Includes Recipe Below
A glass of beer, a loaf of bread, a bowl of porridge, a standard of measurement, a form of currency, a medication--they all began with barley, an ancient grain possibly even older than rice. Barley's once exalted status has been redefined. No longer does it serve as a unit of monetary exchange or a unit of measurement. No physician thinks of prescribing it for an ailing patient. Now barley is largely relegated to being animal food or a key ingredient in the making of beer, though a few grains manage to find their way into the kitchen.
We owe much to the desert nomads and the camel caravans who endured sand storms and unrelenting heat to trade their sacks of barley with distant neighbors who traded with other distant neighbors. Our steaming bowl of bean and barley or mushroom barley soup is a hand-me-down recipe with roots that take us back to prehistoric man.
Ancient cultures were forming loaves of barley bread long before domesticating wheat. Since barley contains only miniscule quantities of gluten, the protein that makes wheat breads rise easily, the breads made from this grain were heavy and quite dense but nutritious nonetheless.
Our cultivated barley of today was once a wild grass that originated in the Near East, though some food historians believe China was the place of origin, while others say it was Ethiopia. Archeologists discovered remnants of wild barley, H. spontaneum, at many sites across a belt that stretches from North Africa on the west to Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan in the east.
Wild barley has a unique feature that guarantees self-propagation. When the seeds are fully matured, they become so loosely attached they simply fall from the spike that holds them during growth. Cultivated barley, in contrast, remains firmly attached and must be harvested. About the sixth century BCE cultivation of barley led to the development of barley seeds that clung firmly to their stalk.
Before cultivation, the early forms of barley were 6-rowed. With cultivation 2-rowed barley became the norm, a feature that has been carried up to the present. The original 6-rowed variety of barley appears on many ancient coins and wall paintings.
The earliest archeological site where uncultivated grains of barley were discovered is at Tel Mureybat in Syria, a place that dates back to 8,000 BCE. The earliest form of uncultivated wheat was also found at this site, though it is evident by the quantity found that barley was the most popular grain at that time. Grains were also discovered at various archeological sites in Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Asia Minor. Those areas, too, showed a preference for barley over wheat.
Egyptian hieroglyphics dating back to 5,000 BCE mention barley's importance to sustenance, while the Sumerians note the use of barley for measurement and as a form of money on their cuneiforms dating back 3,500 BCE. In the Code of Hammurabi, 1750 BCE, the Babylonians employed barley as simple monetary exchange.
About that same period in the Indus Valley, a region that includes Northern India, Pakistan, and Southwestern Tibet, a Vedic writing mentions barley and rice as "two immortal sons of heaven." The Babylonians created the oldest known recipe for making barley wine and inscribed the directions in a cross-shaped form on a library brick dating back to 2,800 BCE.
Barley journeyed into China before wheat. The Chinese in the northern part of the country had a preference for millet, though barley appeared often at their meals cooked in broth, consumed as flat breads, and even eaten instead of rice. The Emperor Shen Nung placed a high value on barley when he mentioned it as one of the five sacred cultivated plants of China in his writings dated 2,800 BCE. The other sacred plants he revered were rice, wheat, millet, and soybeans.
Recovered shards of Chinese pottery from the Hsia Dynasty dating back about 1520 BCE demonstrate barley's value by depicting the hulled grains falling from the sky into a peasant farmer's rice bowl. These ancient Chinese farmers revealed a kinship to the heavy-bearded variety of barley by declaring it as a symbol of male potency.
Before barley was cultivated in China, nomadic peasant families followed the path of wild barley as mature spikes were about to open. They set up tents right on the fields to catch the precious falling seeds before a hearty gust of wind could carry them away.
Since barley was the major grain of the Egyptians as well as the Hebrews it is not surprising that barley should be mentioned in the bible. Exodus I of the Old Testament tells of a pounding rain of hailstones "by which the barley was smitten," one of the ten plagues brought on the Egyptians.
The Bible mentions barley frequently. Ezekiel paid penance to God by eating a diet relying on barley. When three angels came to visit Abraham, he offered them barley bread. Ruth was gathering barley from the field when Boaz first saw her. Joab's fields of barley were set afire when Absalom ordered his servants to burn Joab's grain. From the New Testament in the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, the five loaves of bread that Christ fed to five thousand people were made of barley.
To many Egyptian workers barley meant sustenance. The enslaved people who built the pyramids endured intense desert heat, heavy labor lifting huge stones, and dawn to dusk hours on a spartan diet. Their meals consisted of a mere three loaves of barley bread a day and an allotment of beer--made from barley, of course.
Before the Common Era, barley carried a great deal of importance since it was the major staple grain throughout the entire Near East, Egypt and Greece. Spain was introduced to this grain in the fifth century BCE before travelers brought it to France and Germany. Historians believe barley reached Britain about 500 BCE, southern India about 300 BCE, and southern China in 200 BCE.
In ancient Greece, Turkey, Syria, and Egypt barley was frequently served in the form of porridge or unleavened bread. These ancient civilizations also developed the art of malting barley for making beer.
As the Common Era was approaching, barley began to lose favor in Rome and Greece. Cooks of that period learned that bread making with wheat could offer a superior loaf that was lighter, more flavorful, and was able to keep longer. Barley contains so little gluten, the protein that gives bread its ability to rise, that breads were extremely dense and heavy. Gluten also helps breads retain moisture, a quality lacking in barley, causing barley breads to become stale rather quickly. Barley, however, still remained the grain of the poor, while the rich were breaking bread with wheat.
No longer in existence, Eleusis, an ancient town in Greece, rewarded game winners with sacks of barley. Barley mush was selected for training the athletes because the Greeks considered it more strengthening than other grains. In Rome the gladiators, often called hordearii or "barley men," were consuming a staple diet that relied on barley.
During the Common Era and up until the sixteenth century, European aristocracy developed a resourceful use for barley. They only used the barley bread as "trenchers," an Old English word for plates. While the aristocracy derided barley, the French peasants of this period were thriving on barley bread and bean soup. John Locke, a British philosopher, noted that in France "there was no flesh in the countryside. "
In North America, Massachusetts grew its first crop of barley in 1602. The pilgrims planted the barley seeds they brought with them but had little success; however, the grain found the climate in Pennsylvania more favorable. The Pennsylvanians then added limestone water to the barley and created something they considered much more interesting and more enjoyable than bread. With a little barley sprouting, a little fermenting, and a little distilling, their end product was whiskey. Since wheat and corn were plentiful in North America, barley was never used for baking bread. It gained its popularity as an important ingredient for making beer.
While wheat was coming into popular use during the 18th and 19th centuries in Britain, barley was still favored in the more remote areas of the north and west. As wheat became more affordable throughout Europe, and the average person discovered its merits in bread making, barley was relegated as fodder for the animals.
Barley malt, used as a sweetener, originated in China before it became popular and used almost exclusively as a sweetener in Japan.
Today, pearl barley is a favorite of the Japanese, while the grain is highly valued in Tibet and surrounding areas of the Himalayas for its ability to grow successfully in those high altitudes where weather conditions are extreme.
Barley will grow in many areas of the world where wheat will not thrive. Because barley is so adaptable to a variety of soils and can even grow in soil high in salinity, such as along the Zuyder Zee in Holland, it remains a popular grain in diverse areas like Tibet, northern Germany, Finland, Israel, the Italian Alps, the Sahara, and Ethiopia.
At present, barley is the world's fourth most important crop and an important staple in many countries. Though the U.S. is the third largest producer of barley, only a small portion reaches the dinner tables. Most of it is sold to farmers for animal feed, while the remainder goes to the production of barley malt for making beer.
In contrast to barley's importance as a food grain in the ancient world, it is now grown in the United States mainly for animal fodder. The animals receive the healthiest of barley's by-products: hay, straw, green fodder, bran and pearlings (the outer layers of the barley that are removed to create pearl barley), barley malt sprouts, the grains that are left after brewers and distillers finish their process, and the hops and yeast left over after brewing beer.
Barley Weights and Measures
To illustrate the high value placed on barley during that period, farming communities relied on this grain as a unit of measurement as well as weight. The word barleycorn referred to each grain of barley as a unit of length equal to 1/3-inch or about 8.5 millimeters, with about 3 barleycorns laid end to end equal to one Anglo-Saxon ynce, which later became "inch." Twelve of these ynces was determined as one foot, or 36 barleycorns, or the running foot at 39 barleycorns.
From the 1300's to the 1700's the barleycorn standard of measurement became the foundation of the measurement system that existed in Great Britain and America. When the first shoe manufacturer opened a factory in Massachusetts in 1888, a press release announced that Size 13 or 39 barleycorns would be the largest shoe size they would produce.
The term originally used for the weighing of barleycorn is "grain," eventually becoming "gram" in the metric system. This term existed before the troy and avoirdupois weight systems.
Barley Dishes Old and New
Apicius, ancient Rome's first cookbook author, made a complex broth by soaking barley a full day before cooking it next day with oil, dill, onions, salt, and herbs and spices such as coriander, lovage, cumin, and pepper. Pliny mentioned oily barley bread seasoned with coriander. No doubt he was looking over Apicius's shoulder.
You may be familiar with orgeat, a beverage flavored with almonds and orange flowers. The base liquid is made from barley, its origins, barley water. Barley water is a beverage prepared by grinding 1/2 cup (118 ml) of pearl barley in a coffee grinder, then boiling it in 3/4 cup (177 ml) of water about 20 minutes. Salt may be added or it may be sweetened and sometimes flavored with lemon or orange. Enjoyed as a cooling, invigorating beverage, orgeat was often given to infants and the elderly infirm. Even the Wimbledon tennis players imbibed this beverage.
Tibetan monks prepare tsampa, a porridge made with barley that is toasted first, then ground into flour and blended with yak butter and boiling tea. Native Tibetans enjoy their prayer wheel bread made from fermented barley that is formed into round loaves and raised overnight. As the loaves rise, they spread out in a large circle resembling a prayer wheel.
Barley sugar, a 17th century English creation, was originally a highly sweetened, caramelized confection made from barley water that was sugar sweetened and boiled into a syrup that was further boiled until it caramelized. While the term "barley sugar" is still used, barley is no longer an ingredient in the product. Presently, lemon juice has replaced barley, and the mixture is boiled to the hard crack stage, quickly poured onto a flat surface, then cut and twisted before reaching a solid state.
At some point in the 17th century Benedictine nuns in France began preparing this barley sugar confection. A former nun named Felicite was commissioned by Napoleon to keep him in steady supply. By the 18th century, barley sugar was in production on a commercial basis by a French company said to include a secret ingredient known only to one person. This form of the confection is shaped into a triangle rather than twisted.
While people in many countries prepared barley porridge, each culture added unique touches. Sephardic Jews prepared Belila, a sweetened porridge made with nuts and served in celebration of a baby cutting its first tooth.
In Britain, aleberry or barley berry was a favorite dessert in some areas. First, stale barley bread is boiled in mild ale until it becomes quite thick. Then it is sweetened with honey and served with cream.
The Lothians of Southeast Scotland enjoy barley pudding made by boiling pot barley with water, currants, and a touch of salt. Served with sugar and cream or milk, this barley treat is still favored today.
A simple old English dish called Barley Bake combined barley, celery, and mutton broth. On the list of barley foods that have survived are the barley soups and especially Scotch barley broth that can often be found in the pubs throughout Great Britain.
Scottish Bannocks, now made from oats, were once made of barley. These were griddlecakes made from sweetened dough that was rolled out and baked. Enjoyed as a hearty breakfast, they were served with jam. A recipe for Welsh Barley Cakes sounds very much like Bannocks. It begins with a stiff dough made with skim milk. The dough is rolled out into a circle about 3/4-inch thick, then baked on a heated griddle. Broken in half or smaller pieces it is served at breakfast with butter or jam.
The self-governed Isle of Man located in the Irish Sea still serves up a 19th century recipe for Bonnag, a barley bread. A barley bread recipe dating back to medieval times still appears on the tables in Jura, a city in the mountainous region of France. The recipe was originally made exclusively with oats, and then it was combined with barley. Now barley alone makes up into small, very hard loaves of boulon that are served with a soupy casserole into which pieces of the bread are dunked.
The Old English baere was the origin of the word barley. The Scots say bere, a term that exists even today but originally referred to "of barley."
The Japanese prepare barley tea by roasting pearl barley until it reaches a deep brown color and develops a distinct earthy aroma. The roasted barley is then boiled in water about 10 to 20 minutes. The end result is a richly flavored, aromatic tea that is caffeine-free. This tea is a favorite among Korean and Chinese populations as well.
Most people have never heard of "Patent barley" because it never reaches the consumer directly. Made from pearl barley, it is ground into a meal for use as a commercial thickener and as baby cereal
The Business of Beer
The common Sumerian workman earned a daily allotment of almost two pints (scant liter) of ale. High-ranking Sumerian CEO's were rewarded with about eight pints (4 liters) of brew.
To make beer and Scotch whiskey one must begin with grains of barley, essential for creating barley malt that is fermented to produce alcohol.
Barley malt was responsible for the initiation of Rheinheitsgebot, meaning purity law. Thought to be the first consumer protection law, it was decreed in 1516 by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria. The law stated that beer could only be made from barley malt, hops, and water. That law prevails today.
The complex process of making barley malt begins with the whole barley seeds, husks and all. First, they are soaked for several days until they sprout. During this process, proteins within the bran become converted into enzymes that work to change the starches into sugars.
The barley is then dried to inhibit further sprouting. Next, it is lightly cooked to create the malt that is crushed and combined with warm water. With this process the enzyme action starts the conversion of starch into sugar. The barley is now ready for the process of fermentation by yeast, resulting in alcohol. For the familiar beer flavor, hops are added.
Other products that require barley malt include malt vinegar, cod-liver oil, and confections that employ the sweet, thick syrup that is similar to unsulphured molasses.
Imagine antibiotic tetracycline eaten regularly with every bite of grain. It may have been part of the daily diet of a colony of ancient Sudanese who lived along the banks of the Nile River about fourteen hundred years ago. When their bones were carefully examined, they were found to contain considerable amounts of the tetracycline. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts surmised that bacterial growth in the mud bins where barley, wheat, and millet were stored was responsible for producing the natural antibiotic.
The British employ barley in a number of folk remedies, claiming that barley water will settle an upset stomach. They have also rumored that barley water is the secret behind the beautiful complexions of their British women.
Barley is a very hardy perennial with a relatively short growing season, maturing in about three months. Its hardy qualities permit barley to tolerate flooding, drought conditions, and even frost. An added bonus for the farmer is this amazing grain's ability to resist insect infestation.
Compared to other grains, barley is just about the toughest grain in the field. Before exposing the endosperm, recognized as our familiar pearl barley, two inedible husks and another softer, edible coating called the aleurone are removed. The germ, layered between the two outer husks, is also discarded, leaving a pile of valuable nutrients in the bin that becomes animal feed rather than human food.
Through many years of cultivation, more than 200 varieties of barley were developed. The type of barley consumed by humans differs from that used for making beer.
Today this grain is cultivated in Europe, Ethiopia, Russia, China, India, Canada, the United States, and the Mediterranean areas that include Greece, Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Egypt.
One cup (237 ml) of cooked pearled barley contains 193 calories, while the whole-grain (hulled) form contains 270 calories and contains as much protein as a cup (237 ml) of milk.
The protein content for pearled is 4 grams; the whole-grain has 7 grams. The pearled carries 44 grams of carbohydrates; the whole-grain has 59 grams.
Weighing in on the dietary fiber, pearled barley has 9 grams while the whole-grain ranks higher with 14 grams. Barley is an excellent source of soluble fiber helpful in lowering cholesterol and in preventing constipation.
The all-important minerals calcium, potassium, and phosphorous also find higher figures in the whole grain variety. The pearled form has 17 mg calcium, the whole-grain 26 mg. Phosphorous scores for the pearled barley show 85 mg with the whole-grain at 230 mg. Potassium content for the pearled form is 246 mg while the whole grain has 230 mg.
The difference is quite apparent. The whole-grain form rates higher in almost every nutrient comparison with the exception of sodium, thiamin, and niacin, where the pearled form is slightly higher. The only nutrients lacking in barley are vitamin C and vitamin B12.
Pearl Barley or Pearled Barley is the most common form of barley available and is sold in most supermarkets. Because the outer hulls including the bran have been removed, the grains have a pearly white color. The polishing process involves scouring the barley six times during milling to completely remove the outer inedible hull and the bran layer. Though pearled barley cooks in less time than the whole grain hulled form, many of its nutrients are scoured away along with the bran. Still, pearl barley is rich in protein and high in fiber.
Quick Barley, or instant barley is pearl barley that is pre-steamed then dried, shortening the cooking time considerably, about 10 to 12 minutes.
Scotch Barley, also called Pot Barley, is slightly less refined than the pearl barley and is scoured only three times, leaving part of the hull remaining. Health food markets may be the only place to find this uncommon variety.
Barley Grits are processed similar to bulghur wheat. The grain is cracked, and toasted or parboiled, then dried, making it a quick-cooking product. The health food store is your best bet for locating this form of barley.
Barley Flakes, Pressed Barley, or Rolled Barley have the appearance of rolled oats and are often included in muesli-type cereals. Since barley flakes are a favorite grain of the Japanese and Koreans, they can often be found at Asian markets as well as health food markets.
Barley Flour is hulled barley that is finely ground and has a lightness and delicate sweetness. Since barley has such a low-gluten content, it is frequently blended with other flours in baking. Health food markets are likely to stock barley flour.
Job's Tears, Hato Mugi, Juno's Tears, and River Grain are different names for a variety of barley that is larger than pearled barley and has flavor reminiscent of mild beans. Though these are an Asian favorite, they are seldom available in American markets. Asian markets or health food markets are your best bet.
Many health food markets have a bulk foods section where you can purchase grains by the pound. You can usually save money when buying grain products in bulk.
The cooking method for all forms of barley is the same--only the cooking times vary. Combine barley, water, and salt in a heavy saucepan. Cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn heat to low and steam until grains are soft and all liquid is absorbed.
To shorten the cooking times listed below, soak the barley overnight for cooking in the morning, or soak all day for cooking the barley at dinnertime.
Barley combined with vegetables, potatoes, dill, and a variety of dried mushrooms blend together to create a richly flavored Polish-style Mushroom Barley Soup called Krupnik. Polish cooks (vegetarian Polish cooks, that is) top off this soup with a dollop of tofu sour cream.
Breakfast Sundae comes together even more quickly with leftover cooked barley. Simply reheat the barley by adding 2 or 3 tablespoons of water to the pot, cover, and warm over medium heat for about 4 to 6 minutes. Then create your own toppings with a dash of cinnamon, raisins, nuts and seeds, a little maple syrup and your favorite soy milk or rice milk.
Other combinations work equally as well. Choose your favorite crunchy veggies or even leftover steamed or roasted vegetables, such as steamed broccoli, roasted peppers, roasted zucchini, or roasted carrots.
For a heartier salad, add nuts, seeds, sautéed tofu cubes, diced vegan cheese, chopped vegan meat substitutes, or crumbled veggie burgers.
Stuffed Vegetables: Barley is an ideal grain for stuffing vegetables. Try stuffing cabbage, peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, acorn squash, or even Japanese pumpkin (kabocha squash). To the barley, add sautéed chopped vegetables, ground nuts or chopped vegetarian sausage, and dried herbs. Season to taste, and bake about 25 to 30 minutes at 350 (Gas Mark 4).
Barley Risotto: Pearl barley makes a delightfully creamy risotto. Refer to your favorite recipes; however, the timing will vary with barley. For risotto, use only the pearl barley. The hulled barley will not break down to the creamy state like pearl barley.
An alternative sauce can be quickly prepared in the food processor with 1 12-oz. (340 g) package of soft silken tofu, 15 to 18 pitted dates, and a 1/4 t. vanilla extract.
Here's a hearty main dish with great flavor that will satisfy even the fussy eaters. It's also an ideal make-ahead recipe you can proudly serve your guests. For a complete meal serve with a tossed salad and some steamed green vegetables such as string beans, okra, broccoli, or asparagus.
BARLEY STUFFED EGGPLANT
*Barley flakes are available in health food markets and Asian markets.