A widely grown cereal grass that produces a grain, which has been a primary food source of many cultures for thousands of years. After wheat, rice, and corn, it is the most important cereal crop in the world. It is very hardy, so it is grown in many parts of the world and is planted in the spring or fall (similar to wheat). It is a staple food crop in Asia and in many of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean. In the United States, the important growing area is the northwest quarter of the contiguous states, extending from Minnesota to Washington. The barley plant grows as high as 4 feet. The grain has a nutty and somewhat sweet flavor and the color of the grain ranges from a light tan to various shades of brown or purple.
The outer husk and bran layers are often removed from the barley grain before it is processed further. This is referred to as “pearled” or “polished” barley, which is used to produced barley flour, barley flakes, malt, or as an ingredient in other foods. Since barley flour contains very little gluten, it is often combined with wheat flour to add gluten, which produces better results for baked items. Barley is one of the best grains for use in soups, casseroles, or salads and it has been used for years in brewing beer (once it is malted). Barley is considered to be an excellent ingredient for providing soluble fiber, which helps to reduce cholesterol in the blood. It is also rich in niacin and iron. Whole barley, also called hulled barley (the inedible husk has been removed), is much more nutritious than pearled barley because the bran is left intact.