Feb 11, 2013

Grain Challenge - February: Barley

           from www.wholegraincouncil.org


How important is barley to civilization? Aside from its use as food, barley is the root of the English measurement system. In 1324 Edward II of England standardized the inch as equal to “three grains of barley, dry and round, placed end to end lengthwise." The foot, the yard, the mile, and all other English measurements followed on. 
Barley is highest in fiber of all the whole grains, with common varieties clocking in at about 17% fiber, and some, such as the variety called Prowashonupana barley (marketed by Conagra asSustagrain), having up to 30% fiber! (For comparison, brown rice contains 3.5% fiber, corn about 7%, oats 10% and wheat about 12%.) While the fiber in most grains is concentrated largely in the outer bran layer, barley's fiber is found throughout the whole grain, which may account for its extraordinarily high levels.
But the goodness of whole grains comes from more than fiber. Whole grain barley is high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals essential to health, too. However, much of the barley eaten in the U.S. is pearled or pearl barley, which is missing some or all of its bran layer. 
As it grows in the field, most barley has an inedible hull adhering tightly to the grain kernel. The easiest, quickest way to remove this inedible hull is to scrape (pearl) it off without worrying too much about how much bran comes off at the same time. To make sure you're enjoying true whole grain barley, looked for hulled barley (barley where the inedible hull was removed carefully, keeping any bran loss to insignificant levels) or hulless barley (a different variety that grows without a tightly-attached hull).
Barley growing
Barley, growing in a field
This is what barley looks like as it grows in the field. Most barley is what's called "covered barley," which means it has a tough, inedible outer hull around the barley kernel. This covering must be removed before the barley can be eaten. A less common variety, referred to as "naked" barley, has a covering, or hull, that is so loose that it usually falls off during harvesting.
Hulled Barley
Hulled Barley (sometimes called Dehulled Barley)
Hulled barley is covered barley that has been minimally processed to remove only the tough inedible outer hull. It's challenging to remove the hull carefully so that some of the bran is not lost – but that's what must be done for covered barley to be considered whole grain.  (see Pearl Barley, below)
Hulless Barley
Hulless Barley
This type of barley has an outer hull that's so loosely attached to the kernel that it generally falls off during harvesting. This cuts down on processing and ensures that all of the bran and germ are retained.
Barley Grits
Barley Grits
When barley kernels are cut into several pieces, they become grits. Read the label carefully: grits from hulled or hulless barley are whole grain, but grits created by cutting up pearl barley are not considered whole grain.

Barley Flakes
Barley Flakes
If barley flakes remind you of oatmeal (rolled oats), it's because they're created the same way, by steaming kernels, rolling them, and drying them. As with barley grits, flakes can be made from whole grain barley or from pearl barley, with only the former considered to be whole grains. Barley flakes cook faster, because they've been lightly steamed and because of their greater surface area.
Barley flour
Barley Flour
Barley flour is used in baked goods and as a thickener for soups, stews and gravies. While it contains gluten, the protein that helps baked goods rise, the type of gluten in barley flour does not promote adequate rising on its own, so barley flour is usually used with wheat flour. Look for whole grain barley flour, ground from hulled or hulless barley, not from pearl barley.
Pearl Barley
Pearl Barley (not a whole grain)
Pearl barley has been polished, or "pearled" to remove some or all of the outer bran layer along with the hull. If it's lightly pearled, pearl barley will be tan colored (top photo); if it's heavily pearled, barley will be quite white (bottom photo). Most of the barley found in the typical supermarket is pearl barley. Although it is technically a refined grain, it's much healthier than other refined grains because (a) some of the bran may still be present and (b) the fiber in barley is distributed throughout the kernel, and not just in the outer bran layer. Pearl barley cooks more quickly than whole grain barley.
Quick pearl barley
Quick Pearl Barley (not a whole grain)
Quick barley is a type of barley flake that cooks in about 10 minutes, because it has been partially cooked and dried during the flake-rolling process. Although barley flakes can be whole grain and technically it would feasible to create quick whole grain barley (similar to quick oats, which are whole grain), the quick barley commercially available today is made from pearl barley and so is not whole grain.


In scientific studies, barley has been shown to reduce the risk of many diseases, and to provide important health benefits. Barley offers many of the same healthy vitamins and minerals as other whole grains, but many think its special health benefits stem from the high levels of soluble beta-glucan fiber found in this grain.

According to a recent review in the journal Minerva Med, beta-glucans reduce cholesterol, help control blood sugar, and improve immune system function. New research even indicates that beta-glucans may be radioprotective: they may help our bodies stand up better to chemotherapy, radiation therapy and nuclear emergencies.
  • Barley, like all whole grains, reduces blood pressure.
  • Eating barley has been shown to lower LDL "bad" cholesterol and may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • A flood of recent research indicates that barley's ability to control blood sugar may be exceptional, offering an important tool against rising rates of diabetes.
  • Barley has more protein than corn, brown rice, millet, sorghum or rye, and is higher in fiber and lower in soluble (starch) carbohydrates than almost all other whole grains.
  • Barley may help you feel full longer, and thereby help you control your weight.
  • Barley – even pearl barley – may help reduce visceral fat and waist circumference.

How to store

Raw/uncooked barley (pearl barley, whole grain barley kernels, barley flour, barley flakes, barley grits) should be stored in an airtight container in a cool place, preferably in the refrigerator or freezer.  If refrigerated or frozen in an airtight container, raw/uncooked barley may be stored for about 6 months.
Cooked barley (pearl or whole grain kernels) may be stored for a short time prior to using.  Place cooked pearl or whole grain barley kernels in an airtight container and refrigerate or freeze for up to a week.  For best results, bring refrigerated or frozen barley to room temperature before using.


Cooking time: pearled, 45-60 minutes; hulled, 90 minutes
Liquid per cup of grain: 3 cups
How to cook barley: Combine barley and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until tender.

To cook pearl barley: In medium saucepan with lid, bring 3 cups water to a boil.  Add 1 cup pearl barley and return to boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover and cook 45 minutes or until barley is tender and liquid is absorbed.  Makes about 3 to 3-1/2 cups.
In a crock pot or slow cooker: Place 2-1/2 cups boiling water, 1 cup pearl barley and 1/2 teaspoon salt in crock pot or slow cooker.  Cover and cook on HIGH for approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes.  
To cook whole grain barley kernels:  In medium saucepan with lid, bring 3 cups water to a boil.  Add 1 cup whole grain barley kernels and return to boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover and cook about 50 to 55 minutes.  Makes about 3 cups.  Note: Because whole grain barley retains most of the outer bran layer, the kernels tend to absorb less liquid during the cooking process.  It may be necessary to pour off any remaining liquid after 50 to 55 minutes of cooking time.  Compared to pearl barley, whole grain barley tends to be chewier in texture and produces a more robust flavor.
Using barley flour: Barley flour adds a subtle nutty flavor and fiber to baked goods.  While barley flour contains gluten, the protein that makes baked goods rise, the type of gluten in barley does not promote adequate rising on its own.  So it’s best to use barley flour in combination with all-purpose enriched wheat or whole wheat flour.  As a rule of thumb, barley flour may be substituted for about 1/4 of the total flour used in yeast breads.  For most quick breads, muffins, cookies and bars, barley flour may be substituted for about 1/2 of the total amount of flour used.

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