Are you a barley believer?

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I can barley believe what a versatile grain barley is. Barley is that overlooked ingredient in the kitchen pantry that is often pushed aside for the more glamorous grains, yet it was one of the first crops to be domesticated for human consumption.

Archeological remains of domesticated barley discovered in the Fertile Crescent are a testament to its importance to the agrarian way of life. Barley is an extremely hearty grain, and due to its environmental adaptability, it’s grown on every continent where crops are grown including Artic regions and the Himalayas. Yes, Arizona grows it, too.

Though its primary use is in animal food, it is also a major player in most cereals as well as crackers and vinegar. Barley malt flour is used to make bread and an assortment of many other baked goods. Of course, I would be remiss if I failed to mention it is used for malt production, which is the main ingredient for beer and whiskey.

During both world wars Italy used roasted barley as a substitute for coffee. Even the Roman gladiators were down with barley, believing it made them stronger and gave them stamina. But its history goes beyond being an important food staple. It is also the root of the English measurement system. In the 1300s, King Edward II standardized the inch as being equal to three grains of barley, dry and round, placed end to end lengthwise.

In most grains the fiber is limited to the outer layer, but in barley the fiber exists throughout the entire grain giving barley the highest fiber content of all grains. So it’s no surprise that one cup of barley provides almost half of your daily fiber requirements.

We all know how important fiber is to our diets, and barley is high in beta-glucan fiber which can lower blood sugar levels, reduce cholesterol, improve your immune system function and lower your risk for Type II diabetes and colon cancer. It contains eight of the amino acids, many of the B vitamins and multiple minerals making it a nutritional homerun. It’s nut-like taste and chewy texture makes it a perfect choice for a side dish or as a flavorsome addition to soups and salads.