The fourth largest globally produced cereal, barley is reminiscent of the wheat berry. The majority of the barley produced is used for livestock feed or manufacturing alcohol. It’s high in the sugar maltose, and sprouted barley is the primary part of malt syrup, a very popular sweetener used to produce beer as well as a number of other beverages.
Barley, used for centuries, is actually one of the oldest cultivated grains in the world. Cultivation originated in Ethiopia and Southeast Asia, and barley was one of the first cereals to be cultivated in the Middle East. People used it as a food for both themselves and their animals, and to make alcohol. Interestingly, the first known recipe for barley wine goes back as far as 2800 B.C. in Babylonia! Barley water has also been used for centuries for a variety of medicinal uses.
The Greeks used barley to make their bread, and the athletes of the time thought that much of their strength and physical growth was due to their high barley diets. In fact, their gladiators were called hordearii, which means "eaters of barley." Barley was introduced to the United States around the 1600s by explorers. Today, most of the commercial producers of barley are in Canada, the United States, Russia, Germany, France, and Spain.
Barley is a versatile grain with a nutty flavor and a somewhat starchy texture. Nowadays it comes in a variety of forms, including hulled barley, pearl barley, barley flakes, and barley grits.
The main health benefits of barley come from its high fiber content. Barley's fiber contains beta glucans which help to lower cholesterol levels by binding to bile acids and removing them from the body through excretion; this makes barley a great food for heart health. Additionally, barley is high in vitamin E, specifically tocotrienols, great antioxidants that helps to protect the body, specifically the cardiovascular system, from damage caused by free radicals. These tocotrienols help to fight heart disease by stopping the free radical damage that leads to the formation and buildup of the unhealthy LDL cholesterol and by helping to reduce the liver's production of cholesterol.
Barley also contains lignans, strong antioxidants that help to prevent the formation of blood clots and protect the body from cancer and other degenerative diseases.
Similarly to corn, barley is a great source of fiber and selenium. Researchers believe selenium to be a strong anti-cancer mineral, and it is also known as the “beauty” mineral for its effects on healthy skin, hair, and nails. It is also a good source of the minerals copper, magnesium, and phosphorus and it has more than four times as much magnesium as it does calcium, which is a positive ratio for health as many Americans today get too much calcium and are deficient in magnesium. Barley is also a great source of the B vitamin niacin, a very important vitamin for brain health. Deficiencies in niacin have been linked with depression, ADHD, and other such brain disorders.
Another form of barley, activated barley, is helpful for boosting performance, enhancing immunity, and maintaining endurance. The activated barley is great for athletes and those looking to sustain their energy and endurance; it is a slow-burning, complex carbohydrate that breaks down slowly to provide a steady supply of energy to the body, without spiking the blood sugar. The activated barley is also high in beta glucans, and can help increase energy and endurance, strengthen immunity, balance cholesterol levels, and support the digestive system. Activated barley and the compounds it contains are so beneficial and hold much promise to health, that many call it a 'superfood!'
Mediterranean Barley Salad
- 1 cup barley
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 7 sun-dried tomatoes
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
- 1 (4 ounce) can chopped black olives
- 2 tablespoons olive oil