The market for Maine barley – a grain that grows well here, thanks to the state’s cool climate and generally uniform rainfall – is moving in many directions.

When the price of Midwestern corn is high, Maine barley fetches a better price as livestock feed, a bulletin posted by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association explains. Additionally, Blue Ox Malthouse in Lisbon Falls and Maine Malt House in Mapleton use high-quality Maine-grown barley to supply the state’s 130 (and growing) craft beer makers with the malted grains they need to make their ales, lagers, porters and stouts.

Maine Grains has begun selling pearled Black Nile Barley, wholesale and retail. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Most recently, the millers at Maine Grains have started taking a variety called Black Nile Barley grown at Buck Farm in Aroostook County and pearling it for human consumption. The business sells it online and at its retail store in 1-pound bags, wholesale it in 25-pounds sacks and serves it at Miller’s Table, the restaurant attached to the Skowhegan mill. “The process (used to make) a human-grade product opens up new markets for Maine farmers,” CEO Amber Lambke said, adding that Maine Grains is interested in pearling more varieties of barley grown by more Maine farmers in the future.

Pearled grain is a whole grain that has been processed (typically pressed between metal rollers) to remove its fibrous outer hull and polished to remove some of the bran layer. It is the most common form of barley eaten by humans because it cooks faster and is less chewy than less-processed forms such as hulled barley or barley groats.

Pearling also renders barley a processed grain rather than a whole one. Nonetheless, whole grains cooking expert Maria Speck includes recipes for pearled in her book “Ancient Grains for Modern Meals” for two reasons. “For one, it’s a great introduction to the distinct flavor and character of barley,” which Speck describes as faintly earthy and slightly sweet. She also explains that barley’s fiber content is not concentrated in its outer bran but is distributed throughout the kernel. Even heavily pearled barley, according to the National Barley Foods Council, retains at least 8 percent of its total fiber content.

While known best for its starring role in beef barley soup, pearled barley is also delicious in plenty of dishes better suited to warmer weather. In northeastern Italy, cooks use pearled barley to make orzotto, a cousin to risotto (try my Triple English Pea risotto when fresh peas hit the market) because the pearled barley releases as much starch as short-grain rice to yield risotto’s requisite creaminess).


The secret to using pearled barley in summer whole grain salads is to make sure that extra starch doesn’t gum up the works. To do that, cook the barley in plenty of water (about 3 cups to every 1 cup of barley), rinse it well with cold water after cooking and toss is with a bit of neutral oil if you don’t dress it right away.

According to Maine Grains chief of staff Emily Eckhardt, black barley was domesticated around the time farming first began in the fertile crescent in Northern Africa but had been foraged by prehistoric nomads long before then. “It is one of the ancient hull-less varieties, so the dark purple bran coat is the outermost layer of the barley berry,” Eckhardt said.

Once lightly pearled, the Maine Grains Black Nile Barley product retains some of that purple color, which is juxtaposed with the almost translucent white flesh of the berry. Not only is the mottled look pretty on the plate, this Maine-made product supports the farmers and processors who are working to diversify the kinds of local food we Mainers can readily buy.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at

Barley Tomato and White Bean Salad

This is a great use for left over grilled corn on the cob. Save the spent cobs and tomato skins for future pots of vegetable stock in which you can cook future pots of Maine-grown barley.


Serves 4 as a main dish, 8 as a side

4 ears cooked corn on the cob, kernels removed from cobs

1 large beef-steak tomato, halved

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 large garlic clove, grated

1 teaspoon maple syrup


1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/3 cup olive oil

2 cups room temperature cooked pearled barley

2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup cooked cannellini beans


1/4 cup sliced basil leaves

1/4 cup thinly sliced chives

Position 1 of the naked corn cobs over a bowl. Take the back of a knife and scrape all sides of the corn cob so that the milk from the cob falls into the bowl. Repeat with the remaining cobs.

Place a box grater over the same bowl. Place the cut side of a tomato against the side of the grater with the largest holes.  Grate the meat of the tomato into the bowl. Repeat with the remaining half of tomato.

Add the vinegar, garlic, maple syrup, salt and pepper to the bowl. Whisk in the olive oil. Stir in the barley, tomatoes and beans. Let the salad sit for at least 30 minutes before garnishing with basil and chives and serving it at room temperature.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.