Barley (Hordeum vulgare) is one of oldest cultivated plants in world. The origins of barley are thought to begin in the Near East, although some scientists believe the origins of barley are in Tibet. Barley has a rich nut-like flavor and an appealing chewy, pasta-like consistency.

Barley was ground into flour for use in bread making until the 15th century. Two row barley was brought to the New England states in the 17th century by English settlers. The six row types were brought to the United States by Dutch settlers.

Barley is a major food source in areas of the world where wheat and other cereal are less adapted. It is the major cereal grain in parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

Barley contains significant quantities of beta-glucans, which are beneficial in human diets.

In the United States, barley is utilized mainly for livestock feed. Plant breeders have developed specific varieties of barley for use in malting and brewing.

Barley in the Bible: And when Gideon was come, behold, there was a man that told a dream unto his fellow, and said, Behold, I dreamed a dream, and, lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian… –Judges 7:13

Barley: A Healthy Heart Solution

Barley isn’t just for soup anymore. This grain makes an excellent choice as the starring ingredient in main courses, side dishes, breakfast fare and more. In addition to its versatility, barley is a nutritious food that is high in fiber and low in fat. It’s no wonder this centuries old grain is enjoying new found interest among connoisseurs of good food and good health.

Eating barley as part of a healthy diet may help reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol. Barley is a rich source of fiber including both soluble and insoluble fiber.

Researchers have identified a type of soluble fiber called beta glucan, as the primary component in barley that is responsible for lowering cholesterol. Clinical studies show that eating whole grain barley or dry milled barley products such as pearl barley, barley flakes and barley flour that provide at least 3 grams of beta glucan soluble fiber per day is effective in lowering total and LDL cholesterol.

Recommendations are that you get 6 to 13 servings of grains depending on your caloric intake, of which at least half should come from whole grains. Looking for ways to get the whole-grain servings recommended in the new federal guidelines? Turn to barley — also a good source of iron and minerals — in place of white rice.

Studies also show that increasing daily consumption of this soluble fiber results in even greater total and LDL cholesterol reduction.

  • One fourth cup uncooked pearl barley (about 1 cup cooked) contains approximately 2.5 grams betaglucan soluble fiber.
  • One-half cup uncooked barley flakes contains approximately 2 grams betaglucan soluble fiber.

Note: These figures are averages only. Be sure to check package labels for soluble fiber content of specific barley products.

FDA Authorizes Barley Health Claim

Barley Made the News…
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirms that including barley in a healthy diet may reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering total and LDL cholesterol. After reviewing scientific evidence, FDA finalized a rule allowing the labels of foods containing barley to carry a health claim specific to soluble fiber and coronary heart disease.

Benefits Beyond Cholesterol Reduction

As a source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, barley offers additional health benefits beyond cholesterol reduction. For example, soluble fiber helps maintain blood sugar levels which may be beneficial in preventing or managing type 2 diabetes. Insoluble fiber helps promote regularity and protect against constipation. Also, eating fiber rich foods may help increase satiety or a feeling of fullness. This is important for maintaining a healthy weight and protecting against obesity.

Barley is a low-glycemic food. This means it won’t spike your blood sugar as fast as high glycemic foods. High glycemic foods include white bread, pretzels, chips and other junk foods.

Fiber Through and Through

When it comes to adding fiber to the diet, barley is an excellent choice. That is because both types of fiber — soluble and insoluble — are found throughout the entire barley kernel and not just in the outer bran layer. Even though the outer bran layer may be removed in processed barley products such as pearl barley, barley flakes or barley flour, the fiber content remains high. All forms of barley contain soluble and insoluble fiber and provide important health promoting benefits.

Barley Availability

For the most fiber, buy whole-grain barley instead of pearl, which has the healthful outer husk removed. Whole grains have been associated with protection against heart disease and cancer, and may help control diabetes. Other good whole grain choices of this type include bulgur, buckwheat groats (also known as kasha), millet and quinoa.

  • Pearl barley is readily available in most supermarkets and may be found next to dry beans, rice and lentils. Some supermarkets may also carry quick cooking barley. These kernels have been steamed and dried prior to packaging and require less cooking time.
  • Barley flakes are made from barley kernels that have been steamed rolled and dried. Barley flakes may be cooked as a hot cereal or used as an ingredient in baked goods. Mix barley flour with wheat flour to make breads and muffins that have a uniquely sweet and earthy taste. They may be found in the bulk foods sections of some supermarkets.
  • Barley flour may be found in some supermarkets with other packaged flour products or in bulk containers. Barley flour may be used to add fiber to baked goods.
  • Barley is also used as an ingredient in commercially prepared foods such as ready-to-eat cereals, hot cereals, cereal bars, canned soups and pilaf mixes.

In the Kitchen with Barley

  • Cook up a batch of pearl barley and add to prepared soups, stews, casseroles and salads for an extra shot of flavor, texture and fiber.
  • For a heart-healthy change of pace, serve your favorite stir-fry, stroganoff or curry over a bed of steaming hot pearl barley.
  • Like things sweetened up? You can even enjoy barley in a sweet hard candy!
  • Use cracked barley or barley flakes to make hot cereal.
  • Toss chilled cooked hulled barley with chopped vegetables and dressing to make a tasty cold salad.
  • Combine cooked barley and healthy sauteed mushrooms for a pilaf with an Eastern European twist.

Barley Recipe: Apple and Barley Pudding

  • 1 quart water
  • 4 tablespoons pearl barley
  • 1-1/2 pound apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 2 oz sugar
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3/4 tablespoons double cream

Put the barley in the water and bring to the boil. Add the sliced apples and continue cooking gently until the barley and apples are soft. Press through a sieve, or put through the blender, and put back in the saucepan. Add the sugar and lemon juice and bring to the boil again. Remove from the heat, allow to cool, and then chill. Serve cool with the cream stirred in.

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