Barley - Cooking, Baking, Soluble Fiber, Vitamins and Minerals
Are you looking to add more variety to your baking and cooking? Are you interested in the health benefits that a more varied diet may have to offer? Let’s take a look at the nutritional qualities and health benefits that barley may be able to bestow, and see if it’s something that you’d like to add to your store cupboard!
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Porridge, Flapjacks and Macrobiotics: Oats and Beans and Barley Grow
Barley is a grain (or ‘cereal’), belonging to the same graminae family as wheat, rye, rice, corn etc. It is, and has been historically, grown in many parts of Europe and Asia, and in appearance is an attractive golden grain not superficially unlike wheat. It is a hardy, versatile plant and thrives under a variety of inhospitable conditions. Barley was popular as a staple ingredient of the cuisine in ancient cultures e.g. in Greece, but is mostly used for animal feed and beer-making currently.1
What forms is barley available in? You can buy it in the form of whole grain, as either pot barley or pearl barley. (Pot barley is less refined and has more fibre). Both of these forms are good added to soups and stews, adding fibre and body and making a meal ‘stick to your ribs’ as the Scots say!
Celiac Alert? Gluten Content Of Barley
You can also find barley flour in many whole-food and health-food shops. It contains less gluten than wheat flour. Gluten is the sturdy, stretchy protein that gives wheaten dough its elasticity and ability to rise. This means that barley flour is not suitable as a sole ingredient when making bread or cakes if you are looking for a nice light end result. That said, I have in fact made sourdough bread previously purely with barley flour. I’m not saying the end result would have been to everyone’s taste – and the density and texture did somewhat resemble a cowpat – but it was in fact edible. At least, it was edible after a good dipping in some home-made soup, at any rate – and quite tasty, too.
If we forget bread and cakes, though, barley flour is great for a lot of other things. I have made tasty biscuits (or cookies, for non-Brits), and dumplings too, with it.
Please note, if you are celiac/coeliac or have other digestive problems relating to gluten, then ‘relatively low in gluten’ shouldn’t be translated to mean gluten-free, when we are speaking of barley and barley flour. If you have been advised by a medical professional to stay away from gluten, then barley is not a good idea for you!
But for the rest of us, barley has the potential to be a terrific, adventurous new ingredient in the kitchen.
Where else are you going to find barley as an ingredient? Let me give you a guess or two: it comes sloshing around in bottles or cans, or on draught, and you’re liable to be slurring and sloshing around a little when you’ve had too much of it! Beer, that’s what I’m talking about! Barley isn’t an essential ingredient to the ‘amber nectar’ – there are many substitutions that can be made – but, along with hops, it is traditional. Score one for barley!
When it comes to nutrition and health benefits, what do you need to know about barley? Let's have the low-down on pearl barley nutrition, on barley groats caloric content! Well, according to the nutritiondata website, 148 grams of barley flour or meal will provide you with 110 grams of carbohydrate, 16 grams of protein, 2 grams of total fats and 15 grams of fibre. I think that’s pretty impressive right there! Especially when you consider that recommendations for daily fiber intake by the National Academy of Sciences amount to 25 grams for women and 28 grams for men. Fiber is often recommended as useful in the treatment of conditions such as constipation and hemorrhoids. Also don’t forget that, like most grains, you can complement barley with a pulse such as lentils or black-eyed peas to create a complete protein with all the essential amino acids that the human body has trouble producing in adequate quantity.
Barley is also a useful repository of vitamins and minerals: according to Haas and Levin3 it has potentially useful amounts of some B vitamins and minerals such as iron, magnesium and calcium. But more than that, in the hands of an imaginative and creative cook, it’s potentially nutritious and delicious! Get yourself a bag of barley today, maybe grab a barley water recipe off the internet – and get cooking!
1. Davidson, A., Jaine, T. "The Oxford companion to food." Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
2. "Barley flour or meal." Nutritiondata website. 2009. (12/04/2010). <http://www.nutritiondata.com/facts/cereal-grains-and-pasta/5787/2>
3. Haas, E.M., Levin, B. "Staying healthy with nutrition: the complete guide to diet and nutritional medicine." Berkeley: Celestial Arts, 2006.