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Do you have to soak lentils and barley?

Lentils and barley are healthy and versatile ingredients that are used in many cuisines around the world. Both lentils and barley have some unique properties when it comes to cooking that impact whether soaking is required before cooking.

Do you have to soak lentils?

Soaking lentils before cooking is generally recommended but not always required. Here are some key factors to consider when deciding whether to soak lentils:

  • Type of lentil – Smaller lentils like red lentils, yellow lentils or split lentils cook more quickly and do not require soaking. Larger, whole lentils like brown, green or black lentils benefit from soaking.
  • Cooking time – Soaked lentils will cook faster, usually in 15-20 minutes whereas unsoaked lentils may take up to 40 minutes to cook.
  • Texture – Soaking softens the outer skin of lentils allowing them to cook more evenly and become softer. Unsoaked lentils may split during cooking.
  • Digestibility – Soaking makes lentils easier to digest by starting to break down the indigestible sugars that can cause gas.
  • Nutrients – Soaking reduces some anti-nutrients like phytic acid in lentils that can inhibit mineral absorption.

So in summary, soaking is recommended for larger lentils to reduce cooking time, improve texture and digestibility. The exception is small, split lentils which can cook evenly without pre-soaking.

How to Soak Lentils

If you do want to soak lentils before cooking, here is a simple process:

  1. Rinse lentils under cold water and pick through for any stones or debris.
  2. Place lentils in a bowl and cover with 2-3 inches of cold water.
  3. Let soak at room temperature for 8 hours or overnight.
  4. Drain lentils and give them a quick rinse before cooking as usual.

Do you have to soak barley?

Unlike lentils, most forms of barley do require soaking before cooking. Here’s an overview of soaking barley:

  • Pearled barley – This highly processed form of barley has the bran largely removed and does not need soaking. You can cook pearled barley in about 25-45 minutes.
  • Hulled barley – This form has the outermost hull removed but still has the fiber-rich bran intact. Hulled barley needs to be soaked to soften the bran layer. Soaking time is about 8 hours.
  • Whole grain barley – This is unprocessed barley with the bran and hull completely intact. It requires overnight soaking to sufficiently soften for cooking, usually 10-12 hours.

So in short, pearled barley is the only form that does not require pre-soaking. Both hulled and whole grain barley need extended soaking to allow thorough cooking.

How to Soak Barley

Follow this simple process to properly soak barley before cooking:

  1. Rinse the barley grains and pick through for any debris.
  2. Place barley in a large bowl and cover with cool water by 2-3 inches.
  3. Allow to soak in cool room temperature water for 8-12 hours.
  4. Drain the soaked barley and rinse before using in recipes.

Benefits of Soaking Lentils and Barley

Taking the time to soak lentils and barley before cooking provides several advantages:

  • Shortens cooking time – Soaked grains and legumes cook faster as water has penetrated inside.
  • Improves texture – Soaking softens the outer bran layer, allowing for creamier, fluffier results.
  • Increases digestibility – The process starts breaking down indigestible sugars that cause gas.
  • Removes anti-nutrients – Soaking reduces phytic acid and tannins that inhibit mineral absorption.
  • Enhances flavor – Hydration brings out the natural flavor of lentils and barley.

Soaking Times for Lentils and Barley

The soaking times can vary for different types of lentils and barley.

Food Soaking Time
Split Red Lentils None Needed
Split Yellow Lentils None Needed
Green Lentils 8 hours
Brown Lentils 8 hours
Black Lentils 8 hours
Pearled Barley None Needed
Hulled Barley 8 hours
Whole Grain Barley 10-12 hours

Tips for Soaking Lentils and Barley

Follow these tips for best results when soaking lentils and barley:

  • Use cool or room temperature water rather than hot to avoid premature cooking.
  • Soak in ample water, using 2-3 times as much water as lentils or barley.
  • Soak in the refrigerator during hot summer months to inhibit microbial growth.
  • Drain off the water after soaking and rinse to prevent indigestion.
  • Soak whole grain barley 12+ hours to fully soften the bran layer.
  • Soak lentils 8 hours or the minimum time needed for the variety.
  • Label soaked grains and lentils and use within 2 days for food safety.

Cooking Soaked Lentils and Barley

After soaking, lentils and barley can be drained, rinsed and cooked using any recipe as normal. The soaking process simply reduces the additional cooking time required.

On the stovetop, soaked lentils and barley can be simmered until tender:

  • Bring soaked grains and fresh water to a boil.
  • Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until lentils are tender.
  • For barley, cook covered for 25-45 minutes depending on the amount of processing.
  • Add any vegetables or seasonings in the last 5-10 minutes of cooking.

Soaked grains and legumes can also be used in the pressure cooker. Follow typical pressure cooking times for lentils and barley after soaking.

Soaking reduces the cooking time but does not eliminate it. Make sure to simmer soaked lentils and barley sufficiently to reach the proper tenderness.

Should You Soak Lentils and Barley for Soup?

Soaking is an excellent idea when making homemade soups and stews using lentils and barley. The benefits include:

  • Shortens the overall cooking time for the soup.
  • Allows the grains and legumes to cook evenly with vegetables and broth.
  • Results in a creamier, heartier and more flavorful broth.
  • Prevents lentils and barley from absorbing too much liquid and becoming mushy.

Most soup recipes will instruct you to soak the lentils, beans or barley overnight before starting the soup the next day. This helps integrate the flavors and ensures the heartiness you expect from a classic soup or stew.

Tips for Cooking Soaked Grains and Legumes for Soup

  • Saute aromatic vegetables like onions, carrots and celery first.
  • Add soaked lentils or barley and saute 2-3 minutes more.
  • Pour in broth or water and any herbs and seasonings.
  • Simmer until lentils and barley are tender, 15-45 minutes depending on type.
  • Add any quick-cooking vegetables like greens or peas right at the end.
  • Finish with a splash of lemon juice or vinegar for bright flavor.

Do You Have to Soak Lentils and Barley for Salads?

For chilled lentil and barley salads, soaking is highly recommended. The benefits include:

  • Allows even cooking when boiling to use in chilled salads.
  • Softens the outer bran layer to a tender texture once chilled.
  • Removes phytic acid and other anti-nutrients that can cause digestive issues.
  • Opens up the grain and lentil structure so flavors penetrate.
  • Results in a creamier interior and salad with less crunch.

Without soaking, lentils and barley will be unevenly cooked and may harden too much when chilled for an enjoyable salad texture.

Tips for Using Soaked Grains and Legumes for Salads

  • Cook soaked lentils and barley until just tender, not mushy.
  • Rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process and chill completely.
  • Toss with vinaigrette dressing while still warm so flavors absorb.
  • Chill for a minimum of 2 hours before serving.
  • Add mix-ins like herbs, vegetables, nuts, cheese or fruit just before serving.


Pre-soaking is highly beneficial for most lentils and forms of barley. Skipping this step when cooking larger lentils or whole barley will result in uneven cooking and a less desirable texture. Allowing a good 8-12 hours of hydration time softens these durable grains and legumes so they cook up tender and delicious. Use the soaking tips and guidelines provided to easily incorporate soaked lentils and barley into soups, stews, salads and more.