This Chinese-style barley water (薏米水) drink is the traditional, old-fashioned way of boiling barley until the barley pearls are soft and the water partly milky. It is the barley water my mum make since I was a child. During my schooldays, my mum will make this for me every day when the weather gets too hot. According to her, unlike some Chinese cooling teas, this is mild enough to be drank daily. During #CircuitBreakerSG (Singapore’s partial lockdown), I stock up on the dry ingredients and make such nourishing drinks everyday to keep ourselves healthy. Check out the ingredients and step-by-step photos in this post.
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Even though the ingredients are inexpensive, this drink has many benefits. Barley water is said to reduce body “heatiness” (降火), keeping one hydrated which is very important in our hot tropical weather.
Two types of barley. On the left of the plate is Holland barley (洋薏米). I always use this variety of barley as they cook faster to become fluffy soft. The other type is bigger Chinese barley (中国薏米). It takes longer to cook, unless they are pre-soaked or kept warm in a thermal pot.
Two types of sugar. On the left of the plate is rock sugar which is the most common sweetener for Chinese sweet soup (糖水). For barley drink, I will definitely use winter melon sugar, which is candied strips of preserved winter melon.
When using candied winter melon, only the outer layer of sugar coating the winter melon strips dissolves, leaving behind the winter melon stick to snack on (pictured above). I love munching on them. Only home-made barley drink comes with candied winter melon, so it is worthwhile to make your own at home.
Pandan leaves are widely available in South East Asia. It is a must-have for any Chinese drink, as it imparts an aromatic fragrance to the drink. The kitchen also smells nice when cooking with pandan. Wash and tie the leaves into a knot before use.
Place washed barley, pandan leaves and candied winter melon into the pot.
Note: Many people add the candied winter melon during the last 5 minutes, but I don’t really see the merit of doing that after some time, so nowadays I dump them everything in the pot together.
When water comes to a boil, reduce to a simmer and keep the lid open with a small vent opening. Simmer until the barley pearls are tender and the water turns partly milky. I topped up more water and simmered for another 5 minutes after this photo was taken.
You can eat the cooked barley pearls or discard them by straining the barley water through a sieve. We love to eat the barley so we never throw them away. You can also bottle the barley water which keeps chilled in the fridge for 2-3 days.