Farro vs Barley Nutrition: Healthy Grains Benefits

Ancient grains have been a staple in our diets for thousands of years for many good reasons. They are loaded with a variety of vitamins and minerals and have high fiber content. Their high protein content also makes them versatile grains for a plant-based diet.

Eating a variety of whole grains is a great way to add variety to your meals while enjoying different textures and flavors. These two whole grains make great alternatives to other grains, such as brown rice, oats, and quinoa.

Key Differences Farro vs Barley

The biggest difference between farro and barley is that farro is higher in protein, dietary fiber, and calories. However, barley, with its much lower glycemic index of 28 compared to farro’s 45, stands out as a better choice for those aiming to maintain stable blood sugar levels

While they are both oval-shaped cereal grains, farro is slightly larger and thinner than barley, which is wider. Farro has a darker, more golden-brown color, while barley is a lighter tan. Farro offers a chewier texture with a warmer, nutty flavor, in contrast to barley’s slightly more tart taste.  

Farro Grains

What is Farro?

Farro is an ancient grain that has been cultivated for thousands of years. Considered a whole grain, it has been growing in popularity due to its health benefits.

It is sold dry and looks similar to wheat berries. It is cooked in water until it has a soft and chewy texture. When cooked, it looks very much like barley. It has a flavor more rich and more complex flavor than wheat.

“Farro” is Italian for “ancient wheat grain” and refers to three different types of wheat grains: Farro piccolo (einkorn), farro medio (emmer), and farro grande (spelt). These names may be used interchangeably depending on the region, with emmer wheat being the more common type found in the United States.

There are three types of farro: whole farro (a whole grain retaining all the grain’s nutrients), semi-pearled (with part of the bran removed but still containing some fiber), and pearled farro (without bran, requiring the least cooking time). The labeling of farro can be confusing, with pearled or semi-pearled farro most likely to be found in grocery stores.

Barley Grains

What is Barley?

Barley is a versatile, widely cultivated grain considered a cereal grain. It serves as an excellent rice alternative and is often added to soups, stews, or used in breadmaking. Barley is also a primary ingredient in malt for alcoholic beverages like beer.

In grocery stores, barley is available mainly as hulled or pearled. Hulled barley is a whole grain, retaining the bran and germ after removing the inedible outer shell. With both hull and bran removed, Pearl barley is a refined grain with a softer texture and quicker cooking time.

Barley contains gluten, which limits its use in baking, which requires the dough to rise. While it may offer a reduced gluten option compared to wheat, it is unsuitable for those on a gluten-free diet or with celiac disease.

Farro vs Barley Nutrition

Here’s a comparison of 100 grams each of semi-pearled farro compared to hulled barley. Hulled barley has been minimally processed to remove only the inedible outer shell. It is also a whole grain.

Semi-Pearled Farro Hulled Barley (whole grain)Pearled Barley (refined grain)
Total Carbohydrate
-Dietary fiber
70 g
8 g, 29%
2 g, 4%
73.5 g
17.3 g, 62%
0.8 g, 2%
75.6 g
6.7 g, 24%
0 g
Protein14 g, 28%12.5 g, 25%8.9 g, 18%
Total Fat 
Saturated Fat
2 g, 3%
0, 0%
2.3 g, 3%
0.5 g, 2%
2.2 g, 3%
0.4, 2%
Calcium40 mg, 3%33 mg, 3%0 mg, 0%
Iron0.7 mg, 4%3.6 mg, 20%1.8 mg, 10%
Potassium452 mg, 10%400 mg, 9%

While farro and barley have been getting more attention as alternative grains to wheat, it is important to note that neither one is a gluten-free grain and should be avoided by anyone with celiac disease or anyone on a gluten-free diet.

Barley contains less gluten than wheat, offering an alternative for those looking to reduce gluten intake.

Nutritionally, farro and barley are both healthy alternatives to refined grains such as white rice, white bread, and other refined wheat products. Hulled barley and farro are whole grains, while pearled barley is a refined grain. Whole grains are a heart-healthy food and may reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 30%. They are also the healthier choice over refined grains when it comes to weight loss.

Nutritionally, they have many similarities. The better choice is to stick with a whole grain, which would be hulled barley or farro, as pearled barley is a refined grain.

When it comes to fiber, hulled barley is a great source, containing about 17.6 grams of fiber, or 62% of the daily recommended value, per 100 grams, which is about 1/2 cup of barley. Farro is still a good source, containing about half the fiber of hulled barley, around 8 grams of fiber per 100 grams.

When it comes to protein, the whole grains farro and hulled barley outperform pearled barley. Farro is an excellent source of protein, containing 14 grams of protein, and hulled barley contains 12.5 grams of protein. However, neither one is a complete protein source.

They are both considered incomplete sources of protein, meaning they do not contain all nine essential amino acids. Farro and hulled barley perform best when paired with beans or a meat protein on the same day.

They both contain various other vitamins and minerals and are a great source of antioxidants. Farro is a good source of vitamin B3 and niacin, which, along with other B vitamins, help convert food to energy and keep hair, skin, and eyes healthy.

Is Farro or Barley Healthier?

You really can’t go wrong with either choice, as they are both nutritious grains that make an excellent addition to a healthy diet. If you are looking to make a choice based on how they line up nutritionally, overall, hulled barley does have an edge over farro with nutritional benefits as well as being a better choice for maintaining stable blood glucose levels. Hulled barley is high in dietary fiber, protein, and iron. While farro has a high protein content, hulled barley being such an excellent source of dietary fiber along with protein and iron gives it an overall nutritional advantage.

Sharing is caring!

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.