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What is Barley?

Varieties, uses, purchasing, and storage.

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Barley Grains

Barley Grains

Photo by frost nova [flickr]

Barley is a cereal grain that is used to make booth food and beverages. Barley is used to make most beer and is also used in many whole grain breads, soups, and stews. Barley is usually sold as a dry grain, either whole or milled into flour.

Barley Varieties

Dehulled Barley - Dehulled barley has had the tough, inedible, outer shell removed but still maintains the nutritious bran and germ. Because dehulled barley still contains the bran, it is considered a whole grain. Dehulled barley is most often sold as whole, dry grain berries, but can also be found milled into a whole grain flour or rolled into flakes, similar to rolled oats. Other names for dehulled barley include "pot barley" or "scotch barley."

Pearled Barley - Pearled barley has had the bran removed through a polishing process and has been steam treated for quicker cooking. Pearled barley has a lower nutritional content and is not considered a whole grain because the bran has been removed. Pearled barley is often added to soups and stews to provide extra flavor, texture, and carbohydrates. Pearled barley can also be milled into a soft barley flour.

Barley in Beverages

Barley is used to make most beers because its carbohydrates are particularly well suited for malting. The malting process breaks down carbohydrates into sugars which provide unique flavors and fuel for fermentation. Barley is particularly common in English and German beers.

vBarley can also be used to make whiskey, which is distilled from certain beers. While most American whiskeys are made with corn and rye, barley whiskey is more popular in Ireland and Scotland.

Barley is also used to make a variety of non-alcoholic drinks including barley water, barley tea, and a roasted barley drink similar to coffee. Barley water is a British drink that is made by boiling pearled barley and then flavoring with various fruits. Barley water is a flavorful drink that is enjoyed similarly to soft drinks. Barley tea is common in Asian countries and is made by lightly roasting barley and then steeping in hot water. This caffeine free beverage, called mugicha, is enjoyed hot during colder months and cold when the weather is hot. A similar beverage made with roasted barley was consumed as an inexpensive coffee substitute in Europe when coffee imports were disrupted by war.

Purchasing and Storage of Barley

Pearled barley is the most common form of barley sold in grocery stores throughout the United States. It is usually sold in one pound bags near dry beans, rice, and other grains. Health food stores and specialty grocers may sell dehulled barley, barley flour, or rolled barley. Look for these types of barley in bulk bins or near beans, rice, and other grains.

Like most dry whole grains, barley should be stored in a cool, dry place. Barley should be stored in an air-tight container to keep out moisture and pests. When stored properly, dry barley should maintain its freshness for 12-18 months.

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