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Food Storage: How to Store Barley Long-Term
From soups to porridge recipes, barley is quite a versatile grain, making it an appealing option to include in your long-term food storage location. When stored properly, the shelf life of pearled barley is 30 years in 5-gallon buckets, 15 years in mylar bags, and 3-5 years in airtight containers. Quick barley can last over 20 years in storage, and whole grain barley has a maximum shelf life of 5 years. Now that you know the shelf life, the only challenge is figuring out how to store barley long-term.
In this article, we will cover how to store barley as long as possible, its shelf life, and how you can tell if it has gone bad. But first, what is barley?
What is Barley?
Before we dig into the different ways of storing barley, it’s crucial to understand what it is.
Barley is a cereal grain that has been cultivated for over 7,000 years. It stems from Eurasia, but it is now enjoyed all over the world as an important ingredient for barley bread, barley risotto, porridge, stews, and more. Today, the majority of barley is cultivated to feed animals (around 65%) as well as make beer and malt drinks. There are three types of barley:
- Whole Grain Barley
- Pearl Barley
- Quick Barley
As it happens, whole-grain barley is similar to wheat but has a higher fiber and beta-glucan content, making it better for lowering cholesterol levels.
When cooked, it’ll taste almost chewy with a hint of nutty flavors. Much like other whole grains, the germ component adds flavor and nutrition, but it also makes the grain go rancid sooner when exposed to oxygen and heat.
Whole grains barley is the most nutritious form of barley as it retains the germ and bran, where most of the nutrients are kept. However, Pearl barley has the longest shelf life since most of the natural oils were removed in the milling process.
Shelf Life of Barley
The shelf life of barley depends on the type of barley and how it is stored. Below is a table of the shelf life of barley by type.
Storage Method Pearl Barley Quick Barley Whole Grain Barley
5-Gallon Bucket with Mylar Bag 25+ Years 20 Years 5 Years
Mylar Bag 10-15 Years 8-10 Years 2-3 Years
Airtight Container 3-5 Years 2-3 Years 1 Years
As you can see, barley stored in 5-gallon buckets has the longest life span. However, it is important to know that once the container is opened, the shelf life will be reduced because it’s been exposed to air. Mylar bags and airtight containers are also effective, but there are pros and cons to using them, which we will cover in the next section.
How to Store Barley Long Term
Rancidity and infestations are the two main culprits that could spoil barley. So, the ideal storage method should protect the barley from heat, air, moisture, and light, which causes the barley to spoil.
Note: Whole grain barley should NOT be stored in 5-Gallon Buckets or mylar bags because they have a high moisture content. Storing foods with high moisture content in containers with oxygen absorbers can cause botulism to grow. Whole grain barley should be stored in a freezer or in an airtight container.
Here are three popular methods of storing barley grains:
Method 1: 5-Gallon Bucket with Mylar Bags
Food-grade 5-gallon buckets with mylar bags are the most effective way to store food for long-term food storage, especially if you’re trying to stock up on your emergency food supply. On average, these containers store 36 pounds of dehydrated barley or about five weeks’ worth of food for one adult.
Another benefit of storing grains in food-grade buckets is that it protects the contents from environmental aggressors. The solid, airtight, and opaque plastic barrier keeps light, moisture, heat, air, insects, and rodents away. As long as the food container is stored in a cool, dry place, pearled barley has a shelf life of over 25 years.
However, you might want to keep a few things in mind when you’re selecting a bucket for storage. For one, you’ll need a food-grade bucket that is BPA-free but is still thick enough to prevent rodents from gnawing into the grains. Regular buckets often have chemicals coating the barrier, which can leak into the contents of the bucket. Additionally, once sealed, the bucket can be difficult to open. If using this method, consider a gamma seal lid or a bucket opener.
Our guide on How to Store food in 5-Gallon Buckets provides step-by-step instructions on how to safely store grains.
Method 2: Mylar Bag
Although you can line the 5-gallon bucket with a mylar bag for extra protection, it is not a requirement. Alternatively, you can just use smaller bags and do without the bucket. This can be particularly useful if you want to divide your barley supply into smaller portions for short-term storage.
Pearled barley kept in mylar bags with 300cc oxygen absorbers can be stored for up to 15 years. Mylar bags are similar to 5-gallon buckets as they can prevent air, light, and moisture from entering the bag. However, they are not as secure as 5-gallon buckets. Pests such as rodents are known to enter the bags, so if you intend to use these bags, best to use them with an airtight container or keep it out of reach of rodents.
If you would like to read our step-by-step guide for storing grains in mylar bags, we have a guide on How to Store Food in Mylar Bags: A Guide for Beginners.
Method 3: Airtight container
Mason jars and other airtight containers are effective storage locations. They protect barley from environmental aggressors, and since jars are made of glass, microplastics do not leak into your food. Pearled barley has a shelf life of 3-5 years when stored with O2 absorbers. Whole grain barley, on the other hand, has a shelf life of 18 months to 2 years and should not be stored with o2 absorbers.
Method 4: Freezer
Freezers can be effective places to store barley for up to 1 year. Freezers can limit exposure to heat, light, air, and pests. But since it has a much shorter shelf life in the freezer compared to other storage methods, we advise against using this storage method. Another downside of storing food in freezers is that freezer space is valuable, and it may be better to use the space for fruits, vegetables, and meats.
How to Tell if Barley Has Gone Bad?
Barely can go bad because of rancidity, bacteria, mold, or pest infestations. Fortunately, in most cases, it’s easy to tell that the grains have spoiled.
Eating stale barley isn’t as dangerous as expired meat or anything, but it’s still better to avoid it. Plus, it loses its texture and flavor, so it’s not really worth the risk. Once you suspect the barley of having spoiled, it is better to dispose of it immediately than keep it around.
To determine if the grain has gone bad, focus on your sense of sight, smell, and taste. Here are a few giveaway signs that your barley stock has gone spoiled:
- Sight: Have you noticed any signs of discoloration, mold, or pest infestation? This is the most obvious sign of infestation. But if you are still unsure, go on to the next step.
- Smell: If the barley has expired, it gives off a foul odor that may smell a bit rotten.
- Taste: If you are still unsure if your barley has gone bad, cook a small batch, and taste it. If it is bitter, sour, or tastes not like how it was intended, it has gone bad.
What Are the Different Types of Barley?
Now that you know what barley is, how long it lasts before going bad, and how to store it, all that’s left is picking the right variety for your pantry.
So, let’s take a closer look at the top three types of barley that you’ll come across:
Whole Grain Barley
Whole grain barley is the least processed type of barley, and is closer to its most natural form. The reason it’s called “whole grain” is that it retains not only the endosperm but also the germ and bran. The germ and bran are where many of the natural oils and nutrients are stored. Whole grain barley has a similar moisture content as brown rice, from 12-14%.
Although whole grain barley has the most nutritional value, it has a much shorter shelf life of 5 years in 5-gallon buckets. This is an important consideration as you plan to store barley in your emergency storage location. If you don’t mind cutting the shelf life in exchange for a boost in nutritional value, the intact barley might be worth a shot.
Similar to how brown rice turns to white rice when it’s processed, whole-grain barley turns into pearled barley. Pearled barley goes through processing and refinement to remove the bran and germ, either entirely or partially.
Visually, it’ll lack the shine of the intact grain and will usually look pearly or whiter. In terms of storage, it can last up to 30 years in storage since the parts that are the most susceptible to rancidity are stripped from the grain. So, this would be the better choice for long-term storage.
However, a major downside of pearled barley is that it’s not as nutritious as the intact variety.
Some brands sell “instant” barley flakes that have been dried out after partial cooking. The main appeal here is that they cut down the hassle significantly and can be prepared in 10-15 minutes versus an hour with whole grains.
Since quick oats are occassionally toasted, or partially cooked before being packaged, they have a lower moisture content. The lower moisture contents helps extend the shelf life of quick barley for over 20 years when stored properly in 5-gallon buckets.
However, quick barley is usually sold in smaller packets and might not be a good fit for people who want to store barley in bulk.
When properly stored, pearled barley can last up to 30 years in storage. In a mylar bag, it can last up to 15 years, and it should only be kept in a mason jar for 3-5 years. However, whole-grain barley, although more nutritious, has a significantly shorter shelf life and should be consumed within 5 years. This is because whole grain barley has a higher oil content and can go spoil much sooner than pearled barley which has a low oil content.
If you are looking to add a versatile grain to your emergency food storage, pearled barley would be a good addition to your inventory.
Related Article: 11 Items You Need for DIY Long-Term Food Storage
Related Article: 6 Best Grains for Long-Term Food Storage
Related Article: How to Store Grains Long-term
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