We Should Be Bullish about Barley

By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau Outreach Director

This year, Arizona farmers intend to plant 11,000 acres of barley, lowest acreage since 1928 when only 8,000 acres were planted, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA-NASS). If anyone can highlight our agriculture numbers it’s USDA-NASS!

Barley, a member of the grass family, is a major cereal grain grown in temperate climates all over the world. Found in ancient Eurasia civilizations as long ago as 5,000 years, it’s considered one of the first cultivated grains.

A major whole-grain cereal grain, you’ll find barley in bread, beverages and various cuisines of just about every culture. And as we’ve been learning lately, whole grains are an important source of dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals that are not found in refined or “enriched” grains. Refining grains removes the bran, germ and most of their fiber and nutrients.

So, though Arizona’s barley acres are down this year, it’s still important to know that our farmers are growing this important cereal grain right here in our desert state. Sourced from information by USDA, the University of Arizona and gobarley.com, the following fun facts about barley will make us appreciate this often-overlooked cereal grain.

  1. The Egyptians were the first known brewers of barley into beer.
  2. Roman gladiators were called “barley men” (the hordearii) because they ate massive amounts of barley bread since it was believed to increase stamina and strength.
  3. Malting barley is a delicate process and required close attention to detail and careful timing of even the harvest. The barley must be malted in a living state with a minimum of 95% germination to be suitable for brewing beer.
  4. Non-alcoholic drinks such as barley water and barley tea (call mugicha in Japan), have been made by boiling barley in water. Barleywine was an alcoholic drink made in the 1700s, prepared from recipes of ancient Greek origin. It was prepared by boiling barley in water, the water from the barley was then mixed with white wine, and other ingredients like borage, lemon, and sugar were added.
  5. Until the 1500s, barley was Europe’s most important crop, at times even serving as a currency and a standard of measurement.
  6. About half of the United States’ barley production is used as an animal feed. Barley is an important feed grain in many areas of the world not typically suited for maize production, especially in northern climates.
  7. Barley is the principal feed grain in Canada, Europe, and the northern United States.
  8. Barley contains all eight essential amino acids. According to a recent study, eating whole grain barley can regulate blood sugar for up to 10 hours after consumption compared to white or even whole-grain wheat, which has a similar glycemic index. Barley can also be used as a coffee substitute.
  9. In Arizona, barley is grown mainly as a source of animal feed and used in making beer. Yuma, Arizona-grown barley is a reasonably fast growing and early maturing grain crop, averaging about 50 days from seed to harvest.

To learn more about Arizona’s amazing array of crops grown, go to Fill Your Plate’s blog. Besides articles about nutrition, we periodically highlight the crops this desert state grows.

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