Ancient barley is a versatile cooking companion
March 2, 2018
Our popular modern day grains derive from wild grasses that humans began cultivating and selectively breeding at least 10,000 years ago.
The theory is that the barley grain was first domesticated around 8000 BCE, in the Fertile Crescent, an area around Iraq and southern Turkey. The wild ancestor of modern barley is abundant across North Africa, the Middle East and into Central Asia.
It was being cultivated from Egypt in the east to the Indus Valley in the west more than 5000 years ago. There’s evidence barley was being fermented in ancient Mesopotamia, probably as an ingredient in bread and beer. It may well have been transported across ancient Eastern trade routes to China where it appears around 1500-2000 BCE. By this time it had also made it as far north as Finland.
It’s also depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphs and played an important role in their funeral rites. Archaeological finds, dating back to at least 3000 BC, show that it was grown on wet cloths and then placed in the tombs. This is most likely connected to the resurrection myth of Osiris, where the sprouting of barley seeds sown in the belly of the dead god symbolised his return to life.
Grains have long been symbols of cornucopia and abundance. In the ancient Greek Eleusinian mysteries heads of barley represented Demeter, the goddess of fertility. It also played a role in the religious rituals of the ancient Israelites.
Why barley is good for you and your digestion.
Barley is a versatile low GI (glycemic index) grain that provides an excellent source of manganese & molybdenum (60 grms of the dry hulled grain provides 60% of the daily recommended intake). It is high in selenium, dietary fibre & vitamin B1. It also contains copper, which assists with healthy bones, joints and blood vessels, as well as phosphorus, essential for cell-membranes and nervous system structures.
Our Organic Barley grain comes with the inedible husk (or spikelet). It is excellent for sprouting to ensure all the nutritional value is fully intact.
For our Organic Pearl Barley we keep the pearling process to a minimum, so this means, unlike conventional barley pearling, that much of the nutrient value of whole barley is retained. We just polish off of the outermost hull and the bran layer. Pearl barley is much less chewy and quicker to cook than hulled barley, but it is also lower in nutrients, and isn’t considered a ‘whole grain’.
Organic Barley Bran is an insoluble fibre that boosts intestinal health by providing both bulk for regularity, and food for friendly gut microbes that inhabit the large intestine. This collection of microbes is part of our microbiome, a complex system of organic life that is essential for human development, immunity and nutrition. These organisms help to digest our food, regulate our immune system and protect against other disease-causing bacteria. They’re also involved in producing several vitamins, including B vitamins, from the food we eat.
How to use barley:
Compared with other grains, barley’s heat-producing qualities make it an excellent choice for those who feel the chill of winter – it will help you stay warm for many hours. Throughout the colder regions of the world it is traditionally used as a staple food in soups and stews.
- Cook it as a change from rice. Simply simmer as for rice, and check it for softness after about 25mins. It’s best not to over cook.
- Try adding some pearl barley to your favourite stew or soup for extra heartiness and flavour. Or, use barley flour to thicken a stew or gravy.
- When making breads, scones or muffins, add a sweet and earthy flavour by substituting Organic Barley Flour for the wheat flour that the recipe calls for. A good ratio is to replace half the wheat with barley.
- Try some barley bran in those muffins too, (picture at left) to give them a delicious chewy flavour. It’s one of my favourite ways to make my muffins healthier.
- Make a tasty summer salad by tossing chilled, cooked pearl barley with chopped vegetables and your favourite dressing.
Palace Cake Recipe from Ancient Ur (click on the image to enlarge)
In honour of barley’s ancient place of origin we made a Palace Cake, using a recipe sourced in Cathy Kaufman’s book “Cooking in Ancient Civilisations”. We used barley instead of wheat, since in the light of its history that seemed authentic enough. The end result was a delicious, pie-like date cake, that is sweetened only by the dried fruit.
About our barley
At Kialla we source our organic barley from Queensland’s Lockyer Valley and Western Downs. Sometimes when there’s not enough grown in these regions we’ll go as far as South West NSW and South Australia to get our supplies.
Barley contains gluten and,along with wheat, oats and rye, is not suitable for those on a strict gluten-free diet.
We recommend that all our products are stored under cool dry conditions. For distributors, retailers and manufacturers this means coolroom storage to maintain optimum freshness. At home, refrigerator storage may be necessary, particularly in summer.
Written by Sheridan Kennedy on March 2, 2018