Barley Water

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.

See Also:

Barley Water with Candied Winter Melon Recipe
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 Barley (Barley Water Recipe)
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 Sugar (Barley Water Recipe)

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.

Barley Water with Candied Winter Melon Recipe
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 (for making Barley Water)

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.


Barley Water Recipe (Step 1)
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.

Barley Water Recipe (Step 2)
Add water.

Barley Water Recipe (Step 3)
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.


Barley Water Recipe
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.

Chinese Soup with Barley
You can also add leftover cooked barley pearls to soups and stews for added texture.

Barley Water Recipe

The barley water keeps well in the fridge for 2-3 days. You can also add a few drops of lemon juice to make lemon barley drink.

Read the cooking notes at the end of the recipe for the choice of barley, sweetener as well as low-carb/diabetic suggestions.



  1. Make the drink. In a large soup pot, add all the ingredients. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and keep a small vent opening. Simmer for about 40 minutes or until the barley pearls are softened to liking and the water turns partly milky. Top up more water whenever needed during simmering. If the drink is not sweet enough, you can add more candied winter melon or rock sugar during the last 10 minutes.
  2. Serving suggestion. You can serve the barley drink with or without the cooked barley pearls. The cooked barley can also be added to soups and stews. This drink can be consumed warm or chilled.

Cooking Note(s)

  1. If you are using Chinese barley (中国薏米) instead, simmer for additional 30 mins or longer until the pearls are softened to liking. Alternatively, soak the barley in a bowl of hot water for 1-2 hours before cooking, or keep it warm in a thermal pot for another 2 hours.
  2. If you are using rock sugar (冰糖) instead, add about 50g rock sugar during the last 5 minutes of cooking. You can also use a mixture of winter melon sugar (added in the beginning) and rock sugar to taste (added during the last 5 minutes).
  3. For low-carb or diabetic-friendly diet, you can omit the sugar altogether (the drink will taste bland but still as nutritious). Or you can add a few drops of liquid stevia, to taste.
  4. If you are in a hurry, you can do a quick simmer of 15-20 minutes if not eating the boiled barley. The barley water will not be as thick and milky, but my mum say the quick-simmered version is just as nourishing.