Botanical Name: Hordeum Vulgare

Other Names: A specially processed version can be found in some Asian food stores under the name hato mugi.

Description: Barley is a rugged grain, which, due to the sturdiness of the plant, can be found throughout the northern hemisphere, from Asia to the Americas. The grain itself is composed of about 5 parts. The two outermost parts are protective hulls, which cannot be eaten. Inside the hull is the aleurone which protects the endosperm. The endosperm contains most of the starch in the grain. At the very center of a grain of barley is the pearl.

When this grain is eaten, we are participating in a tradition that has spanned over three millennia. The grain provided a nutritionally balanced food high in protein and carbohydrates. It also provides a great deal of bulk by absorbing 2-3 times it's volume of the cooking liquid. It is little wonder a pottery found in China, dated around 1520 BC, celebrated the end of famine with a depiction of barley falling from the sky.

Purchasing Information: There are four types of barley available. They are differentiated by the amount of barley removed in processing.

The most processed is pearled barley, which has had all outer hulls and the endosperm removed, leaving only the inner pearl. The color of pearl barley is off white. It is the most common barley found in stores. When cooked, this barley provides a mushy base for soups.

Another kind is called Pot or Scotch barley. This barley has had the hulls removed to leave the endosperm and pearl. Even this minimally processed barley has lost the vast majority of protein, fiber, fat, and minerals. This barley is not commonly sold.

Hulled barley has only the outer inedible hulls removed, and is the least processed barley that humans can enjoyable eat. However, some people report a gritty taste, and people not used to large amounts of fiber may feel discomfort. This barley is sold mostly in health and natural food stores. It can sometimes be sold as sprouting barley, but sprouting barley may in fact not be hulled at all. Hulled barley is light brown and quit a bit bigger than pearled barley.

Finally, one can get a type of barley at Asian food stores, called hato mugi, which is used in Japanese barley dishes. The grain is hulled, compressed, and enriched. I include one recipe to use this barley for illustration.

Basic Cooking Instruction: Hulled barley can be cooked alone and used as rice or any other grain. One cup of barely, cooked with three cups of water, flavored with garlic and onions, for one hour and a quarter will provide a crunchy side dish for steamed vegetables. Pearled barley requires about fifteen minutes less to cook.

If the water is doubled and a few cups of vegetable are added, a hearty soup will be created.

The barley can also be steamed. One cup of water, and one cup of barley, put in a steamer for an hour, with spices and onions, will create a crunchy meal that can be combined with beans. The contrasting textures makes this satisfying to many of the senses.

The grain can be ground or cracked and used to make crackers or flavor bread. The extremely low gluten content makes it unsuitable to the be the base from bread.


Japanese Barley Rice
Barley Scones

Grow your Own Barley

References on Barley

Contributed by: Ralph H Cox