Super Food Grain – Barley

Barley, a super food grain is botanically known as Hordeum vulgare is the fourth most important cereal crop in the world after wheat, maize, and rice.

Did you know…

1. Barley appears to be more effective in lowering blood cholesterol than other whole grains.

2. It is high in beta-glucans. Beta-glucans reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and can lower cholesterol.

3. It also contains insoluble fiber, which reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes and colon cancer.

4. With less than one gram of fat per serving, barley is a virtually fat-free food and is also cholesterol-free.

5. Roman gladiators in their diet also ate barley for strength and stamina.

6. Barley is available in numerous forms, including hulled barley kernels, flakes, pearls, and ground flour.

7. Barley can be served like rice as a side grain to your meat or fish or in salads.

8. Barley bread could reduce obesity levels.

What is barley

Barley may be one of the oldest grains on earth. In ancient times barley played a much greater role than wheat as it is so adaptable to a variety of soils and can even grow in soil high in salinity.  In Bible times, barley was much more widely cultivated than now and was the main food of the poor.

Barley began to lose favor when people discovered that bread made with wheat could offer a superior loaf because of the gluten-producing properties of wheat protein which makes the bread lighter and able to be kept longer. The importance of barley as a food crop began to change about the sixteenth century when farmers in the Middle East began growing wheat for food and barley as a fodder crop.

Unfortunately, barley grain is mostly used as feed for animals, and malt is used in whisky and beer production. Now it can be found rarely in regular stores, it is more likely to be available at health food stores.

Healthy Benefits of this super food grain barley

Barley grain is an excellent source of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber, both of which may benefit gastrointestinal health. In particular, it contains large amounts of beta-glucans which reduce bad cholesterol levels and the risk of coronary heart disease.  They also improve lipid metabolism and reduce the glycemic index which aids in weight loss. A good thing is that in barley, the beta-glucans are found throughout the entire kernel. In other grains, beta-glucans are concentrated in the outer bran layer and can easily be lost in processing.

Barley is also an excellent source of selenium, and a good source of copper, manganese, niacin, and phosphorus. The high selenium content along with the high fiber content makes barley a powerful cancer-fighting grain and protects the cells from free-radical damage and also aids the thyroid in producing the thyroid hormone necessary for good health.

Barley provides a good source of energy since carbohydrates constitute 80 percent of the barley kernel. Barley has been considered more strengthening than other grains. In Roman times, the gladiators were called “hordearii” (which means “barley eaters”)  because they were fed a barley diet before going to fight.

Cooking with barley

Barley like rice is a delicious base for soups, stews, salads, curries, casseroles, and desserts.

Barley flour adds a nutty and appealing flavor to any bread recipe. This barley bread is almost nonexistent on the regular market – it has to be baked at home.  Using just a small amount of barley fiber in bread can improve the health benefits of a loaf of wheat bread. Adding a few barley flakes to the bread dough will bring a unique texture, makes it even more healthy, and will taste better. The flour made form barley can be also used for making other baked goods such as pancakes, biscuits or cookies.

Barley flour has a weaker gluten than wheat flour so when making yeast breads you can replace up to 25% of the wheat flour with barley flour and up to 50% of the wheat flour with barley flour in cookies and quick breads.

This barley flour is also used as a thickener in soups and sauces.

Barley flakes looks almost identical to rolled oats and can be used like rolled oats in making cooked breakfast cereal. Barley flakes are also a perfect ingredient for granola.

If you want to include this super food grain barley in your bread recipes check our Sourdough Barley Bread.

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Join the Conversation

  1. Taylor Bishop Author says:

    Thanks for the interesting read about barley. I actually didn’t know that this is a good cancer-fighting grain because it has a high selenium content. I’m kind of interested to learn if this means that consuming a lot of barley can help prevent cancer.

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