Barley

Barley is botanically known as Hordeum vulgare and belongs to the family that is similar to grass.

It grows and is cultivated across all regions of the world and is widely used as fodder for domestic animals.

Barley belongs to the botanical order Poales and the botanical family of Poaceae.

Historically, the domestication of barley finds mention in the Egyptian texts thus proving its importance even during the ancient eras.

It also finds mention in the early Mesopotamian texts as well the the Vedas that form the principle texts for the ancient Indian science of Ayurveda.

Barley has been a staple food especially in the south east Asian region for centuries and is consumed widely even till date.

Nutritionally, it is considered as a dense food and is also extremely low in its calorific value.

It contains decent amounts of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

It is specifically a good source of the vitamin B group and essential minerals such as manganese, copper, iron and selenium.

Biochemically, barley mainly contains phenolic compounds which include caffeic acid, p coumaric acid and diferulic acid. Other components also include saponarin, procyanidin, glucosides and saponarins.

With the advances in the genetics and botany, a variety of species and types of barley have been cultivated so as to obtain maximum yield and benefits from the same.

Uses of Barley

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Nutrition and food

Barley is extremely rich in regards its calorific value and provides roughly 350 calories for every 100 grams consumed. As a result, it is considered as a food of high dietary value.

It is extremely rich in the Vitamin B group as well as minerals and thus helps provide the same to the body.

It is also a rich source of phosphorus and magnesium.

From the point of view of consumption, barley is available in a variety of forms which include both food and drink.

As a food, it is mainly available in the form of barley flour which is mixed with a variety of ingredients to make barley based bread, Indian roti, cakes, stew, porridge and various other types of meals.

This form is consumed all over the world in extremely large quantities owing to its nutritional benefits.

Barley is also widely used to make a number of beverages, both alcoholic as well as non alcoholic.

The most well known and commonest of these is beer which is a popular alcoholic beverage and is consumed widely all over the world.

Alcoholic beverages

Barley is the main ingredient used to make beer and whiskey.

Both are obtained by the using the process of fermentation and then distillation of the extract of the seeds and are concentrated to various specifications along with other ingredients to obtain the final product.

Both, whiskey as well as beer is widely consumed all over the world.

Around the period of the 18th century, barley was also used to prepare barley wine which was a s stronger form of beer by adding ingredients such as sugar and lemon to barley water and consumed locally in England. This was then modified by adding certain different ingredients and is consumed in many parts of Europe even till date.

Non alcoholic beverages

Barley is also used to prepare a large number of non alcoholic beverages consumed commonly owing to their health benefits.

The commonest of these is barley water which is made by simply soaking the barley seeds in water overnight or boiling the same to obtain the final product.

The Italians have used barley as a substitute to coffee and there have been notings in regards the use of the same being consumed during the second world war battles as it was a cheaper and more easily available option as compared to coffee.

Barley tea is also a product that has been developed recently and is consumed extensively across the world.

Use as animal feed

Traditionally, farm animals were fed maize and corn but the same was shifted to barley once its availability was made easier.

Cattle, especially cow who are reared for their meat in America and Canada are fed barley so as to obtain a smoother and better quality of beef.

Barley consumption in cattle have also known to help enhance and improve the quality and quantity of milk production in various parts of the world.

Fish farms that provide sea food to various markets across the world have also been known to feed the fish a diet rich in barley as it helps improve the protein content of the fish and also enhance the quality, which is better suited for consumption.

Algistatic

Algistatic is a substance or component that is used to prevent the growth and spread of algae in a water body.

In England, barley straws are inserted into bags and placed into pools and water bodies to prevent and control the growth of algae that may damage the ecosystem of that particular water body.

Barley acts in the same way without hampering other aquatic plants nor does it affect the aquatic life, thus proving an extremely safe option for controlling the algae.

Measurement and currency

It is interesting to know that before the system of measurement was invented, seeds were used to carry out measurements including those of barley.

In England, three to four barley corns were approximately as long as one inch.

The Turkish and the Ottoman Empire used barley as a source of currency also referred to as barley money.

Ornamental uses

A new variety of the barley species has been developed, namely hordeum vulgare varigate which is used for purposes of planting for gardens. The same plant is also used as feed for cats.

Historical mentions and uses

The Prophet Muhammad who founded Islam was believed to have prescribed barley for several diseases. It was also believed to help regulate the bowel.

Avicenna also wrote about the benefits of barley especially when taken in the form of barley water, broth and soup and stated it was very helpful in controlling cases of fever.

English folklore also has the mention of John Barleycorn that details his sufferings as stated by the various stages the barley goes through to make various products out of it.

Medicinal effects and uses

Apart from all the above uses and benefits of barley, it has immense amount of beneficial and medicinal action on the body and acts on various systems benefiting each in an individual way.

 

The rich fiber content of barley has a direct action on the intestinal tract and helps improve bowel movement as well as intestinal health.

This is a result of the insoluble form of fiber that is present in barley which holds water and thus helps to expel the total contents out from the bowel.  This property has a direct beneficial effect as it improves the tone of the intestine thereby preventing accumulation and formation of harmful bacteria in the same. As a broader benefit, the occurrence of cancer of the colon and the intestinal tract is thus also reduced.

Hence, barley is also effective in treating cases of constipation and can be given to patients who suffer from hemorrhoids or piles.

Barley also promoted the growth of healthy and friendly bacteria in the intestine.

The kidneys are also acted upon by barley as it acts like a diuretic thereby increasing the production and expulsion of urine. This thus helps prevent and protect the kidney from a host of diseases thereby protecting them.

Studies have shown that the intake barley has helped reduce inflammation in cases of joint related problems especially rheumatoid arthritis and osteo arthritis.

Studies have also shown that one of the major components of barley is beta glucan that is known to help reduce the fat levels of the body. Beta glucan has a direct action on the liver and the secretion of bile acids that are necessary to digest fat and expel the same. Thus, the blood cholesterol levels are directly acted upon and are kept in check owing to the same.

Indians are extremely prone to diabetes with the incidence of the same rising over the years.

Barley has been shown as an excellent supplement in the same owing to its nutrients especially beta glucan whose property is to absorb and digest food well, thus directly lowering the blood sugar levels. This property of barley is thus extremely useful in those people who suffer from type 2 diabetes and the consumption of barley is highly recommended to the same.

Niacin, also found in barley is known to have a protective effect on the heart as it prevents the deposition of cholesterol in the blood vessels thereby preventing further cardio vascular diseases. Thus, it is advised for patients who suffer from arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis.

Barley, especially when taken in the form of barley water is known to have a cooling effect on the body and it helps reduce the temperature and the heat component of the body. Its intake is thus advised especially during the summer months where in the excessive temperatures may lead to the formation of heat boils on the skin surface and also nose bleeds due to rupture of the capillaries.

The essential minerals iron and copper are also found abundantly in barley and have a direct action on the blood as both are required for the rejuvenation and formation of new red blood cells and also to enable the oxygenation capacity of the blood, thus having a beneficial action on the same.

Manganese is another component found in barley and which helps in the formation of free radicals in the body that are transported via blood. These act as antioxidants and are used to facilitate various chemical reactions in the body.

Barley also contains decent amounts of zinc and the same is extremely helpful in the healing process that occurs in the body after a wound and also helps slow down the aging process. Zinc also acts on the muscles of the body thereby protecting them.

Thus we can also state that barley has anti inflammatory and anti oxidant properties and helps to protect and build the overall immunity of the body.

Precautions

In recent times, the incidence of gluten allergies has risen which may lead to severe allergic reactions right from a rash, stomach disturbances to death in very severe allergic cases.

Barley is a gluten rich food and needs to be avoided in case of such allergies as it may lead to complications.

There are gluten free varieties that are now made available in the markets all over the world and thus these products can be consumed by individuals who suffer from such complications.

Thus we see how barley is an extremely essential component of our diet and how its uses vary from being that used as a beverage to its medicinal benefits which are of immense benefit to the body.