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Barley Nutrition

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A wide variety of foods can be made with barley. From top clockwise, muffins, granola, barley flour, pearled barley, no-bake cookies, vegetable beef barley soup, tabouleh, and pancakes.

Photo and caption courtesy Peggy Greb @ ARS-USDA.

Barley, as a grain, is not considered by humans to be as palatable as other grains, but it is still used in many foods that we eat (2, 8, 10, 13). Most barley used for food is either in pearled or flour form (10).

Pearled barley

Before being used for human consumption, barley must undergo 3-4 pearlings (13). Pearling is a polishing or abrasive grinding process which removes the outer husk and part of the bran layer of the kernels (6, 8, 10, 13). (Pot barley is not as polished (8).) After pearling it can be used in soup, dressings, cereal, infant foods, or ground into flour (8, 13).


Barley flour can be produced either as a by-product of pearling, or from milled grain (3, 10). The best quality flour comes from milling pearled barley. Because of low gluten, barley flour is usually mixed with 10-25% wheat flour for baking (3).

Barley flour is used in flatbreads, baby foods, breakfast cereals, and baking (10, 13).

Other uses

Roasted barley is considered to be a healthy alternative to coffee, such as in "caffé d'orzo" (12). Barley is also used in the production of some vinegars (13).

Fig 1.*
Fig 2.*

Despite it's reputation for not being as palatable as other grains, globally barley provides about three times more calories per capita ( Figure 1) than oats (see oats, nutrition). The four top consuming countries get over 100 calories a day from barley, with Moroccan citizens getting the most at 275 calories a day from this grain. By comparison per capita, India averages 7, the US averages 5, and China averages 2 calories per day.

* FAOSTAT data, 2005

Barley is high in carbohydrates, fiber and antioxidants; is a source of protein, calcium and phosphorus and B vitamins; and is low-fat and cholesterol-free (10, 13). Current research is investigating the potential health benefits of barley, but some of the claims are that it can regulate blood sugar and lower cholesterol (8, 10).

For more information on barley as a food, visit:
For nutrition information see the following links: For information on malts and brewing, see Barley Introduction .

  1. Barley Germplasm Database, 2003. Barley Database Notes. Barley Germplasm Center, Okayama University, Japan.
  2. 2005. The Barley project, Oregon State University. What is Barley? Accessed April 19, 2006.
  3. Duke, J. A. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished. Hordeum vulgare L.
  4. Gomez-Macpherson, H. 2001. Hordeum vulgare. EcoPort Entity 1232,
  5. Hordeum vulgare. Retrieved April 18, 2006, from the Integrated Taxonomic Information System on-line database,
  6. Kling, J. 2004. An Introduction to Barley - Notes from CSS 330 World Foods Class. Accessed April 18, 2006.
  7. Plants for a Future database. 2004. Hordeum vulgare Blagdon Cross, Ashwater, Beaworthy, Devon, EX21 5DF, UK. Website: Accessed April 18, 2006.
  8. Small, E. 1999. New crops for Canadian agriculture. p. 15-52. In: J. Janick (ed.), Perspectives on new crops and new uses. ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA.
  9. US Barley genome project. 2005. Accessed April 18, 2006.
  10. U.S. Grains Council (2006) Barley: Genus Hordeum, family poaceae, a cereal grain.
  11. USDA, NRCS, 2006. The PLANTS Database, 6 March 2006. National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.
  12. Wikipedia contributors (2006). Barley. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 14, 2006
  13. Young, B. 2001. Barley; The Versatile Crop. Southern Illinois University, College of Science, Ethnobotanical Leaflets.