What is the difference between barley and oats? In the US grocery stores (EDIT: in one grocery store) they seem to be considered to be the same thing, are they?

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    @at least 2 down-voters. Confused by the downvotes. I'm new to Cooking, but active on a couple other stack exchanges. Why do people think this is a bad question? Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 20:48
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    The question is being downvoted because googling the answer would yield more productive answers.
    – mfg
    Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 21:03
  • @mfg thanks, that makes some sense, but this question is more a question of how people use the terms not the technical/scientific side of the question.
    – Ali
    Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 21:08
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    @mfg I think this meta question is relevant. Generally, google-ability doesn't make a bad question. I was surprised in answering this question that I couldn't find the exact question in a Google search, and I still haven't seen a site (or answer, including my own) that really compares the two in a culinary context rather than just describing them individually. Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 21:10
  • @shu as is this one, and I can't recall a final verdict, but I down voted for general reference (the best answer is copypasta) but more importantly the question seems poorly thought out.
    – mfg
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 2:44

6 Answers 6



Oats are among the many cereal grains consumed. Oats are very popular in the health food movement because of their high nutritional value, and they have been used in breakfast porridge for centuries for much the same reason. Oats have a nutty flavour that is an excellent supplement to bread and other foods. Oats are high in protein, calcium, fiber, and vitamin E, among many other nutritional needs, and are an excellent dietary supplement for this reason. Today, oats are eaten in the form of oatmeal and granola bars.



Part of the grass family, barley grows in over 100 countries and is one of the most popular cereal crops, surpassed only by wheat, corn and rice. Because barley is a whole-grain food, consumption provides several health benefits. It is high is soluble fiber and can reduce blood cholesterol and blood glucose levels. Barley is also low in fat. Pearled barley is widely available in supermarkets near the rice, dry beans and pulses. Barley flour is available in health food markets. It is used as a thickener for soups and stews, and also in baked goods. In some recipes, you can combine barley flour with wheat flour. Barley flakes are used in baked goods. Barley is also used in the malted form. To form barley malt, the barley kernels are soaked and dried. The kernels sprout in a controlled environment. Along with beer, uses for barley malt include extracts, syrups and flavourings. Cooked pearled barley added to a salad provides extra fiber. Main dishes, soups and stews, baked goods and breakfast foods also include barley as an ingredient.



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    Nice descriptions of each, but what are the differences? What would make you choose one or the other when making a bread or soup or something? How do their tastes and cooking methods compare? Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 7:53
  • The differences are already listed. As far as what to make with each that depends on your own distinct tastes. Obviously you wouldn't use oatmeal in soup...The point is to discover how you like it... You can also experiment, a friend just gave me a recipe for oatmeal pancakes. You put the oatmeal in a food processer and add eggs and other ingredients to add flavor. Cooking methods also vary with each different recipe..
    – Avien
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 13:55
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    I would just like to point out that in the first picture the oats are rolled (which is a very common way to find them). Without that processing step (or if the barley had been rolled as well), oats and barley would look almost exactly alike.
    – SourDoh
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 16:19
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    @Avien You can make soup with oatmeal. It make a delicious soup, trust me :>
    – kaptan
    Commented Dec 28, 2013 at 1:15
  • The pic if oats is given in the form of some cooked rolled crackers while the barley is in its original shap grain. One can't visualize the difference between two grains. It will be better to put the photos of both side by side to give a clear understanding.
    – user34704
    Commented Apr 5, 2015 at 3:11

I guarantee that no US grocery store refers to barley as oats or vise versa. They are unrelated, except that they are both grains.

  • Thanks, I should tell you that in our local grocery I asked for oats and they gave me barley (it might have been a misunderstanding because my English is not perfect and their English was not good either).
    – Ali
    Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 18:32
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    Downvoted because this answer does not describe the difference between barley and oats which is what the question asked for.
    – wdypdx22
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 0:43
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    How do you describe the differences between an apple and a goat? They are unrelated; they have nothing to do with each other, other than both being grains. Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 13:23

They are very similar, but not the same. This site gives a nice overview highlighting some differences. The biggest differences may be how they are traditionally used. In the US, barley is used mostly for beer/liquor-making and animal feed, less commonly as food. However oats are common in bread, oatmeal, etc. In Europe, I believe barley is more commonly used than oats as food for humans, but I don't have a source on that. Its uses are similar to oats: bread, soups, stews. Flavor-wise oats are a little nuttier.

  • I know in middle east you can get barley soups, barley bread, barley flour for cooking, barley flacks, ...
    – Ali
    Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 21:11

One difference between the two is that oats are gluten free while barley contains gluten.

  • Thanks @Shafina Baig , Would you please link to a reference?
    – Ali
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 1:05
  • It's slightly more complicated than that - whilst they are naturally gluten-free, they aren't often sold that way because of cross-contamination. If you specifically need them gluten-free, the packaging must say so. See wyldsson.com/oats-gluten-free
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Dec 22, 2019 at 8:59

In Canada, I feel both are sold separately. In Bulk Barn store I buy steel-cut oats for my porridge whereas rolled oats are different denomination. Difference between the two doesn't seem to specific or very clear to absorb.

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    By "the two" are you referring to rolled and steel cut oats or oats and barley?
    – SourDoh
    Commented May 30, 2014 at 15:41

Both Oat and Barley are finished product and their origin is same grain. only their process of preparation is different. 1st one is prepared in steam process and 2nd one is prepared from raw grain. Thanks

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    Welcome to the Cooking Exchange, Raja! Oat (Avena Sativa) and barley (Hordeum Vulgare) are not the same grain or genus, though they're in the same family. See some of the other answers for more information :)
    – mech
    Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 20:20
  • For that matter, not all oats are steamed during preparation. You're thinking of rolled oats.
    – Sneftel
    Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 8:54

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