You might be aware of the culinary uses for barley, but did you know that barley’s versatility extends beyond the soup pot? From beer to beef, Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan’s Executive Director, Clinton Monchuk, and future farmer Kaitlyn Monchuk discuss the main uses for barley grown on the Canadian prairies.
Barley for Food
There are two primary uses for barley in the food industry. The first is as a dry ingredient to be used in culinary preparations (pearl barley, pot barley, barley flour, etc.) and the second as a fermentation source in the distilling process. That’s right: for centuries, barley has been used as the base of many brews, from beer and malts to spirits like whiskey and Scotch.
Malted barley (or malt) is barley that has been allowed to germinate (sprout) by soaking it in water. This process prepares the grain’s starches to be converted into fermentable sugars which will then create alcohol. The sprouted grain is then heated slowly to dry it out and stop the growth process, leaving a dried barley grain full of sugar, starch and an enzyme called diastase. The heating process toasts the seeds which can be further roasted to darken them. This heating process plays a role in the color and flavour of the resulting beer. The malt is then sold to the brewer to begin the fermentation and brewing process.
Food processors take barley grain and remove the inedible, fibrous outer shell (called the hull) in a process called dehulling. The result is a whole grain pot barley which can be further steam processed to remove the bran and turn it into pearl barley. These products are sold at grocery stores as common ingredients for soups and stews. Other barley products include barley flakes (similar to rolled oats), barley flour and barley grits. Barley is also used in the making of vinegar, malt extract, some milk-type beverages, and breakfast foods and more applications are always being discovered.
Barley for Feed
Farmers take great care to grow barley for food or malt use but sometimes disease, insects or extreme weather can damage the crop. Luckily, barley is also a great source of nutrients for cows, pigs and other animals, and farmers can sell the grain that is unfit for human consumption to be used as livestock feed so it is not wasted. Cows digest the lower quality feed barley and turn it into high quality meat protein we enjoy in the form of steaks, roasts and hamburger.
The Canadian Grain Commission is responsible for overseeing the grading process of all grains, pulses and oilseeds in Canada. They have specific guidelines that determine the levels of quality for each of these grains and what market they are allowed to be used in. Any barley that does not meet the guidelines for malting or food quality is designated as feed (or general purpose) barley.
Now you can better appreciate the various places barley shows up on your table the next time you enjoy a cold beer over a bowl of beef barley soup. Try these 8 other ways to eat more barley.
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