Barley vs Quinoa: Which is Better? A Complete Comparison


Most people are looking for healthy alternatives, and two of them are barley and quinoa. Many people wonder if one is better than the other. Let’s answer, is barley better than quinoa?

Quinoa is better than barley due to its higher percentage of protein, minerals and B vitamins. Quinoa is gluten free and can be used in more recipes while barley isn’t. Barley takes longer to cook than quinoa and is more difficult to locate in stores. Quinoa provides all nine essential amino acids while barley doesn’t.

This article will include a complete comparison of the two starting with a side-by-side comparison of their nutrients. In addition, I’ll compare their tastes, textures, prices, glycemic index, satiety index and health benefits.

Keto Bread Tip: Great News! Did you know, you don’t have to give up your favorite bread, pizza or sandwiches to follow a 100% Keto diet. Find out more in the KetoBreads website by clicking here, Keto Breads.

Disclaimer: Some links in this article are affiliate links which means I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Barley vs Quinoa: The Differences

Many people aren’t familiar with one of the two foods or both. Therefore, a common question asked is, what’s the difference between barley and quinoa?

Barley is a seed from the grass family and a cereal grain. Quinoa is the seed from a Chenopodium quinoa plant. Quinoa is not a grain but it is cooked in water and consumed like a grain. Quinoa is mostly used for human consumption while barley is made for human and animal food and for use in beer and whiskey production.

Other differences between barley and quinoa:

  • Barley tastes nuttier and more malty than quinoa.
  • Quinoa are shaped more oval and round than the larger barley.
  • Barley is a light, sandy brown color. Common quinoa colors are white, red and black.
  • Barley costs less money than quinoa.
  • Quinoa provides a higher percentage of protein, vitamins and minerals.
  • Barley is lower in calories than quinoa.
  • Barley provides more fiber than quinoa.
  • Barley has a better glycemic index than quinoa.
  • Quinoa is naturally gluten free and barley is not.

Barley vs Quinoa: Nutrient Comparison

The following table compares raw quinoa, raw hulled barley and raw pearled barley. All three lose much of the nutrient density when cooked and water is absorbed. 

Raw nutrients were compared instead of cooked nutrients because there was a lack of cooked hulled barley data available. Comparing raw to cooked doesn’t result in a level playing field. 

The following table is a side-by-side comparison of the nutrients contained per 100-grams of raw quinoa, hulled barley and pearled barley.

  Quinoa (100 g) Hulled Barley (100 g) Pearled Barley (100 g)
Calories 368 354 352
Protein 14.1 g 12.5 g 9.91 g
Carbohydrates 64.2 g 73.5 g 77.7 g
Fiber 7.0 g 17.3 g 15.6 g
Fat 6.07 g 2.30 g 1.16 g
Vitamin A 14 IU 22 IU 22 IU
Beta-carotene 8 mcg 13 mcg 13 mcg
Vitamin C 0 mg 0 mg 0 mg
Vitamin B6 0.48 mg 0.31 mg 0.26 mg
Vitamin B9 (Folate) 184 mcg  19 mcg 23 mcg
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) 0.36 mg  0.64 mg 0.19 mg
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) 0.31 mg  0.28 mg 0.11 mg
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) 1.52 mg  4.60 mg 4.60 mg
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) 0.77 mg  0.28 mg 0.28 mg
Magnesium 197 mg  133 mg 79 mg
Phosphorous 457 mg  264 mg 221 mg
Potassium 563 mg 452 mg 280 mg
Iron 4.57 mg 3.60 mg 2.50 mg
Copper 0.59 mg  0.49 mg 0.42 mg
Calcium 47 mg 33 mg 29 mg
Zinc 3.1 mg  2.77 mg 2.13 mg

Nutrient Resources 1 2 3

Barley and quinoa contain many of the same nutrients. At first glance it may be difficult to determine which one provides a higher percentage of nutrients than the other. This causes many people to ask, which is more healthier barley or quinoa?

Quinoa is healthier than barley due to its higher percentage of protein, B vitamins and minerals. Quinoa provides more B6, folate, riboflavin, B5, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, copper, calcium and zinc than barley. Quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids and barley doesn’t.

However, is barley healthy also? Barley is healthy and provides a higher percentage of fiber, vitamin A, thiamin and niacin than quinoa. Barley has a better glycemic index and fewer total fats.

Hulled barley provides more nutrients than pearled barley. Hulled barley is more difficult to find in stores and takes longer to cook.

Pearl barley contains fewer nutrients because its hull and bran have been removed. Hulled barley only has the outer hull removed. Pearl barley has been partially steamed during production.

Whichever one you choose, barley or quinoa, will be a smart decision. In addition, it may depend on your particular goals discussed in the next section. 

Choosing Barley or Quinoa

Barley and quinoa are considered healthy as pointed out in the section above. One contains more of some types of nutrients while the other has more of other nutrients. Some people may alternate between the two or choose just one.

Choosing one may depend on your particular goals. Let’s examine the common goals and determine which food may be better.

Weight Loss

Weight loss may be the most common goal of all. If you want to lose extra pounds from the mid-section, you may ask, which is better for weight loss, barley or quinoa?

Barley is better for weight loss than quinoa due to its 4.5% fewer calories and 120% more fiber per 100 grams raw. Barley contains 352 calories per 100 grams. Quinoa contains 368 calories per 100 grams. The more fiber can increase the feeling of fullness.

Barley has a lower glycemic index than quinoa. This combined with more fiber means less blood sugar increases, an increased feeling of fullness and slower digestion. This has been associated in some studies helping weight loss.

Low-carb or Keto Diet

If your goal is a Keto or low-carb diet then carbohydrates may be your number one concern. If you’re on a low-carb diet, you may ask which has more carbohydrates, barley or quinoa?

Quinoa contains 21% less carbohydrates per 100 grams than barley making it better for a low-carb diet. Barley contains 77.2 grams of carbohydrates per 100 grams raw. Quinoa contains 64.2 grams of carbohydrates per 100 grams raw. 

Another consideration for low-carb diets is the amount of fat and protein. Barley provides 1.16 grams of fat and 9.91 grams of protein per 100 grams. Quinoa provides 6.07 grams of fat and 14.1 grams of protein.

Gluten Free

If you have celiac disease or choose to consume a gluten free diet, this can make or break your choice. Between barley and quinoa, which is gluten free?

Quinoa is naturally gluten free while barley is not gluten free. Therefore, if you require a gluten free diet, quinoa is the choice for you over barley.

In addition, quinoa can be made into flour and used as a substitute for regular flour in gluten free recipes.

My Vitamix blender I use at home can make quinoa, millet, almond, cashew or any nut flour in seconds. Check out my blender review here, Vitamix Venturist V1220 Review

Bodybuilding

If you’re bodybuilding or just have a goal to gain lean muscle mass, there’s a good chance you’re lifting weights at the gym or home. Which is better for bodybuilding, barley or quinoa?

Quinoa is better than barley for bodybuilding due to its higher percentage of protein, vitamins and minerals. Quinoa provides 14.1 grams of protein per 100 grams raw. Barley provides 9.91 grams of protein per 100 grams raw. 

This means quinoa provides 42% more protein than barley. The extra amount of protein, vitamins and minerals help to repair and build new muscle after exercise.

While barley contains more carbohydrates, quinoa also provides a good amount. The carbohydrates quinoa provides help to fuel energy and increase exercise performance when lifting weights and exercising.

Supplements for bodybuilding are expensive, and the costs add up pretty fast. Considering the price of both, barley costs less than quinoa.

You’d have to decide whether the difference in price makes up for for 42% less protein. For more details about the prices check out the cost section of this article. Quinoa is a little easier to locate in the stores than barley.

barley vs quinoa nutrient comparison

Barley vs Quinoa: Taste and Texture

Besides the goals and nutrients, many people choose one food over the other because of its taste. Since there are some similarities between the two, many people wonder and ask, does barley and quinoa taste the same?

Barley and quinoa have a mild, nutty flavor, but barley is malty and nuttier. The red or black quinoa may be sweeter than the white quinoa or barley. White quinoa is light and fluffy while barley is slightly chewy. Red and black quinoa and barley are chewier than white quinoa.

What does quinoa taste like?

Quinoa has a mild flavor and is unsweet and not bitter. It has a slightly nutty flavor, and its texture is fluffy and chewy. Quinoa which isn’t rinsed or pre rinsed prior to cooking may taste bitter. Red and black quinoa is chewier than the white colored quinoa.

What does barley taste like?

Barley has a mild, nutty flavor and many people find it similar to brown rice. Cooked correctly it has a slightly chewy texture. If it’s under or overcooked the texture may be gummy. Hulled barley is more robust and less tender than pearl barley.

I decided to poll my clients, readers and people in food groups I belong to. I asked them, do you prefer the taste of barley or quinoa?

  • 47% said they preferred the taste of quinoa.
  • 43% said they preferred the taste of barley.
  • 10% said they had no preference or haven’t tasted one of the two.

Find out how quinoa compared to bulgur in my article, Bulgur vs Quinoa: Which is Better? A Complete Comparison.

How to Cook Pearl Barley

Barley takes longer to cook than quinoa. Whole barley can take up to 45 to 60 minutes to cook. Most barley available in the supermarkets are pearl barley which cooks faster. 

  • Bring 2 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil in a pot.
  • Add 1 cup of rinsed barley and return to a boil.
  • Reduce heat to a medium-high and continue boiling uncovered until soft. About 25-30 minutes.
  • Drain off water, fluff with a fork and serve.

How to Cook Red Quinoa

Most store bought quinoa is pre-rinsed, if it is not pre-rinsed the red quinoa should be rinsed to avoid a bitter taste.

  • In a pot combine 1 cup of red quinoa with 2 cups of water or broth.
  • Bring to a rolling boil.
  • Reduce heat, cover and simmer until liquid is evaporated (about 15 minutes).
  • Let stand 5 minutes then fluff with a fork and serve.
  • Salt or add spices to taste.

How to Cook White Quinoa

Most store bought quinoa is pre-rinsed, if it is not pre-rinsed the white quinoa should be rinsed to avoid a bitter taste.

  • In a pot combine 1 cup of white quinoa with 2 cups of water or broth.
  • Bring to a rolling boil.
  • Reduce heat, cover and simmer until liquid is evaporated (about 10-15 minutes).
  • Let stand 5 minutes then fluff with a fork and serve.
  • Salt or add spices to taste.

Quinoa cooking tips:

  • Red quinoa takes about 3-5 minutes longer to cook.
  • Quinoa is done when the liquid is absorbed.
  • If it’s properly cooked, you can see little, curled ends.
  • 1 cup of dry quinoa makes about 3 1/2 to 4 cups cooked.
  • Quinoa should be cooked and not eaten raw.
  • For finicky kids, consider adding small amounts of quinoa to cookies, salads, meatballs or even macaroni and cheese.

Check out 13 healthy substitutes for quinoa in my article, Quinoa Replacements: 13 Healthy Substitutes.

Substituting Barley and Quinoa

When someone buys barley, a common question asked is, can I substitute barley for quinoa?

Barley can substitute for quinoa and both are interchangeable with each other in recipes, side dishes, salads and baking. Barley cannot substitute in gluten free dishes as quinoa is naturally gluten free and barley isn’t. When substituting barley for quinoa use equal amounts called for in the recipe.

Quinoa is a good substitute for barley to make the recipe gluten free.

The best substitutes for quinoa are:

  • Rice
  • Millet
  • Barley
  • Couscous
  • Bulgur
  • Lentils
  • Amaranth
  • Buckwheat

The best substitutes for barley are:

  • Quinoa
  • Farro
  • Buckwheat
  • Brown rice
  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Sorghum
  • Amaranth

Find out how white quinoa compared to black quinoa in my article, White Quinoa vs Black Quinoa: What’s The Difference?

Barley vs Quinoa: Glycemic Index

Avoiding blood sugar spikes is an important part of consuming healthy food. This is true for diabetics or anyone worrying about their health 4. For this reason, the glycemic index of food is important.

The Glycemic Index (GI) is a scale measuring how fast a particular food raises the blood sugar in the blood 5. Blood sugar spikes can lead to health complications with the heart, nerves, kidneys and eyes 6

Foods on the GI scale are categorized as:

  • Low-GI foods: 55 or under
  • Medium-GI foods: 56-69
  • High-GI foods: 70 or over

How blood sugars levels are affected:

  • Foods with a glycemic index 70 or more cause a quicker spike in blood sugar levels.
  • Foods with a glycemic index 56 to 69 cause a moderate spike in blood sugar levels.
  • Foods with a glycemic index 55 or less cause a slow spike in blood sugar levels.

Knowing more about the glycemic index of food and how it raises blood sugar, many people ask, does barley or quinoa have a better glycemic index?

Barley has a better glycemic index than quinoa making it more desirable for diabetics. Even though, both barley and quinoa are low GI foods.

  • Barley cooked in boiling water has a glycemic index of 28.
  • Red quinoa cooked in boiling water for 15 minutes has a glycemic index of 54.
  • White quinoa cooked in boiling water for 15 minutes has a glycemic index of 50.

Barley has a glycemic load of 13. After boiling red quinoa has a glycemic load of 24 and white quinoa 23.

In a study including 10 overweight women, consuming barley and oats decreased blood sugar and insulin levels. However, the researchers found barley more effective reducing blood sugar 59-65% compared to 29-36% with oats 7.

If you have diabetes and are taking insulin or medication to lower blood sugar, you may want to exercise caution and consult with a physician since barley has a strong effect on blood sugar levels.

Find out how white and red quinoa compared to each other in my article, Red Quinoa vs White Quinoa: What’s The Difference?

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Barley vs Quinoa: Satiety Index

Satiety is a term used to explain the feeling of being full and the loss of appetite which occurs after eating food. The satiety index is a scale showing how full a person feels after eating a certain food. 

The satiety index was developed in 1995 from a study which tested 38 foods. The foods were ranked how they satisfied a person’s hunger. Foods scoring under 100 are considered less filling and foods scoring above 100 are considered more filling 8.

The table below shows the satiety scores of oatmeal, rice and a few other filling foods.

Food Satiety Index Score
White bread 100%
Brown rice 132%
White rice 138%
Lentils 133%
Wholemeal Bread 157%
Brown pasta 188%
Oatmeal w/milk 209%

Unfortunately, barley or quinoa was not one of the 38 foods tested. I researched scientific studies and found a few which tested the satiety of quinoa or barley compared to rice.

In two studies, people who consumed barley for breakfast experienced lower levels of hunger at lunch and ate less at later meals. Barley was more effective than rice or whole wheat 9 10.

A study in 2005, by the University of Milan, tested the satiety of quinoa, oats and buckwheat compared to eating rice. All three had a higher satiating efficiency than rice 11.

Since rice has satiety scores of 132% and 138%, we may be able to assume barley and quinoa has a higher satiety score than 138%.

High satiety foods like barley and quinoa are likely to have a high satiety score for the following reasons:

  1. High in protein.
  2. High in fiber.
  3. High in volume (foods containing a lot of water or air).
  4. Low in energy density (foods low in calories for their weight).

Find out how quinoa compared to lentils in my article, Quinoa vs Lentils:Which is Better? A Complete Comparison.

Barley vs Quinoa: Which Costs More?

The prices at the supermarket seem to go up weekly. The cost of food certainly matters to most people, especially with the rising costs of everything.

Therefore, the price may sway your decision about which one to use more often. Let’s examine, which costs more, barley or quinoa?

Quinoa costs more per 1/4 cup than barley. The average price for quinoa is $0.57 per 1/4 cup. The average price for barley is $0.17 per 1/4 cup.

The prices for both foods vary depending on the store, location and sales offered.

I decided to conduct a search of various different stores to compare the price of barley and quinoa.

I checked Shoprite supermarket for the prices of barley and quinoa:

  • Wholesome Pantry White Quinoa
    • $3.99 per 12 oz bag (7 servings) equaling $0.57 per 1/4 cup serving.
  • Wholesome Pantry Tri-Color (White, Red, Black)
    • $3.99 per 12 oz bag (7 servings) equaling $0.57 per 1/4 cup serving.
  • Goya barley
    • $1.39 per 16 oz bag (8 servings) equaling $0.17 per 1/4 cup serving.
  • Jack Rabbit pearl barley
    • $1.39 per 16 oz bag (8 servings) equaling $0.17 per 1/4 cup serving.

I then checked Walmart for the prices of barley and quinoa:

  • Food to Live White Quinoa
    • $10.99 per 1 pound bag
  • Food to Live Organic Red Quinoa
    • $13.48 per 1 pound bag 
  • Food to Live hulled barley
    • $12.49 per 1 pound bag
  • Food to Live pearled barley
    • $9.99 per 1 pound bag

Check out Amazon for quinoa and barley products. Their prices are often more affordable depending on the seller and the sales.

Barley vs Quinoa: Health Benefits

The nutrients in barley and quinoa are similar just in different percentages. Therefore, the benefits contained in both are similar. The following describes how each nutrient may benefit health and which food provides the greater percentage.

Minerals

Quinoa has a higher percentage of minerals than barley. Let’s take a closer look at some of these minerals and how they benefit health.

Calcium

  • Quinoa contains 47 mg of calcium per 100 grams raw.
  • Barley contains 29 mg of calcium per 100 grams raw.

Quinoa provides 62% more calcium than barley per 100 grams raw.

Calcium is important for the heart and blood pressure. Harvard Health reports calcium helps maintain blood pressure by helping in the controlling of the relaxing and tightening of blood vessels 12.

Calcium also helps the following:

  • Helps nerve function.
  • Help the muscles to function properly.
  • Maintain and build strong bones.

Iron

  • Quinoa contains 4.57 mg of iron per 100 grams raw.
  • Barley contains 2.50 mg of iron per 100 grams raw.

Quinoa provides 80% more iron than barley per 100 grams raw.

Iron is essential in the creation of red blood cells and is a necessary part of any healthy diet. Iron is also vital for growth and development, as some hormones need iron to be appropriately balanced 13. 

Potassium

  • Quinoa contains 563 mg of potassium per 100 grams raw.
  • Barley contains 280 mg of potassium per 100 grams raw.

Quinoa provides 100% more potassium than barley per 100 grams raw.

Potassium helps the body get rid of excess sodium reducing fluid build-up. These help keep systolic and diastolic blood pressure lower 14.

Some medical experts recommend the potassium to sodium ratio of 4:1. Consuming too much sodium or not enough potassium throws off the delicate balance the kidneys need to remove the excess water 15.

According to Harvard Health, a number of studies have shown a connection between low potassium levels and high blood pressure 16. The more potassium, the more sodium your body will lose.

Magnesium

  • Quinoa contains 197 mg of magnesium per 100 grams raw.
  • Barley contains 79 mg of magnesium per 100 grams raw.

Quinoa provides 149% more magnesium than barley per 100 grams raw.

Magnesium helps keep blood pressure levels stable and balanced. Recent scientific research examined previous studies and concluded magnesium supplementation decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure 17.

Magnesium helps control the following:

  • Nerve function
  • Blood sugar
  • Insomnia
  • Blood pressure
  • Muscle

In the heart and muscles, magnesium competes with calcium to help the muscles relax after contracting. When the body is low in magnesium, calcium can over stimulate the heart muscle’s cells causing a rapid or irregular heartbeat 18.

One reason many people supplement with magnesium in the evening is because it helps calm the whole body including blood vessels.

Phosphorus

  • Quinoa contains 457 mg of phosphorus per 100 grams raw.
  • Barley contains 221 mg of phosphorus per 100 grams raw.

Quinoa provides 106% more phosphorus than barley per 100 grams raw.

Phosphorus has been shown in scientific studies to help with the following:

  • Promote teeth and bone health.
  • Help the kidneys remove waste.
  • Muscle recovery and contraction.
  • Promote healthy nerve conduction.
  • Help the body manage and store energy.
barley
Barley

Vitamins

B Vitamins

Quinoa provides a higher percentage of five of the six B vitamins listed below. The B vitamins provided include the following:

  1. B1 (thiamin) (Quinoa provides more thiamin than barley)
  2. B2 (riboflavin) (Quinoa provides more riboflavin than barley)
  3. B3 (niacin) (Barley provides more niacin than quinoa)
  4. B5 (Quinoa provides more B5 than barley)
  5. B6 (Quinoa provides more B6 than barley)
  6. B9 (folate) (Quinoa provides more folate than barley)

B vitamins help support the following:

  • Nerve function.
  • Cardiovascular disease.
  • Brain function.
  • Energy levels.
  • Red blood cells.
  • Digestion.

A lack of B vitamins has been associated with oxidative stress and neural inflammation.

In a study released in 2018 32 healthy adults were given B vitamin supplementation for six months. The results indicated preliminary evidence B vitamin supplementation reduced oxidative stress and inflammation 19.

Protein & Fiber

Fiber

  • Barley contains 15.6 grams of fiber per 100 grams raw.
  • Quinoa contains 7.0 grams of fiber per 100 grams raw.

Barley provides 123% more fiber than quinoa per 100 grams raw.

Soluble fiber is helpful for many reasons 20. What makes fiber soluble is it dissolves in water. 

Soluble fiber is known for the following:

  • Helps avoid constipation and have a more regular stool.
  • Manage the blood glucose levels which helps decrease the risk of diabetes.
  • Aids greatly in weight management because it allows you to feel full faster and eat less. 
  • Help overall digestive health.

Protein

  • Quinoa provides 14.1 grams of protein per 100 grams raw.
  • Barley provides 9.91 grams of protein per 100 grams raw.

Quinoa provides 42% more protein than barley per 100 grams raw.

Both foods are a good source of protein. Protein may help benefit the following:

  • Boost metabolism
  • Reduce appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Build and repair muscle

As noted earlier in the nutrition section of the article, quinoa is a complete protein and contains all the essential amino acids.

Additional Article Resources 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47

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Brown Rice vs Quinoa: Which is Better? A Complete Comparison

Couscous vs Quinoa: Which is Better? A Complete Comparison

Millet vs Quinoa: Which is Better? A Complete Comparison

Quinoa Vs Oatmeal: Which is Better? Let’s Compare

 

Article Resources: Foods For Anti-Aging follows strict guidelines to ensure our content is the highest journalistic standard. It's our mission to provide the reader with accurate, honest and unbiased guidance. Our content relies on medical associations, research institutions, government agencies and study resources. Learn more by reading our editorial policy.
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  6. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Know Your Blood Sugar Numbers: Use Them to Manage Your Diabetes[]
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  12. Harvard Health: Key minerals to help control blood pressure[]
  13. National Institutes of Health: Iron[]
  14. American Heart Association: How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure[]
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  17. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis[]
  18. National Institutes of Health: Magnesium[]
  19. National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Effect of a High-Dose Vitamin B Multivitamin Supplement on the Relationship between Brain Metabolism and Blood Biomarkers of Oxidative Stress: A Randomized Control Trial[]
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Kevin Garce

Kevin Garce is a Certified Health Coach who encourages people by informing them on nutrition and food topics important to them. His years of research and knowledge inspire people to achieve their goals. Read more here About Me

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