Barley water

Posted on January 14, 2014


Fellow Melbournians how are you coping in this heat wave? 35°C yesterday, a top of 44.5°C today and still in the 40’s until the cool change hits on Friday night. Eeekkk! This girl does not handle the hot very well so strategies need to be in place to prepare me for the worst. When one needs ideas on how to cool down, I think it’s best to look towards the tropics to see what they do. I mean they’re the ones used to the hot weather all the time right? In South East Asia chilled barley water is widely available and consumed for its ‘cooling’ properties. For those who didn’t grow up in a Chinese household learning about the therapeutic properties of food, here is an extremely simplistic way of describing Chinese medicine and how it relates to food. Basically the Chinese believe that all foods have ‘hot’ (yang) and ‘cool’ (yin) properties and that these properties can be used to restore balance and heal the body. In summer our bodies tend to overheat and thus we should try to cool it down. This is where barley water comes in.


I should point out that it’s not just the Chinese in South East Asia that drink barley water though. Barley is a pretty ancient grain so there’s a long history of us humans drinking barley water from the Greeks to the British. Every nation has their own unique quirks on how to prepare it, and apparently even the British used barley water as a healing tonic in the past as well. So it seems both Eastern and Western thinking have attributed nourishing properties to the humble barley. Surely there must be a grain of truth in there somewhere – barley must be good for you. (Ps. the pun was totally intended!) I’m not quite sure which variety of barley this is called, it’s just labelled as barley. It’s definitely not pearl barley though…


This recipe is pretty typical of how it would be served in SE Asia, simply brewed with a bit of sugar and served with the pulp (it would be wasteful not to!). Other Asian spins on this drink will used candied winter melons as a sweetener or include the addition of pandan leaves for fragrance. I personally don’t find it necessary to use pandan leaves but each to their own. The ratio of barley to water is really just a personal preference, some people like a lot of pulp, some like less. I’m not sure where I fit on that scale…medium maybe? I’ve also chosen to use yellow rock sugar because traditionally yellow rock sugar is viewed to have medicinal properties and is usually the sugar of choice for Chinese clear sweet soups. Yellow rock sugar can be found at Asian grocers, but regular white sugar/raw sugar can be substituted.

RECIPE – Barley water (makes just over 1 litre)


  • 80g barley rinsed
  • 1.5L water
  • 85g yellow rock sugar, crushed into powder form (you don’t have to crush it, but having it in powder form helps the sugar dissolve faster)


  1. Place ingredients into a medium saucepan. Bring to boil on medium heat then reduce to a simmer.
  2. Simmer for ~30 minutes or until the barley is tender. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  3. Can be consumed immediately as a hot drink, or iced. Can also be placed in the refrigerator to chill through before serving. (Keep in mind that barley is a grain and will continue to absorb water, so if you leave your barley water sitting for long periods, you will have less water and fuller grains. It’ll also taste sweeter.)


Yum! Mildly sweet and full of barley essence. I find this drink so refreshing and soothing. Call it the placebo effect if you will, but barley water seems to do the trick with cooling me down. If you are after a bigger ‘cooling’ boost, water chestnut also has cooling properties so add some water chestnut to the above brew for extra healing and extra flavour :). Stay cool folks!