Barley is the fourth most cultivated cereal crop in the world, with 136 million tons grown every year. Despite its important historical role in feeding early cultures, and its current agricultural status, it seems that most people don’t give barley enough respect.
Barley is a versatile grass that was first domesticated over 10,000 years ago in Mesopotamia (present day Iraq). It is a versatile crop and has found its way as far east as China, north to Russia and into the new world as well. In early civilizations, barley was used both for making bread, and when fermented, for beer. Wages were often paid to workers in equal amounts of bread and beer. How fun that must have been!
Besides food and beer, barley is a popular cereal starting point for whiskey. It is also used to feed livestock. Half of the US production is for animal feed.
Barley needs to be de-hulled in order for humans to eat it comfortably. Usually it is further processed (steamed) to remove the bran and make it even easier to cook. This is known as pearl barley (see image above), and it is the most widely sold barley in the US today.
Pearl barley is a nutrition powerhouse, and despite the processing, is still considered a whole grain. A serving of 1/4 cup (before cooking) has 8 grams of fiber, which is about one third of your daily intake requirement. It also has 5 grams of protein and 6% of your daily iron intake. If you choose just de-hulled barley, you’ll need to cook it a bit longer. The bonus – an extra gram of protein and 10% of your daily iron intake.
The most common use of barley in the winter is in soups. You can choose almost any clear broth or stew and add a cup of barley to the mix. It will add not only flavor, but also texture to your soup. How do you incorporate barley into your diet?