Barley: Then and Now

By Maddie Patterson
Communications & Marketing Intern
Northern Crops Institute

Since its domestication, barley has basically been used for the same three purposes. Even the earliest civilizations that grew the grain used it to make bread, beer, and animal feed. So, it is fair to say that barley has a longstanding tradition of being a staple grain. In this blog we will take a closer look at both ancient and modern uses of the grain.

In order to know how our modern usage of barley has changed, compared to ancient civilizations, we have to go back in time. Barley is thought to have been first domestically cultivated around five thousand years ago in Egypt, although this date and place is a rough estimation. Even in these times, the grain was fermented to make beer, fed to cattle and other livestock, and widely recognized for its nutritional benefits. Later on, the Romans would prefer barley bread because of its filling properties. In ancient Greece, people liked using the grain to make porridge and unleavened breads  Some of these ancient uses of the grain still take place today, but modern people have also found new ways to use barley.

In modern times, barley is used for many of the same reasons. Although our methods have changed, we are still creating bread, beer, and feeding livestock. However, today our use of barley is also more varied. We include barley in many other foods, and use it more as a side dish. One example of this is incorporating barley into other foods for its additional health benefits. Today we are more apt to process the grain further and make it an addition to meals.

In short, barley has a longstanding tradition of being a nutritious, beneficial grain that has been utilized for thousands of years. And even though we have changed our uses of it in some ways, others remain surprisingly consistent.