Barley – the world’s healthiest grain

(US scientists R. Newman, W. Newman, 2008, 2017).

Barley is an ancient grain as well as ancient food for early human civilizations. The best witness of that is the Holly Bible mentions the word “barley” in food context as many as in 35 its verses.

Barley today is still a major staple food in several regions such as North Africa, Near East, highlands of Central Asia, Horn of Africa, Andean countries, Baltic States.

To the recent time in developed countries, food barley has forgotten and its food consumption was very limited.

However, in the last two decades we can see the barley rediscovering as human food and its food preparations. The world’s total amount of barley uses for food significantly increased from 17.3 million tons in 1990 to 23.7 million tons in 2005 with apparently growing forecast consumption in the future. China only displayed the biggest, as much as twice, increase in barley’s food use, from 2.0 million tons in 1990 to 4.0 million tons in 2005. Some other countries such as Russia, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia have considerably increased barley for food use from nearly nothing in 1990 to more than 1.0 million tons in 2005.

From the FAO statistics in 2005 China was the world’s largest consumer of barley as food (up to 4.0 million tons), followed by USA (2.9 million tons), Russia, Morocco, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia (1.0 million to 1.3 million tons).

In China the largest amount of barley is consumed in Tibet where it accounts as much as for 56% (!) of the total food production and more than 2.1 million people consume barley. For example, the main very popular food is Tsampa (or Tsamba) is a Tibetian and Himalayan foodstuff particularly prominent in the central part of the region. It is prepared from roasted hull-less barley flour. The popular Nepalese and Tibetan alcoholic beverage also brewed from barley.

Barley is traditional dish known as Kasha in Russia and Poland, Miso in Japan, Sattu or popped barley well known in India.

In Korea barley is the second (!) most popular and important food after rice.

In the Western Asia-North Africa region, much of barley is consumed in form of pearled grain in soups, as flour in flat bread, and ground grain in cooked porridge.

In the Western countries, unfortunately, just small quantities of barley are use in breakfast cereals, soups, stews, porridge, bakery blends, and for baby foods.

Barley products utilized for traditional food preparations can be classified in: a) Whole grain; b) Cracked grain; c) Raw-grain flour (fine and coarse); d) Whole roasted grain; e) Roasted-grain flour (fine and coarse). Barley products are suitable for use in many food preparations, including different types of bread, pasta, rice extender, and for baby foods, although most of the use has been largely confined to pot or pearled barley in soup and to flakes in breakfast cereals. Roasted barley can be used as coffee-substitute. ‘Barley coffee’ is very popular in Europe. In Italy, known as Caffe d’orzo, is commonly used as a breakfast drink for children, often mixed with milk. Barley is eaten in soups or as porridge after been popped, blocked, or pearled and is sometimes used as a rice extender (instead of popular rice), which needs a longer cooking time than rice.

Among the 10 of the world’s largest barley consumers, Saudi Arabia and Morocco have the highest average consumption (more than 35 kg per person), followed by Germany, Ethiopia (around 14 kg per person), UK, USA, Russia (about 10 kg per person), Brazil, China (3-4 kg per person). India has the lowest average annual consumption (0.7 kg per person).

Due to series of comprehensive scientific research have been performed in the world for the last two decades barley grain is discovered as healthy food. There has been a renewed interest in food barley as healthy food in general and as a source of soluble dietary fiber (beta-glucan) implicated in hypocholesterolemia and hypoglycemia in non-insulin-dependent diabetes. The beta-glucan content of whole-grain barley is equivalent to or greater than that found in whole-grain oats. In a weight-for-weight comparison, whole-grain barley is lower in fat, protein and calories, and higher in total dietary fiber than whole-grain oats.

A comprehensive review of the scientific evidence suggests that increasing whole-grain consumption can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and diabetes, and can help with weight maintenance (

The potential benefit of soluble dietary fiber such as the β-glucan in lowering the cholesterol

level and postprandial blood glucose and insulin response has been reported by several authors (Brennan and Cleary 2005).

Barley is recognized as a champion among cereals containing the highest amount of bioactive compounds called tocols (tocopherols and tocotrienols) are also reported to lower the total blood cholesterol and the low density (LDL) lipoprotein cholesterol (Wang et al. 1993).

Recent time the hull-less barley (hull-free grain) in food preparations is becoming much more popular than the hulled one. The hull-less barley is better than hulled one in food processing operations. It can be directly (with no prior pearling) transformed into flour, flakes or groats with no or minimal loose of the most important for human health peripheric grain layers.

The world’s barley breeding today is focused on the development of hull-less barley food end-use varieties. The largest in Ukraine hull-less food barley varieties breeding program is located in Odessa (Plant Breeding and Genetics Institute). There are already several spring and winter hull-less barley varieties developed and listed.

Our “healthy grain” hull-less barley breeding program aimed on development of biofortified hull-less barley varieties increased in dietary fiber, resistant starch, vitamins and mineral content, colored grain (purple, blue and black) varieties prominent in bioactive compounds such as antioxidants, ultra-low gluten varieties, low phytate barley, etc.

Recently Ukrainian company “Cereal Planet Ukraine” “Olimp™” initiated development of the new cereal product “Bulgur Arpa” manufactured from the grain of our spring hull-less barley varieties. The first experimental samples of the “Bulgur Arpa” appeared to be in the particles surface aspect very similar to that bulgur commonly manufactured by the company from durum wheat. The taste and culinary properties of the new food product “Bulgur Arpa” were found as quite satisfied. However, nutritional properties of the new product “Bulgur Arpa” in terms of the product’ functionality are superior over the traditional bulgur manufactured by the company from durum wheat.

We are sure that the newly developed product “Bulgur Arpa” will be positively accepted by the food market and can find its satisfied consumer.


The report made by scientist of the

Plant Breeding & Genetics Institute             Dr. Alexander Rybalka.