Barley. That’s what you use to make beer and whiskey, right? Well, yes, but there’s a lot more to barley than that! It’s the fourth largest grain crop in the world, and, along with wheat, was one of the first domesticated grains grown. Since ancient times, barley has been used as an important source of food, in religious rituals, as a standard of measurement and even as currency.
|A field of barley. The heads are more droopy than wheat,
and the “beards,” the long spiky portions of the head, are very pronounced .
Germany is the world’s largest producer of barley (imagine that!), followed by France and Ukraine. The USA is the 10th largest producer, growing 3.4 million tons in 2011. Half of the barley grown in the USA is used as livestock feed. Barley is an adaptable crop, and can grow in temperate areas in the summer and tropical areas in the winter. It is also relatively drought tolerant and can grow in more salty soils.
Barley was also used as a standard of measurement in England through the 1700’s, with three barleycorns making an inch, and four or five poppy seeds to the barleycorn. This barleycorn-inch is still used in shoe sizing in the UK and USA, even though the new standard inch replaced the barleycorn-inch in the 19th century. A barleycorn-inch is about 1/3 the length of a new or modern-day inch. Pretty interesting, right? The shoes on your feet are measured in barleycorns!
|Two-row and six-row barley|
Domesticated barley has been around since pretty much forever. It was bred so that the spikelets which hold the kernels don’t shatter and fall to the ground before being harvested. Barley varieties today are classified as either two-row or six-row, meaning that there are either two rows of kernels or six rows of kernels. Confusing, I know.
|A barley whiskey|
However, it’s important for brewing beer, since two-row barley has lower protein and won’t cloud up the beer. Two-row barley is usually used in making German beer. The higher-protein, six-row barleys are used in food products and in animal feed, although some lager beers use higher-protein barleys. Oh, and whiskey made in Scotland and Ireland is often from barley, although whiskey is also often made with wheat or rye. And the Brits make barley wine, the Japanese make barley tea, and the Italians make barley coffee. Yay for barley!
While barley as a food grain is not quite as versatile as wheat, it is highly nutritious, with 1 cup of cooked barley delivering over 50% of a person’s daily fiber needs, and over 10% of the daily protein needs. We all should probably eat more of it. As a food product, it’s almost as versatile as wheat, and is typically eaten cooked in its whole-grain form. It is wonderful in soups and stews, and is excellent as a side dish or in salads. Barley can also be ground into a meal and made into porridge or baked into cakes and breads. Barley has an excellent, nutty flavor, and a good, chewy consistency. It’s a hearty comfort food, and an excellent replacement for rice and pasta. It does take a while to cook, but the result is worth it!
|A barley and pea risotto. YUM!|
So, there you go. Now you know a little more about barley. Now, go get some and make the curried barley salad that we posted! Yum!
|More barley – note the long, spiky beards|