Barley water is rich in nutrients and a breeze to prepare. It is also an infinitely customizable beverage.
What is Barley Water?
Barley water is a refreshing drink with centuries old history and a strong reputation as a healing tonic. It has a pleasant faint nutty flavor to it.
Today sweetened lemon barley water garnished with mint is a classic refreshment in England and Australia. In Mexico it is known as Agua de Cebada or Horchata de Cebada (a type of agua fresca). Variations of it are also popular throughout Southeastern Asia and Northern India.
As fans of fermented malted barley beverages aka beer we are also very fond of this simpler barley drink and the nutrients it delivers. It is a perfect link between Health and Craft Beer.
Jump to Health Benefits of Barley Water to learn more about the nutrients the beverage contains and it’s historical background.
How to Make Barley Water
At home we make barley water in the simplest way possible and so can you – follow the steps below.
To start, round up your ingredients. Besides clean, filtered water you will need:
- Pearl barley – the most common form (with the hull removed and the bran layer partially polished).
- Lemon – you can use both the juice and zest to flavor the water and add aroma or a different citrus fruit.
- Honey – or another natural sweetener.
- Mint – most commonly used, but basil or thyme are good options.
From there the process is quite simple and does not differ from cooking pearl barley except in the quantity of liquid required. You will need a lot more water to boil the barley than the 1:3 ratio typical for cooking.
To make barley water use a 1:10 ratio of grains to water.
For example if you use a cup of barley and 10 times more water roughly three cups of it will be absorbed by the grains leaving you with about 7 cups (close to 2 quarts) of barley water, adjusted for evaporation loss.
If you add more water than recommended the result will be a more diluted barley water version – it really is a matter of personal taste and preferences.
Step by Step Process
- Rinse and pick through the barley to identify and remove any foreign materials or bad grains.
- Place in a large pot and add water.
- Bring to boil, then reduce the heat to low or medium-low and simmer for 40 minutes, partially covered with a lid. Your goal is to keep most of the water from evaporating.
- Remove the pot from the heat and strain the hot liquid into an appropriately sized pitcher or another pot. You can discard the cooked barley or let it cool down and use it in a barley salad or soup/stew.
Hot or Cold?
Both hot and cold barley water is delightful to drink.
You can serve the hot barley water as soon as you strain the grains out. Treat it as hot tea and serve it flavored with honey (or your choice of natural sweetener) and a squeeze of lemon juice. Garnish with lemon.
As a side note – in Asia they often serve the water with the grains settled at the bottom of the cup with a spoon to scoop them out.
Alternatively, let it cool down completely and then serve over ice or simply refrigerate to chill.
Dilution due to too much ice in your glass takes away from the unique nutty flavor of the beverage. We usually add only a couple of ice cubes and infuse the water with lemon juice of slices and garnish with mint as pictured below. Typically we don’t feel a need for a sweetener when enjoying it cold – the base flavor is great on its own.
TIP: If you would rather have honey sweetened barley water it is much easier to dissolve the honey in the water while it is still hot.
Barley Water Flavor Infusions
The addition of fresh fruit beyond the common citrus is an easy approach to infusing barley water with fresh, bright flavors.
Our son’s favorite way to enjoy the beverage is with strawberry pieces – they even tint it pink which he really likes and says that the look reminds him of strawberry lemonade.
We particularly like the few options below:
- ginger partners great with honey sweetened barley water – add fresh grated ginger to the still hot water and let it steep
- a pinch of cinnamon and a splash of milk play well with the base flavors of the beverage
- muddled fresh herbs such as basil, mint, oregano, lemon grass
- a pinch of cayenne pepper results in a drink with a lively spicy edge
- cardamom, which is popular in Mexico (boil the seeds in the water together with the barley)
- dried hibiscus leaves impart lovely floral aroma and lend gorgeous color
Nutrient packed barley water - enjoy it hot or cold, sweetened or infused with lemon or other fruit. *You can also use other citrus fruit or slices of stone fruit such as peaches, or berries to infuse the barley water. **In some countries hot water is added to the barley, the mixture covered and steeped then the grains left to soak for 12 hours.
Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 36Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 15mgCarbohydrates: 10gFiber: 0gSugar: 8gProtein: 0g
Nutrient packed barley water - enjoy it hot or cold, sweetened or infused with lemon or other fruit.
*You can also use other citrus fruit or slices of stone fruit such as peaches, or berries to infuse the barley water.
**In some countries hot water is added to the barley, the mixture covered and steeped then the grains left to soak for 12 hours.
Health Benefits of Barley Water
Barley water is rich in fiber and nutrients – it contains vitamins (Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B-6, Folate, Vitamin A, Vitamin K) and minerals – phosphorus, potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium, zinc.
In many cultures it was and still is frequently given to small children or sickly people as a source of nourishment.
The ancient history of the drink can be traced back to the cradle of civilization – Mesopotamia, ancient Greece where it was called Kykeon, ancient China and the Indian subcontinent – the powerful tonic appears in the Aurvedic medicine books.
NOTE: Barley is a grain that contains gluten therefore if you are gluten intolerant or sensitive you should avoid barley water. If you are looking for a drink with similar properties and no gluten try Barley Grass Juice Powder.
Consuming barley water on a regular basis has been linked to:
- improved digestion
- reduced cholesterol absorption and triglycerides
- stimulated metabolism and weight loss support
- anti-inflammatory help (especially thought to alleviate urinary tract infections and kidney stones)
- lower blood pressure
- controlled blood sugar levels
- clearer and younger looking skin
- higher immunity
Christiane Carson says
OMG!!! I’d completely forgotten about this drink!!! 70 year old memories flooding back!!!
As a very young little girl around 3 or 4 years old, my mum taught me this recipe, and we’d make it together on Sunday mornings all through the summer, ready for our much loved traditional English Sunday roast lunch.
My ‘very special’ job was picking through the barley to discard the grit and then wash it (exactly 3 times LOL!!!) standing on a little stool to reach the sink. Other important jobs I had was to pick the lemon pips out of the strainer and gather and wash the mint from the garden. I was always so proud of myself when the family came to the dinner table and saw mum’s best glass jug filled with this cool, pretty cloudy liquid, the yellow lemon slices and bright green mint floating on top!!! Every single week my dad would raise his glass to the chef (mum) and ‘Didi’s champagne’ (Erm… Didi was my nick-name… I’d forgotten about that too!)
Thank you so much for bringing back wonderful memories… I’m off now, to hunt for pearl barley and lemons in my local shop!!! Hugs from UK.
Milena Perrine says
What a lovely story to share, Christiane! Really feel touched that you did it. Love the name your dad had for the beverage:)
Brandy Thierry says
I just now heard of this water for the 1st time, in a movie I just got done watching called “The Dig” I must try it!
Kelsie | the itsy-bitsy kitchen says
I’ve never even heard of barley water but now I need to try it! Especially with strawberries because that color is so pretty. Have a great weekend!
Thank you, Nicoletta! The strawberries one is truly delicious:)
Nicoletta De Angelis Nardelli says
What a great beverage! I had not heard about it, but I have everything on hand to make it. I like all the variation you listed and I think the one with strawberries, your son’s favorite, could be my favorite as well 🙂 .