The Ecology of Humans (51-4) Barley


Barley was one of the early domesticated grains: cultivated in the Levant over 10,000 years ago. Barley was a staple for ancient Egyptians, who also brewed it into a beer, thus starting an enduring tradition. As a widely adaptable crop, barley readily spread around the world via trade routes.

In medieval Europe, barley and rye breads were peasant fodder. The upper crust ate wheat. In Eastern Europe, potatoes largely replaced barley in the 19th century as the serf food of choice.

Barley’s low status owed to its low level of gluten compared to wheat. Barley bread is much denser, coarser, and darker. As wheat cultivation improved, barley fell from favor.

The Japanese drink barley tea (mugicha) that, mixed with green tea leaves, hails a hearty taste.

The Italians make a coffee of barley (caffè d’orzo), which was especially popular during the Fascist era and World War II, when coffee was not readily available. The early 21st century saw its revival there as a substitute for caffeinated beverages.

Barley is highly digestible. It does a wondrous job of regulating blood sugar level.

Barley has 8 of the 9 essential amino acids, and otherwise provides B vitamins, iron, manganese, selenium, copper, and phosphorus.