Barley is a member of the grass family (Poaceae). It has been used for food since the Neolithic. Written accounts of it have been found from the 1st century. In that time period, the Ancient Greek physician Dioscorides prescribed it as a treatment for sore throat, bad mood and for weight loss.
Even though it is one of the oldest crops, nowadays barley use is being replaced by that of rye. The main reason for this is the warming climate, as well as the rise of modern economics. Today, the top producers of Barley are Spain, France, Canada, the US, Russia and Germany.
Barley is a cereal grain. It is harvested before the end of winter. It is valuable because it can withstand cold weather and drought. And, it can grow in poor soil. Because of this, it is considered easy to cultivate and capable of feeding a great many people.
In the culinary arts, several products made from barley are used. The one most common for cooking is triple polished and cleaned barley. However, in this processing method, it loses almost all of its barley germ, as well as a large portion of the vitamins and minerals in its composition.
Cleaned barley is another type. There, only the outer hull of the grain is removed, with the germ and inner cellulose coating still present. Pearl barley is hulled and then polished 4-6 times, which means it loses nearly all of its natural components.
Another barley product is barley flakes. These are essentially crushed, cleaned barley grains. Barley flour is darker than wheat flour, with a slight walnut taste. It is most commonly used in whole wheat, multi-grain breads and pastas.
When used for cooking, barley is usually boiled. Boiled barley grains are used like muesli with dried fruits and nuts and in a porridge with vegetables and cheeses. Bear in mind that cleaned barley grains need to be boiled 2-3 times longer than others.
They also require several hours of soaking in advance. They are exceptionally delicious when spiced with curry with added peas and grated skim cheese. They are also used in salads, soups and in garnishes.
In Asian cuisine, barley is used in raw form - in the preparation of salted, fermented miso.