Pearled grain is grain which has been polished to remove its outer layer, known as the bran. You may also hear pearled grain referred to as polished grain or simply pearl grain. Most markets sell pearled grain, both in bulk and in packages, and specific pearled grains can also be ordered directly through specialty producers. There are a number of ways to used pearled grain in cooking, and this grain has some advantages and disadvantages when compared to other forms of grain.
Pearled grain is essentially one step down from whole grain, grain which has its bran, germ, and endosperm intact. After pearled grain is produced, it can be ground into grits, flour, flakes, and a variety of other products, depending on the demand for these products. Like whole grains, pearled grain can be used in soups, pilafs, and salads, and it can also be used as a side for everything from stews to stir fry.
One distinctive advantage of pearled grain is that it cooks much more quickly than whole grain, since it lacks the dense bran. It is also more tender than whole grain, with a less chewy texture, and the flavor is more mild. For people who find whole grains too nutty and aggressive, pearled grain can be a pleasant way to integrate grain of some form into the diet.
However, pearled grain is much lower in fiber than whole grain, because the fiber-rich bran has been removed. Pearl grain also has less nutritional value than whole grains, and some producers actually supplement their pearl grain to get around this problem. Cooks who are concerned about fiber may choose to mix pearled and whole grains in a dish, or to sprinkle ground bran over a finished dish to add fiber.
To cook pearled grain plain, the grains should be rinsed, soaked for a few hours, and then simmered in enough water to cover for 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the grain and the soaking time. Once the grains are cooked to tenderness, they can be used in a variety of ways; they can be added to salads, for example, or mixed with various flavorings to be served as a side dish. Pearl grain can also be thrown into soups and stews, formed into cakes and fried, added to breads, or lightly dressed and eaten straight.
Pearl grain is less likely to spoil than whole grain, but it is still capable of going bad. It should be stored in a cool, dry place in airtight containers, and kept no more than six months to a year, depending on the grain. If you think that the grain will be kept around longer than that, freeze it to keep it fresh.