Latin name: Hordeum vulgare
Uses: grain, soft drinks, tea, alcohol
One of the oldest domesticated grains in the world, barley is, like wheat and rye, a type of grass. Its seeds are a major cereal crop in many countries, ranking fourth overall in global grain crops. There are two main types of barley: two-row and six-row. The names derive from the arrangement of seeds along the stalk. Two-row varieties generally have more sugar, making them popular for malting and fermenting into alcohol.
Why is barley healthy?
Barley is a fiber-rich grain with prebiotic qualities beneficial to healthy gut bacteria. It is one of the best food sources of beta glucan, a soluble fiber that can help bind LDL cholesterol, and contains more insoluble fiber (which aids digestion) than oatmeal, quinoa or spelt. In addition, it is a good source of protein, iron, B-vitamins, selenium, and zinc — making it a superb choice for visceral fat reduction and blood sugar control.
What does barley taste like?
Barley has a mild, nutty, and slightly sweet flavor enhanced by toasting the grain before cooking it. Many brewers take advantage of this fact by roasting barley to varying degrees from light to very dark brown. This method imparts notes of coffee and chocolate to beers like porters and stouts, and roasted barley is used as a coffee substitute in Italy and elsewhere.
Where does barley grow?
Wild barley is native from North Africa to Tibet. It was first domesticated roughly 11,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, the cradle of agriculture stretching from the Nile to the Persian Gulf. Human migration over millennia spread it throughout Europe and Asia by around 2,000 BCE. Today barley is grown in temperate regions around the world, with Russia, Europe, and Turkey accounting for much of its production.
How do I prepare barley and what do I pair it with?
Barley meal is made into porridge in the Middle East, and the whole grain’s toothsome tenderness is popular in a globe-spanning variety of soups and stews where its starch makes an excellent thickener. Barley water, made by boiling the grain with or without added flavors, is a popular hot or cold drink in many parts of the world from Latin America to Great Britain to East Asia, and barley tea is a common comfort in many South and East Asian countries. Beer leans heavily on barley, and Scotch and Irish whiskies are distilled primarily from malted barley mash.
In the English measurement system, barley formed the basis for the inch. The Composition of Yards and Perches, written around 1300 CE, decrees that “3 grains of barley dry and round do make an inch.” This standard lasted until the 1824 Weights and Measures Act superseded it with more scientific precision, but UK and North American shoe sizes are still based on the barleycorn.