Barley is a cereal grain derived from the annual grass
Barley has many uses. It serves as a major animal fodder,
as a base malt for beer and certain distilled beverages, and
as a component of various health foods. It is used in soups
and stews, and in barley bread of various cultures, from
Scotland to Africa.
In a 2007 ranking of cereal crops in the world, barley
was fourth both in terms of quantity produced (136 million
tons) and in area of cultivation.
The Oxford English
Dictionary records the derivation from the Old English
bærlic "barley", although the -lic ending may indicate it
was an adjective pertaining to the crop or plant, rather
than a noun. It was first recorded around 966 AD in the
compound word bærlic-croft. The old English word was bære,
which is related to the Latin word farina "flour", and gave
rise to bærlic meaning "of barley". It survives in the north
of Scotland as bere, and refers to a specific strain of
six-row barley grown there. The word barn, which originally
meant barley-house, is also rooted in these words.
Barley was the first
domesticated grain in the Near East, near the same time as
einkorn and emmer wheat. Wild barley (H. vulgare ssp.
spontaneum) ranges from North Africa and Crete in the west,
to Tibet in the east. The earliest evidence of wild barley
in an archaeological context comes from the Epipaleolithic
at Ohalo II at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. The
remains were dated to about 8500 BC.
The earliest domesticated barley occurs at Aceramic
Neolithic sites, in the Near East such as the Pre-Pottery
Neolithic B layers of Tell Abu Hureyra, in Syria. Barley has
been grown in the Korean Peninsula since the Early Mumun
Pottery Period (c. 1500–850 BC) along with other crops such
as millet, wheat, and legumes.
In the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Guns, Germs, and
Steel, Jared Diamond argues that the availability of barley,
along with other domesticable crops and animals, in
southwestern Eurasia significantly contributed to the broad
historical patterns that human history has followed over
approximately the last 13,000 years; i.e., why Eurasian
civilizations, as a whole, have survived and conquered
Barley beer was probably the first drink developed by
Neolithic humans. Barley later on was used as currency.
Alongside emmer wheat, Barley was a staple cereal of ancient
Egypt, where it was used to make bread and beer. The general
name for barley is jt (hypothetically pronounced "eat"); šma
(hypothetically pronounced "SHE-ma") refers to Upper
Egyptian barley and is a symbol of Upper Egypt. The Sumerian
term is akiti. According to Deuteronomy 8:8, barley is one
of the "Seven Species" of crops that characterize the
fertility of the Promised Land of Canaan, and barley has a
prominent role in the Israelite sacrifices described in the
Pentateuch (see e.g. Numbers 5:15). A religious importance
extended into the Middle Ages in Europe, and saw barley's
use in justice, via alphitomancy and the corsned.
In ancient Greece, the ritual significance of barley
possibly dates back to the earliest stages of the Eleusinian
Mysteries. The preparatory kykeon or mixed drink of the
initiates, prepared from barley and herbs, referred in the
Homeric hymn to Demeter, whose name some scholars believe
meant "Barley-mother". The practice was to dry the barley
groats and roast them before preparing the porridge,
according to Pliny the Elder's Natural History (xviii.72).
This produces malt that soon ferments and becomes slightly
Pliny also noted barley was a special food of gladiators
known as hordearii, "barley-eaters". However, by Roman
times, he added that wheat had replaced barley as a staple.
Tibetan barley has been a staple food in Tibet since the
fifth century A.D. It along with a cool climate that
permitted storage, produced a civilization that was able to
raise great armies. It is made into a flour product called
tsampa that is still a staple in Tibet, and into hand-rolled
In medieval Europe, bread made from barley and rye was
peasant food, while wheat products were consumed by the
upper classes. Potatoes largely replaced barley in Eastern
Europe in the 19th century.
A large part of
the remainder is used for malting, for which barley is the
best suited grain. It is a key ingredient in beer and whisky
production. Two-row barley is traditionally used in German
and English beers. Six-row barley was traditionally used in
US beers, but both varieties are in common usage now.
Distilled from green beer, whisky has been made from barley
in Ireland and Scotland, while other countries have utilized
more diverse sources of alcohol; such as the more common
corn, rye and molasses in the USA. The grain name may be
applied to the alcohol if it constitutes 51% or more of the
Non-alcoholic drinks such as barley water and barley tea
(called mugicha in Japan), have been made by boiling barley
in water. Barley wine was an alcoholic drink in the 1700s.
It was prepared by boiling barley in water, then mixing the
barley water with white wine and other ingredients like
borage, lemon and sugar. In the 1800s a different barley
wine was made prepared from recipes of ancient Greek origin.
Barley contains eight essential
amino acids. According to a recent study, eating whole grain
barley can regulate blood sugar (i.e. reduce blood glucose
response to a meal) for up to 10 hours after consumption
compared to white or even whole-grain wheat, which has a
similar glycemic index. The effect was attributed to colonic
fermentation of indigestible carbohydrates. Barley can also
be used as a coffee substitute.
Hulled barley (or covered barley) is eaten after removing
the inedible, fibrous outer hull. Once removed, it is called
dehulled barley (or pot barley or scotch barley). Considered
a whole grain, dehulled barley still has its bran and germ
making it a nutritious and popular health food. Pearl barley
(or pearled barley) is dehulled barley which has been steam
processed further to remove the bran. It may be polished, a
process known as "pearling". Dehulled or pearl barley may be
processed into a variety of barley products, including
flour, flakes similar to oatmeal, and grits.
Barley-meal, a whole meal barley flour which is lighter
than wheat meal but darker in color, is used in porridge and
gruel in Scotland. Barley-meal gruel is known as Sawiq in
the Arab world. With a long history of cultivation in the
Middle East, barley is used in a wide range of traditional
Arabic, Kurdish, Persian, and Turkish foodstuffs including
kashkak, kashk and murri. Barley soup is traditionally eaten
during Ramadan in Saudi Arabia. It is also used in soups and
stews in Eastern Europe. In Africa, where it is a
traditional food plant, it has the potential to improve
nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development and
support sustainable land care.
The six row variety bere is cultivated in Orkney,
Shetland, Caithness and the Western Isles in the Scottish
Highlands and islands. The grain is used to make beremeal,
used locally in bread, biscuits, and the traditional
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