Yesterday I wrote about a beef, barley and mushroom soup I made using hulled barley and a reader asked the difference between "hulled" barley and "pearled" barley.
Simply put, hulled barley (right in photo) is a whole grain, meaning the three parts of the seed—bran, germ and endosperm—are intact, providing optimum nutrition. Hulled barley, as its name suggests, has had its inedible, outermost layer—the hull—removed. (All grains grown for human consumption must have their hull removed, if they have one.)
Pearled barley (left in photo) is not a whole grain, since it has been polished (aka "pearled"), processing that removes the nutritious bran layer, making it an incomplete food.
This concept of whole vs. incomplete holds for other grains and grain products. White rice, for example, is rice that has had its bran and germ—and with them essential vitamins, minerals, enzymes, fats, proteins and fiber—removed.
White wheat flour, the main ingredient in so much of our bread, cookies, cakes, muffins, pizza dough, etc., comes from wheat that has been stripped of its bran, germ and, by association, most of its nutrients.
Many believe that these processed grains play an outsized role in our modern diseases (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc.), since the endosperm's starches throw the body's insulin regulation mechanism completely out of whack.
The bran and germ are removed for several reasons, including shelf life, cooking time and appearance. (The germ contains some oil, which can go rancid; whole grains take longer to cook; and white is bright.)
The bottom line? Choose hulled barley over pearled, brown rice over white and whole wheat bread over white. They taste better, are rich in nutrients and may help you lose a couple pounds.