Where does barley come from?

Barley originated in Ethiopia and Southeast Asia, where it has been cultivated for more than 10,000 years. Barley was very important in ancient times and was one of the first grains to be widely cultivated and used by ancient civilisations as a food for humans and animals, as well as to make alcoholic beverages. Barley is also a major cereal grain, commonly found in bread, beverages, and various cuisines of every culture. To this day, remains one of the most widely consumed grains, globally.

What are the health benefits and nutritional profile of barley?

It’s a known fact that consuming plant-based foods of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions. Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like barley decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and overall mortality.

Other studies specific to barley have shown that the grain has the following health benefits:

  • Improves constipation and diarrhoea
  • Helps with weight loss
  • Helps control blood sugar levels and improve insulin response, reducing risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Helps reduce blood pressure
  • Improves lipid profile and reduces cholesterol, which reduces risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Protects against cancer (particularly bowel cancer)
  • Helps reduce inflammation due to levels of antioxidants and phytochemicals

Nutritional profile of barley:

½ cup cooked barley contains the following:

  • Calories = 78 (327 kJ)
  • Total fat = 0.7g
    • Saturated fat = 0.3g
  • Carbohydrate = 14.1g
    • Sugars = 0g
  • Dietary fibre = 2.7g
  • Protein = 2.3g
  • Sodium = 9mg

Additional nutritional facts about barley:

  • Moderate protein content (10%) and contains a protein complex which forms gluten (although a smaller amount than wheat).
  • High in soluble fibre, specifically beta-glucan, which is beneficial for gut health.
  • Has a low glycaemic index (GI) to assist blood glucose control.
  • High in potassium and low in sodium.
  • Contain good amounts of B-group vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate and pantothenic acid.
  • Contains vitamin E.
  • Contains iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus and selenium (levels can vary depending on the soil content of selenium).
  • Contains small amounts of copper, manganese and calcium.
  • Contains phytochemicals including lignans, phenolic acids, phytic acid, plant sterols and saponins, which act as antioxidants to help protect against disease.

What does a ‘serve’ of barley look like?

A standard serve of barley is ½ cup, cooked, which is roughly 350kJ.

How can we include barley in meals and snacks?

Barley comes in many different forms so is very versatile with its use. The main culinary uses of barley may be as follows:

  • Pearled barley –great for adding to soups and casseroles or as a side dish. It can also serve as a substitute for Arborio rice to make risotto. Cooked pearl barley can also be tossed through salads.
  • Scotch barley – is a husked grain which has been roughly ground and can be used in soups, stews and casseroles.
  • Barley flour – generally blended with wheat flour to make breads or is ground and cooked as porridge. Bread made with barley flour has a sweeter taste. It can also be used to make noodles/pasta or healthy muffins and pancakes.
  • Barley meal –is barley grains that have been chopped, which have a shorter cooking time than whole grains. It can be used in casseroles, soups and stews as a thickener, hamburger mince as a binder, and as an ingredient in breakfast cereals.
  • Barley flakes –can be used to make porridge and added to homemade muesli or granola.