Over half of the barley grown in the U.S. is used for beer, with the remainder used mostly for livestock and a small amount for direct human consumption. Canada is one of the world’s largest barley producers and exporters, much of which is grown in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Barley has a higher protein content than corn, which reduces the need for a protein supplement in a feed compound.
Eating barley as part of a healthful diet may lower your cholesterol, thereby reducing your risk of heart disease. Barley is a rich source both soluble and insoluble fiber. The type of soluble fiber identified in barley, as the primary component for helping to reduce cholesterol, is beta-glucan. Clinical studies have shown that eating whole-grain barley or dry-milled barley products such as pearl barley, barley flakes and barley flour that provide at least 3 grams of beta-glucan soluble fiber per day is effective in lowering total and LDL cholesterol. One-quarter-cup uncooked pearl barley (about 1 cup cooked) contains about 2.5 grams beta-glucan soluble fiber.
One-half cup uncooked barley flakes contains approximately 2 grams beta-glucan soluble fiber.
Barley has health benefits beyond reducing cholesterol. Soluble fiber also helps maintain blood sugar levels, which may be beneficial in preventing or helping manage type 2 diabetes.
Insoluble fiber helps promote regularity in bowel movements and protects against constipation. Eating fiber-rich foods helps increase satiety, or the feeling of fullness, helping you to eat less, which is important for maintaining a healthful weight and protecting against obesity.
Barley is popular as a staple food as well, used in soups, as an extender for vegetable proteins and occasionally milled into flour. Most barley used for food is either pearl barley or barley flour. Pearling consists of a polishing process, which removes the outer husk and part of the bran layer of the kernels. Even though the outer bran layer may be removed in processed barley products such as pearl barley, barley flakes or barley flour, the fiber content remains high. Barley flour, a by-product of pearling, is used in the United States in baby foods and other specialties.
Pearl barley is available in most supermarkets and may be found next to dry beans, rice and lentils. Some stores may carry quick-cooking barley. These kernels have been steamed and dried prior to packaging and require less cooking time.
Barley flakes are made from barley kernels that have been steam-rolled and dried. Barley flakes may be cooked as a hot cereal or used as an ingredient in baked goods. They may be found in the bulk food sections of some supermarkets or natural food stores.
Barley four may be found in some supermarkets with other packaged flour products or in bulk containers. Barley flour may be used to add fiber to baked goods.
Barley in any form can be cooked and served in a similar manner to rice. It can be boiled and served hot as a side dish or cold in a salad. It can also be cooked along with other ingredients in a soup or stew. Cooking times vary with the form of barley used. Cook barley in boiling water using the following guidelines:
• Hulled barley: about 1 hour 40 minutes
• Pot barley: 1 hour
• Pearled barley: 45 minutes
• Flaked barley: about 30 minutes
• Quick barley: 10 to 12 minutes, then cover and let stand five minutes
• Barley grits: add to boiling water and let stand two to three minutes
• Hot barley and fruit cereal: bring 2 cups water to boil and stir in 1 cup barley flakes. Cover and reduce to low heat and cook for 20 minutes, or until water is evaporated. Top with fruit of choice during last 5 minutes.
• Try barley flour, flakes or grits in making pancakes, muffins and breads.
• Try barley instead of pasta or rice with stir fries, stews and other dishes.
• Barley salads can be made for lunches or dinners, and leftover barley side dishes can easily be made into cold salads.
Creamy barley pudding with raisins and nuts
Makes 10 servings, ½ cup serving each
1 cup hulled or pearl barley
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups low-fat (1%) milk, divided
½ cup raisins
⅓ cup sugar
1-2 teaspoons orange peel
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
10 teaspoons chopped pecans, toasted
Bring 6 cups of water to boil. Add barley and salt then reduce heat. Cover and simmer 1 hour 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender but chewy. Drain barley and return to saucepan. Stir in 1½ cups milk and the raisins. Cook and stir over medium heat just until steaming and beginning to boil. Meanwhile, whisk together remaining milk, sugar, orange peel, cinnamon and egg in a small bowl. Stir hot barley mixture into egg mixture, then whisk egg mixture into saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, 1-2 minutes until thick and bubbly. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Cool to lukewarm or serve cold.
Nutrition information: 158 calories, 3 grams total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 5 g protein, 4 g dietary fiber.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian and adjunct nutrition instructor at Eastern Maine Community College who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.