Thursday, June 24, 2010


Today’s recipe (below) is a risotto, using barley instead of rice. Whole grain barley has a similar glyceamic index to rice, but eating barley can lower the blood glucose response to a meal for up to ten hours after eating – much longer than even brown rice. Barley contains eight of the essential amino acids necessary for health.

Barley is grown as a summer crop in temperate countries, and as a winter crop in tropical areas. Although it prefers cooler conditions, it is not really resistant to the cold. It has a short growing season and is fairly tolerant of drought. There are two varieties of barley – the 2-row and the 6-row. If you take a cross section of the 6-row variety it looks rather like a star anise. The 2-row variety has a row of barleycorns growing up either side of the stem. 2-row barley has a lower protein content than 6-row.

Barley is processed into flour, meal, flakes and grits. In Scotland, whole meal barley flour is used in porridge and gruel, and pearl barley is an essential ingredient in Scotch broth. And of course, you can’t make malt whiskey or beer without barley. German and English beers are traditionally brewed using the 2-row variety because the lower protein prevents the beer from going cloudy. Barley can be used as a substitute for coffee, and roasted barley is used to make a tea popular in Asia.

Many countries in the Southern hemisphere cultivate maize for animal fodder, but northern countries cultivate barley for this purpose purely because of the more suitable climatic conditions. Nearly half of the barley grown in the United States (over 4,5 million metric tonnes in 2007) is used as animal feed. Western Canadian beef is usually fed a ‘finishing’ diet of barley before going to market. According to figures for 2007 (total world production: 136 million metric tonnes), Russia is the world’s largest producer, followed by Canada, Spain and Germany, but since then there has been a slight decline in worldwide production.

In the eighteenth century, barleycorns were used as a system of measurement. It was generally agreed that there were three barleycorns to an inch. Although this method was superseded in the nineteenth century by a standard inch measurement, British and American shoe sizes are still based on one barleycorn equaling one third of and inch.

Try the risotto. It’s good.

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