can add a pinch of cardamom to enhance the flavour or increase the cooling effect of the drink.

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