Barley vs Quinoa: Which is Better? A Complete Comparison

Most people are looking for healthy alternatives, and two of them are barley and quinoa. As a Certified Health Coach many people ask me 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. It 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.

In addition to coaching clients about them, I’ve purchased, researched and consumed both prior to, during and after writing this article.

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 the two?

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:

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

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.

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

Both foods contain many of the same nutrients. Other than protein, there is hardly any difference in macro nutrients profile.

At first glance it may be difficult to determine which one provides a higher percentage of total nutrients than the other. This causes many people to ask, which one is more healthier?

Quinoa is healthier than barley due to its higher percentage of protein, B vitamins and minerals. It 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.

Barley is healthy too and provides a higher percentage of fiber, vitamin A, thiamin and niacin. It has a better glycemic index and fewer total fats.

Hulled barley provides more nutrients than pearled. However, it 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. Pearled has been partially steamed during production.

I consume both foods as part of my nutrition plan. I consume quinoa more often due to its higher percentage of nutrients and protein.

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

Which to Choose?

Both 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 and Calories

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

Barley has a lower glycemic index. 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.

The Doctors in the following video inform you about the health benefits of quinoa, barley and other similar foods.

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?

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 protein. Quinoa provides 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 the two, which one 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, it 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 the flour, 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?

Quinoa is better than barley for bodybuilding due to its higher percentage of protein, vitamins and minerals. Quinoa provides 14.1 grams of protein, 42% more, per 100 grams raw. Barley provides 9.91 grams of protein per 100 grams raw. 

The extra amount of protein, vitamins and minerals help to repair and build new muscle after exercise.

Quinoa also provides a good amount of carbs. The carbohydrates help to fuel energy and increase exercise performance when lifting weights and exercising.

  • I often eat quinoa during the morning on the days I train at the gym. The carbs help fuel my workout and I’m getting protein at the same time.

Supplements for bodybuilding are expensive, and the costs add up pretty fast. For more details about the prices check out the cost section of this article.

barley vs quinoa nutrient comparison

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, do they 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 type or barley. The white variety is light and fluffy while barley is slightly chewy. The red and black types and barley are chewier than white quinoa.

When quinoa isn’t rinsed or pre rinsed prior to cooking it may taste bitter. Red and black are chewier than the white color.

Barley’s taste is 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 is more robust and less tender than pearled.

To conduct some original research and get the opinions of real people like you, I decided to poll my clients, readers and people in food groups I belong to. I asked them, which one do you prefer the taste of?

  • 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.

I also setup and participated in a taste test at home. Three out of four chose the barley.

Find out how bulgur compared and if it was found to be better in my article.

Cooking Differences

How to Cook Pearl Barley

Barley takes longer to cook. Whole barley can take up to 45 to 60 minutes to cook. Most available in the supermarkets are pearl 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.
Cooked barley with asparagus
Cooked barley with asparagus

How to Cook Quinoa

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

  • In a pot combine 1 cup 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.

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

Substitutions

When someone can’t find one of the two foods called for in a recipe, a common question asked is, can I substitute one for the other?

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 use equal amounts called for in the recipe.

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 these two quinoa varieties compared in my article.

The video below informs you how to cook quinoa easily.

Barley vs Quinoa: Glycemic Index & Diabetics

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. Blood sugar spikes can lead to health complications with the heart, nerves, kidneys and eyes 5

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, which food has 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 and white quinoa cooked in boiling water for 15 minutes has a glycemic index of 54 and 50.

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 6.

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 these two types of quinoa compared to each other in my article. Is one color really better?

Cooking quinoa on the stove top
Cooking quinoa on the stove top

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 7.

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, either of the two were 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. It was more effective than rice or whole wheat 8 9.

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 10.

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 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 it compared to lentils in my article.

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?

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.

Therefore, to conduct some original research, I searched various different stores to compare the price of both foods.

I visited the Shoprite supermarket first:

  • 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
    • $1.39 per 16 oz bag (8 servings) equaling $0.17 per 1/4 cup serving.

I then checked Walmart:

  • Food to Live White
    • $10.99 per 1 pound bag
  • Food to Live Organic Red
    • $13.48 per 1 pound bag
  • Food to Live hulled
    • $12.49 per 1 pound bag
  • Food to Live pearled
    • $9.99 per 1 pound bag
Organic quinoa in the supermarket
Organic quinoa in the Costco supermarket

Health Benefits of Barley and Quinoa

The nutrients in both 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

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 11.

Calcium also helps the following:

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

Iron

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 12. 

Potassium

Potassium helps the body get rid of excess sodium reducing fluid build-up. These help keep systolic and diastolic blood pressure lower 13.

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 14.

According to Harvard Health, a number of studies have shown a connection between low potassium levels and high blood pressure 15. The more potassium, the more sodium your body will lose.

Magnesium

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 16.

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 17.

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

Phosphorus

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 Barley and Quinoa

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)
  2. B2 (riboflavin)
  3. B3 (niacin)
  4. B5
  5. B6
  6. B9 (folate)

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 18.

Protein & Dietary Fiber

Fiber

Soluble fiber is helpful for many reasons 19. 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.

The following video informs you about quinoa’s health benefits.

Protein

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, contains all the essential amino acids and provides 42% more protein per 100 grams..

Saturated Fat

Neither food contains a large amount of saturated fat to make it a concern.

If you have any questions about this article don’t hesitate to email us. You can find an email on our contact page.

Read Next – More Food vs Food Articles!

Couscous vs Rice vs Quinoa: Which is Better? Let’s Compare

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.
  1. USDA: Barley, pearled, raw[]
  2. USDA: Barley, hulled[]
  3. USDA: Quinoa, uncooked[]
  4. The University of Sydney: Your GI Shopping Guide[]
  5. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Know Your Blood Sugar Numbers: Use Them to Manage Your Diabetes[]
  6. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Comparison of hormone and glucose responses of overweight women to barley and oats[]
  7. National Center for Biotechnology Information: A satiety index of common foods[]
  8. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of cooked white rice with high β-glucan barley on appetite and energy intake in healthy Japanese subjects: a randomized controlled trial[]
  9. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Influence of whole grain barley, whole grain wheat, and refined rice-based foods on short-term satiety and energy intake[]
  10. Pub Med: Effect on appetite control of minor cereal and pseudo cereal products[]
  11. Harvard Health: Key minerals to help control blood pressure[]
  12. National Institutes of Health: Iron[]
  13. American Heart Association: How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure[]
  14. National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Effect of the Sodium to Potassium Ratio on Hypertension Prevalence: A Propensity Score Matching Approach[]
  15. Harvard Health: Potassium lowers blood pressure[]
  16. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis[]
  17. National Institutes of Health: Magnesium[]
  18. 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[]
  19. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Mechanisms linking dietary fiber, gut microbiota and colon cancer prevention[]

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