The grain of the gladiators
Barley is a grain typified by its long-bearded spiked heads.
Once very widespread (from the edges of the Sahara to Sweden), barley was always much used in making malt, the basic ingredient of beer (the Gauls made cervoise, barley beer). In the 5th century BC, arriving in Italy to found Naples, the Greeks discovered a barley and water paste dried in the sun and made into a sauce that they called makaria (felicity).
The Hebrews saw barley as a symbol of strength and valor in war. It had the same connotations for the Egyptians, Roman gladiators and Vikings. Christopher Columbus brought barley to North America from Europe in 1493 and it has been cultivated here ever since.
It is suited to all latitudes. Gathered just about everywhere in its wild state, barley seems to have first been grown in Turkestan, Ethiopia, Tibet, Nepal and China. Digs carried out in Egypt, 100 km from Cairo, have shown that barley was being grown more than 5,000 years ago. It is grown from Finland to North Africa to Tibet, where the national dish is Tsampa, toasted barley flour.
Today only one-third of world barley production is used as food, most of it going to make malt for beer and whisky.

Did you know...
A bushel of barley yields a bushel of malt, which in turn yields a barrel of beer, which is 333 bottles!

Nutritional Facts

Barley is an excellent source of dietary fiber, B vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin and niacin, and protein. Barley also has a high concentration of total tocals, which reduce the production of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol). They are also natural antioxidants that help neutralize free radicals, which may reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. The soluble fiber in barley flour may help regulate blood glucose levels in Type 2 diabetics.


Cook barley in twice its volume of cold water. Cook for 30 minutes after it comes to the boil. Salt at the end of cooking.

After soaking, the grains can also be dry roasted before adding liquid. The flavor will be a little more pronounced.

If you don't soak the barley, allow at least 1 hour cooking time. After it's cooked, barley can be used in many ways:

In soups, of course, including the traditional beef barley made with beef stock and ribs, vegetables and aromatics. A wide range of salads can also be prepared with barley.

It can also be made into desserts, such as fruit salads. Many other dishes can be made with barley, including Italian frittatas, puddings (as in Mongolia and Turkey), Hungarian stew, etc.

Barley is also a natural thickener.


We distinguish between spring barley, sown from late February on and harvested when overripe when the heads droop, and winter barley, sown in early October and harvested at maturity.

Hulled barley
This is simply barley with the hull removed. It is the most nutritious, since only the tough outer hulls are polished off and it retains all its nutritional properties. It takes longer to cook, but is excellent in soups.

Scotch barley
The grain has undergone three polishing steps using abrasion. The grain has lost various nutrients, particularly vitamins and minerals and almost all its bran.

Pearl barley
Pearl barley undergoes five or six abrasive polishings to create grains of equal size and shape. It has lost almost all its outer covering and its germ, and nutritionally is in third place.

Cracked barley
Resembles bulgur. The grains have been roasted and broken into tiny pieces.

Hato mugi
A variety of barley used in Japanese dishes. The grain is hulled, compressed and enriched. It is grown in the East where it also has medicinal uses.

Black barley
Ethiopian black barley is similar to pearl barley, only it has a black exterior.

Nutritional content per 100 g
  • 123 calories
  • 2.3 g protein
  • 28.2 g carbohydrates
  • 0.4 g fat
  • 6.5 g fiber
  • 68.8 % water

Rich in:

  • iron, zinc, magnesium,
  • potassium, copper
  • phosphorus
  • niacin, folacin
  • vitamin B6

With its high fiber content, it is a mild laxative.
Barley is also strengthening and regenerating, beneficial to the respiratory system and an anti-diarrheic. It is used in infusions to ease coughs. 


Soak the barley grains for 12 hours in advance. Drain and rinse.


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