Barley is one of the most important grains to be cultivated by man. And by important, we mean that it’s the grain that is used to make beer. All kidding aside, barley ranks as the fourth most cultivated cereal and has three main uses: for animal feed, for human consumption, and for malting. Barley is also used in many folk remedies for cancer and other medical conditions but nothing has been proven as of yet. The composition of barley also makes it easy to digest for convalescents, invalids, and the elderly.
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Order: Poales
- Family: Poaceae
- Genus: Hordeum
- Species: H. vulgare
- Binomial name: Hordeum vulgare L.
- Barley has been cultivated for over 8000 years.
- In the United States, almost half of the barley produced is used to make beer and the other half going to feed livestock. Only a very tiny percentage of locally grown barley is used to make food.
- Barley was one of the first domesticated grains in the Fertile Crescent.
- Russia produces 14% of the world’s barley supply.
Barley comes in many forms so don’t be surprised if you’re out to buy barley and you have a ton of choices in front of you. Here’s a quick look at what the different types of commercial barley products are available and what their uses are.
- Barley Flour – This is the most common barley product out there. This has a mild flavor and has low levels of gluten so it is usually used in conjunction with wheat flour when used in baking.
- Barley Flakes – Also known as flaked barley, these resembled rolled oats and they’re prepared much like rolled oats. They can be made into porridge or used as a substitute for rolled oats for baking applications.
- Barley Pasta – The name speaks for itself. This is pasta made from barley flour. This has a nutty flavor profile to it.
- Pearl / Pearled barley – This is processed much like white rice is processed. The grains are scoured during the milling process to remove the husk and the bran layer.
Production & Farming in Texas
Interest for growing barley in Texas has risen over the past few years not because of its use as a food ingredient but for the growing number of craft breweries in the state, as well as other distilling operations that are starting to increase the demand for craft malt.
Barley is also added to many 7-grain and seed baking mixes that are popular in the state and can be found in many farmers’ markets.
Most of the large commercial barley growing operations grow barley for use as fodder or are under contract with some of the well-known Texas-based grains and flours company.
Pesticides, Additives, and Chemicals:
Growing barley usually needs herbicides to protect the plant from weeds when it is grown as well as the use of a couple of fungicides to help protect against disease. This is why if you need barley for brewing or cooking purposes, it’s best to buy from farms that guarantee their crops to be organic and chemical-free.
Barley has evolved from being a “lower” class grain to something of a health food option so it will usually come in rustic-looking resealable kraft paper bags or if purchased in large quantities, burlap bags.
Barley, depending on the form it is purchased, can be consumed in many different ways. If barley flour is purchased, then it can be used to bake bread. Barley flakes can be prepared just like regular oats and consumed just like them. For pearl barley, it is treated much like white rice or whole wheat berries, bringing with it its unique nutty taste to any dish it is added to.
For uncooked pearl barley, it can be stored in an airtight container for up to a year as long as it is away from heat and light.
How to prepare pearl barley pilaf:
Pearl barley pilaf has a pleasant al dente texture as well as a wonderful nutty flavor that goes well with beef and chicken.
Oil, 2-3 tablespoons
Finely chopped onion, 1 piece
minced garlic, 4 cloves
pearl barley, 1 cup
Chicken stock or water, 2 ½ cups
Salt, ½ teaspoon
Finely ground black pepper, ¼ teaspoon
In a large skillet, heat oil and add the garlic and onion and saute until soft
Add the barley to the pan, continue cooking until toasted or about three minutes.
Transfer to a saucepan, bring the water or chicken stock to a boil and add the barley, garlic, and onion mixture. Bring to a simmer and cover for 45 minutes
Remove from heat and keep covered for an additional 10 minutes. Uncover and allow steam to escape for five minutes. Fluff with a fork and season to taste.