Barley is an ancient grain, first cultivated in the Middle East as early as 8,000 years ago. It is now grown across the world. Canadian barley is mostly used for animal feed and in the beer and spirits industry as a fermentation source for making alcohol. However, Canadians also enjoy this nutritious grain in soups, stews and breads as a high fibre source of vitamins and minerals.
Canadian barley farmer Brent Johnson from Strasbourg, Saskatchewan gives us a rundown on the steps it takes to get barley from the field to the grocery store. Surprise: there aren’t that many!
In the spring, farmers plant barley seed in their fields and the plants grow all summer. Barley plants look similar to wheat plants, but most varieties have long bristles growing on their heads and can be grown in poorer soil that wouldn’t be suitable for other crops. In the fall, when the plants mature to a golden colour, farmers harvest the barley with their combines.
The combine machine separates the barley seeds from the rest of the plant (straw and chaff) and spits the debris back onto the field. It keeps the seeds, which still have an inedible hull attached, in a giant holding tank called a hopper. When the combine hopper is full, the seeds are then transferred to a truck that hauls the grain to the farmer’s storage bins. The grain sits in the bin until the farmer is ready to sell it and then it is transferred by truck to the processing company.
A food processor who buys barley from Canadian farmers has multiple options to turn it into delicious barley products. However, the first step is to remove the inedible, fibrous, outer hull from the seed in a process called dehulling.
The processor can take the pot barley one step further by steam processing it to remove the bran and shine it up. This process is called “pearling” and the product on the store shelf is called pearl (or pearled) barley. Pearl barley is one of the more popular forms of barley and commonly added to soups.
Pot or pearl barley can be processed even further into other barley products like barley flakes (similar to rolled oats), barley flour and barley grits. Vinegar, malt extract, some milk-type beverages, and breakfast foods are also made from barley.
After processing, barley products are packaged and shipped to the grocery store for consumption by hungry canadians.
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