Pearl barley has seen a big revival recently thanks to its high nutritious value and crunchy texture. It is most often cooked in stocks or soups, where it absorbs all the flavours from the liquid. This means that the taste of the grain largely depends on what it's cooked in.
Pearl barley is harvested from ears of barley. They're processed so that the hull is removed, and at this point, is known as 'hulled barley', 'dehulled barley' or 'pot barley', which is more prevalent in America than Britain. The bran is still round the grain, which gives it extra nutrients, but also increases the cooking time. For the grain to become pearl barley, it needs to be polished or 'pearled'. This process removes the outer bran, and gives the grain a shiny appearance.
Pearl barley has a neutral-cereal taste. Its most distinctive feature is its texture. The grains also thicken soups and stews, imparting a creaminess which means that the liquid coats the back of a spoon.
Praised for its high nutritional levels, pearl barley is found in lots of health food shops, as well as the health food, or grain aisle of most mainstream supermarkets.