Barley:a legacy from the Stone Age?
Barley Brief History.:
The use of hardy Barley grain dates to the Stone Age; barley is possibly the oldest grain in the world. Adaptable and strong, it's able to grow on both frigid mountaintops and in blistering desert heat. Though barley has been used as a staple grain for millions of years, most of the barley now grown in Western countries is used for animal feed or to make beer and whiskey.
Barley grows in a wider variety of climatic conditions than any other cereal. It used to be a very important source of direct human food, but its use has diminished over the last 250 years, replaced by wheat, and it is now used almost exclusively as animal feed or for making beer and whisky. It contains gluten, so barley flour can be made into bread. More usually found in the shops as whole or pot barley, or polished pearl barley, it is also possible to buy barley flakes or kernels. The whole barley is more nutritious with 100g providing 10.5g protein, 2.1g fat, 69.3g carbohydrate, 4g fibre, 50mg folic acid, 6mg iron and 50mg calcium. It can be cooked on its own (1:3 parts water for 45-60 minutes) as a pleasant alternative to rice, pasta or potatoes, or added to stews. Malt extract is made from sprouted barley grains.
Archaeological evidence has shown that approximately 10,000 years ago in the "Fertile Crescent" barley (Hordeum vulgare) was probably the first domesticated cereal crop. Initially the grain was ground into a paste to make porridge or toasted as flat bread on hot stones. The moist barley paste was susceptible to fermentation, which was a prelude to leavened bread and beer making. Many of these porridges, breads, and fermented beverages were common in the diets of ancient Egyptians and Greeks.
During the latter part of the Stone Age, early man was sprinkling grains of barley over various foods, adding a chewy, nutty quality to his meals. Humans had not yet discovered how to grind grain into flour.
Ancient cultures were forming loaves of barley bread long before domesticating wheat. Since barley contains only miniscule quantities of gluten, the protein that makes wheat breads rise easily, the breads made from this grain were heavy and quite dense but nutritious nonetheless.
Our cultivated barley of today was once a wild grass that originated in the Near East, though some food historians believe China was the place of origin, while others say it was Ethiopia. Archeologists discovered remnants of wild barley, H. spontaneum, at many sites across a belt that stretches from North Africa on the west to Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan in the east.
Wild barley has a unique feature that guarantees self-propagation. When the seeds are fully matured, they become so loosely attached they simply fall from the spike that holds them during growth. Cultivated barley, in contrast, remains firmly attached and must be harvested. About the sixth century BCE cultivation of barley led to the development of barley seeds that clung firmly to their stalk.
Before cultivation, the early forms of barley were 6-rowed. With cultivation 2-rowed barley became the norm, a feature that has been carried up to the present. The original 6-rowed variety of barley appears on many ancient coins and wall paintings.
The earliest archeological site where uncultivated grains of barley were discovered is at Tel Mureybat in Syria, a place that dates back to 8,000 BCE. The earliest form of uncultivated wheat was also found at this site, though it is evident by the quantity found that barley was the most popular grain at that time. Grains were also discovered at various archeological sites in Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Asia Minor. Those areas, too, showed a preference for barley over wheat.
Egyptian hieroglyphics dating back to 5,000 BCE mention barley's importance to sustenance, while the Sumerians note the use of barley for measurement and as a form of money on their cuneiforms dating back 3,500 BCE. In the Code of Hammurabi, 1750 BCE, the Babylonians employed barley as simple monetary exchange.
About that same period in the Indus Valley, a region that includes Northern India, Pakistan, and Southwestern Tibet, a Vedic writing mentions barley and rice as "two immortal sons of heaven." The Babylonians created the oldest known recipe for making barley wine and inscribed the directions in a cross-shaped form on a library brick dating back to 2,800 BCE.
Barley journeyed into China before wheat. The Chinese in the northern part of the country had a preference for millet, though barley appeared often at their meals cooked in broth, consumed as flat breads, and even eaten instead of rice. The Emperor Shen Nung placed a high value on barley when he mentioned it as one of the five sacred cultivated plants of China in his writings dated 2,800 BCE. The other sacred plants he revered were rice, wheat, millet, and soybeans.
Recovered shards of Chinese pottery from the Hsia Dynasty dating back about 1520 BCE demonstrate barley's value by depicting the hulled grains falling from the sky into a peasant farmer's rice bowl. These ancient Chinese farmers revealed a kinship to the heavy-bearded variety of barley by declaring it as a symbol of male potency.
Before barley was cultivated in China, nomadic peasant families followed the path of wild barley as mature spikes were about to open. They set up tents right on the fields to catch the precious falling seeds before a hearty gust of wind could carry them away.
Since barley was the major grain of the Egyptians as well as the Hebrews it is not surprising that barley should be mentioned in the bible. Exodus I of the Old Testament tells of a pounding rain of hailstones "by which the barley was smitten," one of the ten plagues brought on the Egyptians.
The Bible mentions barley frequently. Ezekiel paid penance to God by eating a diet relying on barley. When three angels came to visit Abraham, he offered them barley bread. Ruth was gathering barley from the field when Boaz first saw her. Joab's fields of barley were set afire when Absalom ordered his servants to burn Joab's grain. From the New Testament in the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, the five loaves of bread that Christ fed to five thousand people were made of barley.
To many Egyptian workers barley meant sustenance. The enslaved people who built the pyramids endured intense desert heat, heavy labor lifting huge stones, and dawn to dusk hours on a spartan diet. Their meals consisted of a mere three loaves of barley bread a day and an allotment of beer--made from barley, of course.
Before the Common Era, barley carried a great deal of importance since it was the major staple grain throughout the entire Near East, Egypt and Greece. Spain was introduced to this grain in the fifth century BCE before travelers brought it to France and Germany. Historians believe barley reached Britain about 500 BCE, southern India about 300 BCE, and southern China in 200 BCE.
In ancient Greece, Turkey, Syria, and Egypt barley was frequently served in the form of porridge or unleavened bread. These ancient civilizations also developed the art of malting barley for making beer.
As the Common Era was approaching, barley began to lose favor in Rome and Greece. Cooks of that period learned that bread making with wheat could offer a superior loaf that was lighter, more flavorful, and was able to keep longer. Barley contains so little gluten, the protein that gives bread its ability to rise, that breads were extremely dense and heavy. Gluten also helps breads retain moisture, a quality lacking in barley, causing barley breads to become stale rather quickly. Barley, however, still remained the grain of the poor, while the rich were breaking bread with wheat.
No longer in existence, Eleusis, an ancient town in Greece, rewarded game winners with sacks of barley. Barley mush was selected for training the athletes because the Greeks considered it more strengthening than other grains. In Rome the gladiators, often called hordearii or "barley men," were consuming a staple diet that relied on barley.
During the Common Era and up until the sixteenth century, European aristocracy developed a resourceful use for barley. They only used the barley bread as "trenchers," an Old English word for plates. While the aristocracy derided barley, the French peasants of this period were thriving on barley bread and bean soup. John Locke, a British philosopher, noted that in France "there was no flesh in the countryside. "
In North America, Massachusetts grew its first crop of barley in 1602. The pilgrims planted the barley seeds they brought with them but had little success; however, the grain found the climate in Pennsylvania more favorable. The Pennsylvanians then added limestone water to the barley and created something they considered much more interesting and more enjoyable than bread. With a little barley sprouting, a little fermenting, and a little distilling, their end product was whiskey. Since wheat and corn were plentiful in North America, barley was never used for baking bread. It gained its popularity as an important ingredient for making beer.
While wheat was coming into popular use during the 18th and 19th centuries in Britain, barley was still favored in the more remote areas of the north and west. As wheat became more affordable throughout Europe, and the average person discovered its merits in bread making, barley was relegated as fodder for the animals.
Barley malt, used as a sweetener, originated in China.Today, the grain is highly valued in Tibet and surrounding areas of the Himalayas for its ability to grow successfully in those high altitudes where weather conditions are extreme.
Barley will grow in many areas of the world where wheat will not thrive. Because barley is so adaptable to a variety of soils and can even grow in soil high in salinity, such as along the Zuyder Zee in Holland, that it remains a popular grain in diverse areas like Tibet, northern Germany, Finland, Israel, the Italian Alps, the Sahara, and Ethiopia.
At present, barley is the world's fourth most important crop and an important staple in many countries. Though the U.S. is the third largest producer of barley, only a small portion reaches the dinner tables. Most of it is sold to farmers for animal feed, while the remainder goes to the production of barley malt for making beer.
In contrast to barley's importance as a food grain in the ancient world, it is now grown in the United States mainly for animal fodder. The animals receive the healthiest of barley's by-products: hay, straw, green fodder, bran and pearlings (the outer layers of the barley that are removed to create pearl barley), barley malt sprouts, the grains that are left after brewers and distillers finish their process, and the hops and yeast left over after brewing beer.
- 1.Barley:a legacy from the Stone Age?
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