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Hordeum vulgare (Barley)

gars [Afrikaans]

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Monocotyledons > Order: Poales > Family: Poaceae

Hordeum vulgare (Barley) Hordeum vulgare (Barley)

Barley grains. [photo H. Robertson, Iziko ]

Domesticated more than 9750 years ago in the Near East. It is a nutritious grain with nutrients concentrated mainly near the bran - hence the more the grain is milled the less nutritious it becomes. Barley absorbs the flavours of the liquid it is cooked in and hence is a good addition to soups and stews. It can also be eaten with vegetables as a vegetarian meal with a reasonably high protein content. It is often used as a substitute for rice. The main use of barley in southern Africa is for malting to produce beer. 

Domestication

Together with wheat, Barley was one of the main cereals that was domesticated in the Mediterranean and Near East regions during the Neolithic period. As far back as 17000 BC, people in the Near East were collecting seed from wild wheat and barley, this early evidence stemming from seed remains found at an archaeological site near the Sea of Galilee in Israel. The earliest record of domesticated barley is 7750 BC, from an archaological site north of Jericho. Compared with wheat, barley has the advantage of being able to withstand drier conditions and less fertile, fairly saline soils. 

Domestication of barley involved changing a number of properties of the plant: (1) there was selection for non-brittle varieties, i.e. those in which seeds were retained on the plant and not shed before harvest. Selection of such a property happened automatically because it was only the retained seeds that were successfully harvested and used as seed for the next planting; (2) wild and early crop varieties of barley had only two rows of spikelets whereas in later cultivated forms there were six rows of spikelets; and (3) most varieties of barley have hulled seeds, i.e. the husk of the seed is tough and does not come off during the threshing process. However, there has been selection in some varieties for free-threshing forms. Hulled varieties are often preferred for brewing beer and for animal feed while those with naked grains are favoured for direct consumption (Zohary & Hopf 1993).

Like most other grasses that have been domesticated, barley has the advantage of being a self-pollinator. 

Uses

Barley is often regarded unfoundedly as inferior food compared with wheat but it is a nutritious grain and is a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, iron, niacin and soluble fibre. The nutrients are concentrated mainly near the bran and hence the more the grain is milled the less nutritious it becomes. 

Types of barley encountered in shops include the following. 

  • Flaked barley. The grain is flattened, like rolled oats
  • Pot barley or Scotch barley. Coarsely ground with most of the husk (and hence nutrients) removed. 
  • Pearled barley. Outer husk and bran is milled off in such a way as to produce pearl-like grains. Poor in nutrients because of the loss of the bran layer but it takes less time to cook (about half an hour). In Afrikaans, well-milled barley of this sort is termed kaalgars (i.e. 'naked barley').
  • Hulled barley. Only the outer husk is removed and not the bran layer, hence most of the nutrients are retained. However, being less refined it takes longer to cook (grain needs to be soaked in water for a few hours and then boiled for about an hour). 
  • Barley flour. Barely grains ground into flour that is dark coloured, not white. The low gluten content means that it does not cause rising of baked goods and hence is usually mixed with other flours when used in baking. 

Barley absorbs the flavours of the liquid it is cooked in and hence is a good addition to soups and stews. It can also be eaten with vegetables as a vegetarian meal with a reasonably high protein content. It is often used as a substitute for rice. 

The main use of barley in southern Africa is for malting to produce beer. 

References

  • Anon. 2002. Encyclopedia of Foods. A Guide to Healthy Nutrition. Academic Press, San Diego, California. 

  • Harlan, J.R. 1995. The living fields - our agricultural heritage. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

  • Sauer, J.D. 1993. Historical geography of crop plants - a select roster. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.

  • Zohary, D. & Hopf, M. 1993. Domestication of plants in the old World - The origin and spread of cultivated plants in West Asia, Europe, and the Nile Valley. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

 

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