Did you know that barley is one of the oldest cultivated grains, dating back thousands of years ago? Yet it isn’t used so much today in baking, despite being nutritionally superior to run-of-the-mill all-purpose.
When I ask people what they know about it, they tell me it’s an ingredient for some beers. While this is true, barley flour can be used in many recipes that call for wheat flour, making it an excellent alternative for a unique flavor in your bread. That said, there are numerous substitutes for barley flour that you can use when barley simply isn’t available, and here are our top 8!
- Farro flour
- Spelt four
- Red whole wheat flour
- Bread flour
- White whole wheat flour
- Sorghum flour
- Einkorn flour
- Almond flour
Best All-Around Barley Flour Substitute: Farro Or Spelt Flour
Farro, spelt (and barley) are all known as ancient grains, meaning they’ve been around forever and haven’t undergone certain modifications like modern wheat. It usually gives them a better nutritional profile.
When reaching for the best substitute for barley flour, you can’t go wrong with farro or spelt. Both contain gluten, just like barley does, though the gluten content is weaker than what you will find in wheat flour. This means they bake differently and create more density.
Farro flour has a nutty and earthy taste, which adds depth and complexity to savory baked goods. Spelt is nutty also but a little sweeter, so that is the substitute that may work better for muffins and cookies and other sweet baked treats.
When swapping farro or spelt for barley flour, you can do so at a 1:1 ratio, which is mighty convenient!
Best Budget-Friendly Barley Flour Substitute: Red Whole Wheat Flour
Red whole wheat is the simplest swap if you are looking for an easy-to-find, budget substitute for barley flour. Red whole wheat differs from white whole wheat because it is darker and has more flavor. As barley flour has a strong flavor, red whole wheat makes a closer substitute than white whole wheat.
How can you tell the difference if the package just says whole wheat? Read the back and make sure it is milled from red wheat berries or red winter wheat berries, or check with the manufacturer.
Best Easy-to-Bake-With Barley Flour Substitute: Bread Flour
If you want to make a loaf and are looking to do so in the simplest way possible, bread flour is the best choice. Bread flour is made from hard wheat specifically designed for bread baking, and it contains more proteins than all-purpose flour and barley flour. This high gluten content gives it the strength to rise, making baking almost foolproof. Use a 1:1 ratio when substituting barley flour with bread flour.
Flour Closest in Flavor to Barley Flour: Farro Flour
Farro flour is probably the most similar tasting flour to barley flour. Barley flour tastes quite unique and is a combination of nutty, sweet, and a little earthy, similar to farro. However, some taste in barley flour is specifically barley-ish and cannot be imitated. If anyone knows why that is, leave a comment because I’d love to know!
Farro flour is also a good substitute if you are looking for something to closely imitate the texture of barley flour, as it is pretty similar to it.
Best Neutral-Flavor Substitute for Barley Flour: White Whole Wheat Flour
If you simply don’t like the taste of barley flour, swap it out for whole wheat flour instead. Unlike red whole wheat flour, white whole wheat flour is less intense in flavor and can be used as a great neutral-flavor substitute for barley flour.
White whole wheat is higher in gluten though, so expect a different texture in your final product.
Best Healthy Substitute for Barley Flour: Farro Or Spelt Flour
Both farro and spelt flours are good sources of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, such as B vitamins, iron, and magnesium. They’re both known for being more easily digestible than wheat flour due to the lower gluten and phytic acid content, allowing better nutrient absorption.
However, Barley flour has the upper hand in beta-glucans, which have cholesterol-lowering properties. If you use barley flour to help lower cholesterol and want a substitute high in beta-glucans, then oat flour is your best choice.
Best High-Fiber Substitute for Barley Flour: Farro Or Red Whole Wheat Flour
The fiber content of barley flour is 3 grams per ¼ cup of flour. Spelt has 4 grams per ¼ cup, and red whole wheat has 5g per ¼ cup. While these are not massive amounts of fiber compared to, say, coconut flour’s 10 grams, coconut flour just isn’t a great substitute as it has completely different baking properties. So, if you are looking for a little bit more fiber than what you might find in barley flour, give farro or red wheat flour a try.
Best Gluten-Free Alternative to Barley Flour: Sorghum Flour
The closest gluten-free alternative to barley flour would be sorghum flour. Sorghum is also an ancient grain but gluten-free! It’s mild in flavor and has a certain sweetness, so it works well in most baked goods. However, because it has no gluten, it lacks the elasticity it provides, so it’s better combined with other gluten-free flours, starches, and binding agents like xanthan gum to achieve the desired texture and structure in baked goods.
Best Lower Calorie Substitute for Barley Flour: Einkorn Flour
Einkorn flour was new to me; I never knew it existed until delving into the world of alternative flours. Einkorn flour is also a crazy old ancient grain with a unique nutty flavor. It does contain gluten, though not too much, but it is unsuitable for celiacs. The remarkable thing about einkorn is that it is really low-calorie for a grain-based flour! Only 100 calories per ¼ cup. To put that in perspective, red whole wheat flour has 140 per ¼ cup!
Best High Protein Substitute for Barley Flour: Red Whole Wheat Flour
Red whole wheat flour is the highest protein substitute for barley flour. Red whole wheat has a high gluten content, and as gluten is a protein, it means 6 grams of protein per ¼ cup compared to barley flour’s 3 grams. If you want to increase the protein in your bake even further, you could add small amounts of other high-protein flours, like cricket flour, quinoa flour, or even peanut flour.
Best Keto/Paleo/Whole30 Substitute for Barley Flour: Almond Flour
Barley, and pretty much all of the other flours we have talked about in this article, aren’t suitable for keto, paleo, and Whole30, as they are cereal grains that are not allowed, or they are too high in net carbs. So, the best substitute for all three of these diets is almond flour.
You can technically swap 100% of your barley flour for almond flour, but your bake will be vastly different in texture, and you will need more binding agents. A better option if you are making a barley flour loaf of bread, and want to make it paleo, find a new recipe entirely designed with almond flour in mind and save yourself the hassle of 15 test bakes while you figure out what works and what doesn’t!
Yes, barley is the nutritionally superior grain. It has more fiber and also contains beta-glucans which have been linked to digestion support and improved cholesterol levels, plus its vitamin and mineral profile is broader.
Barley flour is made from whole barley grain, either by grinding the grains into a powder or using a wet milling process to produce a finer texture. A wet milling process is when the grains are soaked in water, then ground into a paste and dried.