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Barley - a grain so nutritious

While researching about barley I found how the measurement of inch came into being. Apparently around the year 1305, King Edward I of England declared that one inch should be the measure of three barleycorns. This also became the basis of English shoe sizing.

Origins of Barley

Barley, whose Latin name is hordeum vulgare, has been cultivated for more than 10,000 years.

It is believed to originate in western Asia or Ethiopia. Its origins can be traced back to the stone age and till date barley is still considered one of the top five cereal grains in the world. 

Barley is supposed to have been grown by the Aymara people on the highest cultivable land which is at the height of 15,420 feet near Lake Titicaca which is on the border separating Peru and Bolivia. It was home to the Aymara, which is one of the oldest civilizations in the America and till date they practice the ancient methods of agriculture. 

Types of barley

Of all the types, pearl barley is the most popular. The two outer layers are removed along with the bran with extensive processing and the result is uniformly-sized, ivory grains with very little fibre. Also a lot of its nutrition is lost. The flavor is mild and nutty and it takes around forty five minutes to get cooked. 

Rolled or flaked barley is similar to rolled oats and is used as a cereal. 

Barley flour or barley meal has low gluten content which results in a low-rise, so it is often mixed with higher-gluten flours when used for leavened breads that need to rise. 

Barley grits are toasted, ground barley grains which are used as a cereal or cooked side dish. 

Hulled barley or whole-wheat barley has only the outer layer removed, leaving the bran layer intact. It has high fibre content and nutrition. This takes very long to get cooked. 

Scotch barley is first husked, then coarsely ground. This also takes a long time to cook and become tender. 

How healthy is barley

Barley is a powerhouse of nutrients. It contains both soluble and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre lowers blood cholesterol and therefore is good for the heart. It also slows down the absorption of sugar and thus reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The insoluble fibre on the other hand helps maintain regular bowel movement and also lower the risk for certain cancers like colon cancer. It is also a kidney cleanser. Being a plant product barley has no cholesterol and is low in fat. It contains niacin, thiamine, selenium, iron, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus and copper. It also contains antioxidants which slow down oxidative damage by acting against free radicals that form when body cells use oxygen.

The phytochemicals present in barley may decrease the risk of certain diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. However more research in this field is going on. 

Culinary uses

Only ten percent of barley is used as human food, while a full third is used for brewing malt beverages, including beer and whiskey. However, the majority of harvest barley is used for livestock feed. Barley is also a prime ingredient in the making of one variety of the popular Japanese condiment called miso.