Barley tea is a popular East Asian drink made from roasted barley. It’s prevalent throughout Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and China.
Served both hot and cold, it has a light amber color and mild, toasted flavor with a hint of bitterness.
In traditional Chinese medicine, barley tea is sometimes used to help treat diarrhea, fatigue, and inflammation.
This article reviews barley tea, including how it’s made, its potential benefits and downsides, and how to prepare it.
Barley is a gluten-containing grain. Its dried kernels are used like many other grains — ground to make flour, cooked whole, or added to soups and stews. It’s also used to make tea.
Barley tea is most commonly made by steeping roasted barley kernels in hot water, although premade tea bags containing ground roasted barley are also readily available in East Asian countries.
Whole barley is rich in B vitamins and the minerals iron, zinc, and manganese, but it’s unclear how much of these nutrients are infused into barley tea during the steeping process (
Traditionally, barley tea is not sweetened, although milk or cream may be added. Similarly, the tea is sometimes mixed with roasted corn tea in South Korea, which adds sweetness. Plus, today you can find sweetened bottled barley tea products in Asian countries.
Barley water, another common drink in Asian countries, is made by boiling raw barley kernels in water rather than steeping them. The soft, boiled kernels can then be removed or left in the water prior to consuming the beverage.
Barley water is also common in countries like Mexico, Spain, and Great Britain, where it’s typically sweetened.
Barley tea is made by steeping roasted barley in hot water. It’s common in East Asian countries and can be enjoyed hot or cold. It differs slightly from barley water, which is made by boiling raw barley kernels.
Traditional medicine has used barley tea to combat diarrhea, fatigue, and inflammation. Unfortunately, many of these applications are not supported by research. That said, the tea appears to be completely safe to drink and even offer some health benefits.
Low in calories
Barley tea is essentially free of calories.
Depending on the strength of the brew, it may contain trace amounts of calories and carbs, but not enough to significantly affect your daily intake (
As such, it’s a healthy and flavorful alternative to water, especially if you’re trying to lose weight — provided that you drink it plain with no added milk, cream, or sweeteners.
Antioxidants are plant compounds that help prevent free radical damage to your cells. Free radicals are harmful molecules that can cause inflammation and promote cellular dysfunction if they build up in your body (
Several antioxidants have been identified in barley tea, including chlorogenic and vanillic acids, which may aid weight management by boosting how much fat your body burns at rest. These antioxidants also exert anti-inflammatory effects (
May have anti-cancer properties
One study on regional barley cultivation and cancer mortality in China observed that the lower the barley cultivation and consumption, the higher the cancer mortality. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that cancer is caused by lower barley intake (
Ultimately, more human studies are needed on the potential anti-cancer benefits of barley tea.
Although little research has been conducted on the benefits of barley tea, it’s a calorie-free and antioxidant-rich beverage. It may also provide some antioxidant and anticancer benefits, but more research is needed.
Despite its potential anti-cancer benefits, barley tea contains trace amounts of a potentially cancer-causing anti-nutrient called acrylamide (
Studies have observed mixed results, but research is ongoing to better understand acrylamide’s health effects.
One meta-analysis found that dietary acrylamide intake wasn’t related to the risk of most common cancers (
Meanwhile, another study indicated a higher risk of colorectal and pancreatic cancer with high acrylamide intake among some subgroups (
More acrylamide is released from barley tea bags and lightly roasted barley. As such, to minimize acrylamide in your tea, roast your own barley to a deep, dark brown color before steeping (
What’s more, if you drink the tea regularly, you may want to limit how much sugar and cream you add so that the beverage doesn’t become a significant source of unnecessary calories, fat, and added sugar.
Additionally, barley tea is not appropriate for people who are on a gluten- or grain-free diet, as barley is a gluten-containing grain.
Barley tea may contain small amounts of acrylamide, a potentially cancer-causing anti-nutrient. It’s also not appropriate for people on gluten- or grain-free diets.
Barley tea is a common beverage in Asian countries, and in some households, it’s consumed instead of water. Given the safety of barley, it’s safe to drink several glasses per day.
To prepare it, you can use either roasted barley or premade tea bags containing ground roasted barley, which are available from specialty stores and Asian grocers, as well as online.
To roast barley, add raw barley kernels to a dry, hot skillet over medium heat and stir frequently for about 10 minutes, or until the barley has browned. Allow the barley to reach a deep, dark brown color to minimize the acrylamide content.
Use 3–5 tablespoons (30–50 grams) of dried roasted barley, or 1–2 barley tea bags, per 8 cups (2 L) water.
To brew the tea, steep the bags or roasted barley in hot water for 5–10 minutes, then strain out the barley kernels if desired.
Barley tea is safe to drink and used as a substitute for water in some Asian households. You can make barley tea from roasted barley or premade tea bags that contain ground roasted barley.
Barley tea is a popular drink in East Asian countries. It has some applications in traditional medicine, but it’s also widely consumed as an everyday beverage.
It’s generally calorie-free, rich in antioxidants, and may provide some anti-cancer benefits. However, more research is needed to better understand the potential benefits of this drink.
It’s also worth noting that the tea contains small amounts of acrylamide, a potentially cancer-promoting compound, and it’s not appropriate for people following gluten- or grain-free diets.
Ultimately, barley tea is a flavorful drink that can boost your antioxidant intake while adding some variety to your routine.