Before agriculture was a thing, nomads in the Near East could be found gathering barely in the wild grasses. Since then, barley has continued to be an important crop in world history. Even now, it is considered the fourth most important cereal crop being especially crucial in Northern Africa, the Middle East and the Himalayas.
Barley was being used 10,000 years before it was domesticated. There is evidence for two locations of original domestication: the Fertile Crescent and the Tibetan Plateau. On the southwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, we find one of the earliest sites of barley in settlements dating back 23,000 years ago.
As far as cereal grains go, barley has particular historic significance. Barley had religious worth for the ancient Egyptians and even ended up on some of their money. The romans believed that barley provided special strength and endurance. They called their gladiators Hordearii, or Barley Men. Physicians in ancient India treated what is believed to be diabetes by recommending barley instead of rice. Barley even had special significance for our mother country. English ruler, Edward II, used barely to create a standard form of measurement. He declared the inch equal to “three grains of barley, dry and round, placed end to end lengthwise.” The inch is still the basic unit of measurement for the United States. So, barley plays a bigger part in our lives than we even realize.
Barley came to America with Columbus but wasn’t widely cultivated in the east until Scandinavian immigrants cultivated it for beer. Then, it was brought to the Western and Southern parts of the continent by the Spanish. Now, it isn’t too hard to find, and we can reap the benefits of this special grain. Aside from its nutritional value, barley is useful as a crop because it’s so adaptable and can grow in places with colder temperatures or higher altitudes.
Here’s something to know about barley. It isn’t all created equal. Pearled barley is the most common. It belongs the hulled class of barley. The hull is not removed during harvest and must be rubbed off in a process called pearlizing. This process removes most of the bran. Black nile barley belongs to the hulless class of Barley and is not as common but more nutritious. It does have a hull but it comes of easily and leaves the grain intact. This is good news. With black nile barley, we get to utilize all the nutritional benefits of this fascinating grain.