Barley is an ancient grain that originated in Ethiopia and Southeast Asia, and has been cultivated for more than 10,000 years to feed both animals and humans, as well as make alcoholic beverages. As far back as ancient Greek and Egyptian culture, barley served as a staple bread-making grain, and an important source of nutrition for Greek and Roman athletes, as well as Roman gladiators.
In the 16th century, the Spanish introduced barley to South America, while the English and Dutch settlers of the 17th century brought it with them to the United States. Presently, barley is grown around the world, but its leading exporters are the European Union, Australia and Canada. In Canada, the major growing areas are Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, but Alberta farmers produce more than five million tonnes of barley each year, which is about half of Canada’s annual crop.
Buying and Storage
Barley is a readily available grain and can be purchased in several forms including pearled, hulled and flaked. Pearl barley is quite common and is sold in most supermarkets. Barley flour, flakes and grits may be found in health food and specialty stores.
Aside from being sold raw, barley is also used as a commercial ingredient in prepared foods such as breakfast cereals, soups, pilaf mixes, breads, cookies, crackers and snack bars.
After purchasing, barley should be stored in a tightly covered glass container in a cool, dry place or in the refrigerator during periods of warmer weather.
According to the Alberta Barley Commission www.albertabarley.com, barley is a tiny grain, with big nutritional significance.
Barley is a rich source of soluble and insoluble fibre…
- Lowering Cholesterol – Heart Health
- Soluble fibre is effective in lowering blood cholesterol and may reduce the risk of heart disease as well as the risk of developing type II diabetes by slowing the body’s absorption of sugar.
- Bowel Health
- Additionally, the insoluble fibre found in barley may be beneficial in helping the body maintain regular bowel function. Insoluble fibre may also help lower the risk for certain cancers such as colon cancer.
- Weight Management
- Soluble fibre slows the absorption of glucose into the blood stream, which results in feelings of fullness that may help maintain a healthy weight.
- Low on the Glycemic Index (GI) – Helpful for diabetes management
- Low GI foods assist in the prevention of type II diabetes as well as the management of blood sugar and cholesterol.
- Barley is considered a low GI food, which means that it does not raise blood glucose as much as high GI foods do, resulting in better blood glucose control.
- Rich in Beta Glucan – Helpful for diabetes management
- Beta glucan is a type of carbohydrate that plays a role in regulating glucose and cholesterol.
- Research shows that the beta-glucan found in barley also promotes healthy blood sugar by slowing glucose absorption.
- Packed with Vitamins and Minerals – Overall health
- Barley contains several vitamins and minerals including niacin (Vitamin B3), thiamine (Vitamin B1), selenium, iron, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus and copper9.
- Source of Antioxidants – Overall health
- Barley contains antioxidants, which are also important for maintaining good health.
- Specifically, antioxidants work to slow down the rate of oxidative damage by gathering up free radicals that form when body cells use oxygen.
- Source of Phytochemicals – Overall health
- Barley contains phytochemicals, which are natural plant-based chemicals.
- Studies indicate that phytochemicals may decrease the risk for certain diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, however more research is needed to confirm these results.
How to Include Barley as Part of Your Everyday Diet
Barley can be incorporated into a variety of homemade dishes ranging from breakfast items to entrees, soups and sides and even baked goods. When most people think of barley, I’m betting they think of soup. But in fact, barley can be used in a wide variety of recipes. The following is just one of many examples, and it’s perfect for supper on a cold winter’s night.
Slow Cooked Chicken Barley Chili
Recipe courtesy of the Oat and Barley Council of Ontario
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast halves or thighs, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 can corn
- 1 cup pearled barley
- 1-2 tbsp chili powder (to taste)
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 6 cups water
- 1 can diced tomatoes, with juice
- 1 jar mild or medium salsa
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker.
- Stir to combine.
- Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-6 hours.
- Serve with sourdough toasts.