Record numbers of readers showed up at Zolli last week to read about vulgar comments and aching loins, so I figured I could keep traffic up with an implied promise of scandal. Sorry: Hordeum vulgare vulgare is otherwise known as barley.
Here’s why I am bewitched by barley and why I think you should be too:
1) It’s the only thing you’ll ever have in common with Spartacus.
Roman gladiators ate so much of this stamina-building grain they were called, hordearii, meaning ‘barley men’. But barley predates the gladiators by about 5000 years: grown in the fertile crescent of the Middle East in 10 000 BC, it was one of the first agricultural domesticates. It is eaten in harsh climates around the world by hardy people, like Mongolians and Zollipop.
2) It will allow you to eat more pork.
Barley’s cell walls contain ß-Glucan, which was recently touted by the USA FDA as a cholesterol lowering agent. Before you get too excited for your next beer and ribs gorge-fest, please note that barley’s liquid form does not have the same nutritional effects.
3) It will allow you to eat less pork, and not notice.
Modern nutritional guidelines suggest we should eat more fiber. LOTS more fiber. Like 20-30g per day, which unless you have a ruminant stomach system, is rather hard to achieve. But a serving of pearled barley has far more fibre (3g) than most grains, more than double the amount of brown rice (1.75 g). This high amount of fiber contributes to satiety, which is doctor-speak for feeling full when in fact you are eating rabbit food.
4) It actually tastes really good.
Zolli will elaborate on this in Vulgare Vulgare: Part 2 (How). You have to be careful though. Having sampled different barley products while researching this post, I have noted that those from local health food/organic stores are less processed and decidedly more, well, husky. They have a mouth-feel comparable to a ground up used book. The product you want is called Harvest Time Pearled Barley in the red bag. It’s brought in from Saskatchewan, and they sell it at Sobey’s. I have yet to find a Manitoban source, but please comment if you know of one.
5) It grows on the prairies.
While you might be getting a bit sick of the locavore trend, this really is one of the most compelling reasons to eat barley. In 2001, the average Canadian ate 160 times more rice than barley. That’s odd, since barley grows in our backyard, and rice grows in places where it doesn’t snow. In fact our frigid environment makes barley less susceptible to many crop diseases, such as the ominous ‘net blotch’ and the seedy sounding ‘smuts’. Vulgare vulgare, indeed.
The bottom line here really boils down to marketing: Canada is the third worldwide producer of barley, and one tenth of that is grown right here in our fair province. It’s one of Manitoba’s top five crops. But we don’t eat it.
Why? That’s where it gets complicated. There are many different strains of barley which have different intended end-users in the animal feed, human feed, and human drink (malting) industries. Owing to lack of consumer pull and the intricacies of pricing regulations, the vast majority of barley grown is malting grade, but ends up as animal feed. Which is a cryin’ shame. (For more information, refer to the riveting government publication, Marketing Signals in the Barley Sector. Or just trust me.)
Have I won you over yet? No? Tune in next week for Vulgare vulgare: Part 2(How).
Sources (lazily referenced):
Origins of word Horde: Calliope; Mar2008, Vol. 18 Issue 7, p28-29
UN Food and Agriculture Organization
Market Signals in the Barley Sector, Alberta Government
Crops in Manitoba (Janet Honey, Prepared for Department of Agribusiness and Agricultural Economics, University of Manitoba)
Baik B, Ullrich S. Balrye for food: Characteristics, improvement, and renewed interest. Journal of Cereal Science 48(2008): 233-42