Buckwheat vs Barley: Which is Healthier? A Comparison

Buckwheat and barley are two grains that are becoming more popular as people move away from traditional cereal grains and look for healthier options. This blog post will cover the key differences between these two grains, including which is tastier and more nutritious for you.

Key Differences Buckwheat vs Barley

One of the main differences between buckwheat vs barley is that buckwheat is gluten-free, and barley is not. Buckwheat is technically a seed, categorized as a pseudograin. Barley is a grain. Both are considered to be healthy grains.

They are both commonly consumed as a breakfast porridge, added to salads, mixed with vegetables, or eaten alongside any meal or in place of other grains or pseudograins such as rice, oats, and quinoa.

Buckwheat is a lightly colored beige or tan seed.  The kernels have a triangular like shape to them.

What is Buckwheat?

Buckwheat is a fruit seed considered a pseudograin or pseudocereal, meaning it’s consumed like a grain. It is rich in complex carbohydrates, as whole grains are. Other pseudograins you may be familiar with include quinoa, wild rice, and amaranth.

Buckwheat is consumed as a breakfast porridge, similar to oatmeal. It is also commonly eaten alongside lunch and dinner meals as a grain in the same way you eat rice or quinoa. Buckwheat can also also be used as a flour in baking and cooking.

Buckwheat is an ancient grain dating back thousands of years. It maintained its popularity in Asian and Eastern countries over time. It became less prevalent in the last century in American homes as we saw an increase in the production and consumption of corn and wheat products. It’s recently made a comeback due to its many health benefits and lack of gluten.

Despite wheat in its name, buckwheat is not related to wheat at all and is, in fact, gluten-free, which is part of its appeal.

You can find buckwheat used in items such as soba noodles, kasha, roasted groats, and buckwheat flour.

Buckwheat Taste

Buckwheat seeds are fruit seeds and are referred to as groats. Buckwheat has a more robust and slightly more bitter flavor than other common grains such as oats, white and brown rice, and oats. Some describe the taste as having a toasty, nutty flavor with a soft and chewy texture.

Nutritional Benefits of Buckwheat

Buckwheat is an excellent source of a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. It is also high in fiber and rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. All these nutritional benefits lead many people to consider buckwheat a superfood.

Buckwheat groats are packed with folate, manganese, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, vitamin B6 and zinc.

Health Benefits of Buckwheat

1. Gluten-Free

Buckwheat is an excellent option for many as it can be consumed in the same way other whole grains such as barley and wheat are. However, it is naturally a gluten-free whole grain making it stand out above the rest. Whether you need to be gluten-free due to gluten intolerance or celiac disease or choose to eat less gluten, buckwheat is a great choice. Many people find benefits in digestive and gut health and inflammation levels from reducing their gluten intake and having a diet containing a variety of whole grains.

2. Supports Heart Health

Buckwheat contains many heart-healthy compounds, such as rutin, a phytonutrient and antioxidant, which help provide cardiovascular benefits by stabilizing blood sugar and reducing cholesterol. It also contains magnesium, copper, and fiber. It is a rich source of plant protein, all of which help lower the risk of heart disease by reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure, and preventing blood clots.

3. Rich Source of Dietary Fiber

A half-cup of cooked buckwheat groats contains approximately three grams of dietary fiber, making it an excellent source! Dietary fiber is essential in the digestive system as it keeps food moving through the digestive process. Foods rich in dietary fiber have also been shown to help people feel full longer, which can benefit weight loss and management.

4. Blood Sugar Management

Buckwheat is lower on the glycemic index scale than many other whole grains, providing a slower release of carbohydrate content into the bloodstream. This may help manage blood sugar levels, improve insulin resistance, and manage diabetes and other blood sugar issues.

5. Rich Source of Plant Protein

Buckwheat is an asset, particularly to those on a vegan or plant-based diet, as it is an excellent source of plant protein. A one-half cup serving of raw buckwheat contains about ten to twelve grams of protein, which is very high for a whole grain.

How to Use Buckwheat

The nature of buckwheat being naturally gluten-free makes it an excellent option for people with gluten intolerance and those looking to incorporate more gluten-free grains into their diet. Buckwheat is a great substitute for gluten-filled grains such as bulgur, wheat berries, spelt, and freekeh. The bonus is buckwheat can typically be cooked using the same or similar methods as its gluten-filled counterparts.

Buckwheat flour made from ground buckwheat groats is available for cooking and baking. A few popular buckwheat foods are noodles, cookies, crackers, crepes, and pancakes. If you are gluten-free, make sure to read labels as some products may use buckwheat alongside wheat or gluten ingredients, such as in some buckwheat noodles.

Buckwheat groats may also be eaten raw, without cooking or roasting, making it an excellent option for those on a raw food diet. Raw buckwheat groats blend well in granola mixes, providing texture, taste, and nutrition. They can also be sprinkled on salads to add some nutty crunch or sprinkled on top off guacamole or yogurt.

How to Cook Buckwheat

Buckwheat can be cooked similarly to oats, brown rice, and white rice. Buckwheat is best cooked with a 1:2 ratio of water, one cup of buckwheat groats for every two cups of water.

  1. Rinse buckwheat
  2. Bring water to a boil
  3. Add a pinch of salt and buckwheat groats
  4. Cover the pot and reduce to a simmer
  5. Cook for about 15 minutes or until the groats become tender
Barley is beige or light tan in color.  Each grain is an oval shaped with a line or ridge through the center.

What is Barley?

Barley is a widely cultivated grain. It is the fourth most cultivated grain worldwide, following wheat, rice, and corn. Barley can be grown in a variety of different environments. It is one of the most adaptable cereal grains to climate, making it easy to grow worldwide.

It is commonly eaten as a cereal or added to soups, stews, and bread. It can also be used in meals where one might otherwise use rice. One of barley’s largest consumers is actually livestock. It is also used to make malt for alcoholic beverages such as beer. Its wide variety of uses and dense nutritional qualities make it one of the most important food sources.

Barley flour can be an excellent option for unleavened bread or flatbread. Barley does contain a minimal amount of gluten, but enough that if you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, it is best to steer clear of this grain. The minimal amount of gluten barley does have is not enough to allow it to be ground up into flour for bread or bakery products where the dough needs to “rise.”

Barely has an interesting history, dating back to the early 6th and 5th millennia BC, being one of the main crops during the spread of agriculture into Europe. In the 16th century B.C, barley served as the main crop for making bread amongst the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans, making it truly an ancient grain.

Varieties of Barley

Barely comes from the head of a seed. It comprises three main parts, the germ, the endosperm, and the husk. Barley is processed to prepare it for consumption. There are two types of barley grains for human consumption: pearl barley (pearled barley) and hulled barley or hull-less barley.

Hulled barley is less processed than pearled barley, giving it more nutritional value. Hulled barley remains a whole grain, while pearled barley is a refined grain. Similar to white rice, white rice is more processed than brown rice, with brown rice retaining greater nutritional value and being considered a whole grain, while white rice is a refined grain.

Barley Taste

Barley has a mild and subtle, nutlike flavor with a chewy texture similar to brown rice. The texture and taste make it a good choice for adding to stews, soups, and salads.

How to Use Barley

Barley is a grain and makes an excellent substitute for other grains and pseudograins such as oats, rice, wild rice, lentils, breakfast cereal, and quinoa. Barley goes great on top of salads, as a breakfast porridge, or in soups and stews. You may also use barley flour in baking and other recipes such as bread and cookies.

How to Cook Barley

Cooking barley is similar to cooking oats or rice. When cooking hulled barley, it performs best when first soaked in water for a few hours or overnight. This is the same recommendation I make when cooking with whole grain rice. It helps the grain cook better and helps increase nutritional benefits.

Hulled barley and pearled barley are cooked the same way. However, the cooking time will be longer for hulled barley, as pearled barley cooks faster.

Boil 3 cups of water or broth for every 1 cup of barley. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover with a lid. Cook until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 25-30 minutes for pearled barley and 45-60 minutes for hulled barley. Barley is ready when it is tender with a slightly chewy texture.

Nutritional Benefits of Barley

Barley is a nutritious grain, with hulled barley providing more nutrition than pearled barley as any whole grain provides more nutrients than its refined grain counterpart.

Barley is an excellent source of fiber, one of the best sources of fiber from whole grains. Fiber can help you to feel fuller longer, which helps manage weight. It supports digestive health and can help promote healthy blood sugar levels.

Barley is a good source of several different nutrients that support your body’s health.

Barley is also an excellent source of several other vitamins and minerals. Barley contains b vitamins- vitamin B6 and the B vitamin niacin. B6 supports immune system health and brain health. Niacin helps your body turn food into energy and supports your digestive system, nervous system, and skin health. It contains selenium which supports thyroid health, and phosphorous, which supports healthy bones and teeth. Barley also contains manganese and iron.

Health Benefits of Barley

1. Blood Sugar Management

Barley also has a low glycemic index ranking. It may help keep blood sugar levels more stable after meals than other whole grains, such as brown rice.

2. Heart Health

Barley contains flavonoids, a type of phytochemicals. Flavonoids are found in whole grains such as hulled barley, which may help protect against heart disease. Different varieties of barley contain varying amounts of flavonoids.

3. Lowering of Cholestrol

Barley has a phytochemical called phytosterols. Phytosterols are believed to be one of the reasons whole grains may help support lowering cholesterol levels.

4. Digestive Support

Barley is an excellent source of fiber. One cup of pearled barley may contain as much as 6 grams of fiber, with 193 calories. Fiber helps to support digestion and keep you feeling fuller longer.

Key Takeaways

Buckwheat and Barley are two nutritious grains that are versatile and can be used in a variety of recipes as part of a healthy diet. They have both been used for centuries and provide several nutritional and health benefits. The main dietary difference is that buckwheat is gluten-free while Barley contains a minimal amount of gluten.

Both can be found in the grocery store, although some grocery stores may be limited depending on the variety of foods they offer. Alternatively, they may be purchased from online retailers or found in health food stores or healthy food-based grocers.

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Author Biography

Karla Kueber is a Certified Evidence Based EFT Practioner and Health Coach, with a double Masters Degree in Education. She works with people to overcome emotional eating, curb cravings, and overcome resistance to eating new healthy foods. You can learn more about coaching with her here.