Have you ever held a handful of barley grains? Coarse, brown, and simple in form, barley has nevertheless played a central role in the histories of the world’s monotheistic religions.
Barley and wheat appear frequently in the Scriptures, share many similarities and even more differences. Like wheat, barley is one of the seven species with which the Land was blessed (Deut. 8:8). In the ancient world, barley was considered inferior to wheat, but it represented modesty and humility.
In the Bible, Ezekiel paid penance to God by eating barley. When the three angels came to visit Abraham, he offered them barley bread. When Boaz first saw Ruth, she was gathering barley from the field. Absalom ordered his servants to burn Joab's barley fields. In the New Testament, the five loaves of bread that Jesus fed to five thousand people in the miracle of the loaves and the fishes were made of barley.
The ancient Israelites used the barley sheaf as one of the First Fruits offerings during the Feast of Weeks. Because barley matures early and is resistant to vermin and crop diseases, this grain is a perfect natural food.
History of Barley
Barley, as we know it, is neglected by today’s culinary trendsetters. Once a wild grass that possibly originated in the Near East, China or Ethiopia, barley is much more than a nutritious grain - it carries with it rich history and has deep significance for the three great western religions.
Barley was domesticated even before wheat – in fact, barley grains have been discovered in Egypt in pits and pyramids built over 5000 years ago.
The Egyptians who learned the art of brewing from the world's first known brewers (Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians) used germinated barley to make beer, which was considered a food.
Barley started to loose its popularity in Rome and Greece when it was discovered that using wheat would produce a lighter, more flavorful bread loaf that lasted longer. Barley, however, remained the grain of the poor and was used for porridge and barley cakes, as well as for feeding cattle and other livestock.
While not used as much as in the past, barley is still a major crop in today’s market place. It is the world's fourth most important food, but only a small portion reaches our tables. Most barley harvests are sold to farmers for animal feed, and the remainder is used for producing barley malt to make beer, a beverage with worldwide appeal.
Symbolisms of Barley
Barley appears frequently in the Bible. Ezekiel paid penance to God by eating barley bread. When the three angels visited Abraham, he offered them barley bread. The Book of Ruth takes place during the time of the barley harvest—Ruth was gathering barley from the field when Boaz caught his first glimpse of her. In the New Testament, the five loaves of bread that Jesus fed to five thousand people in the miracle of the loaves and the fishes were made of barley.
In the Land of Israel, the wheat and barley harvests were marked by special festivals. Passover falls in the spring, at the time of the barley harvest.On the second day of Passover, the Israelites offered a quantity of barley in the Temple, symbolically permitting the consumption of grain from the new harvest. Wheat ripens in the summer, at Shavuot (Pentecost); and grapes ripen in autumn, around the time of Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles). For Christians, the three harvest holidays symbolizes stages of salvation and types of believers.
Health & Nutrition
Barley contains 67% carbohydrates and 12% protein, a scientifically perfect balance for human nutrition. Barley also contains almost all the vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that your body needs. Barley is rich in the antioxidants that help reduce heart disease and cholesterol. It cuts blood glucose levels, vital for diabetes patients.
More importantly, barley is one of the richest available sources of fiber. Barley contains about 17% fiber, 40% more than wheat. The soluble fiber in barley boosts the body’s metabolism and lowers cholesterol. Insoluble fiber, or "roughage", promotes a healthy digestive tract and reduces the risk of colon cancer.
Barley contains twice as many fatty acids as wheat, which accounts for its 10% higher calorie count. Barley boasts vitamin E, while wheat does not. And barley contains 68% more thiamin, 250% more riboflavin and 38% more lysine than wheat.
Because of its early maturation and hardiness, barley, unlike wheat, requires no artificial fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides.
Contrary to popular belief, barley beer is the oldest drink in the world rather than wine.
Barley is believed to be the first cereal cultivated by humans.
Barley is the world’s most important crop for livestock feed.
Christopher Columbus brought barley to North America from Europe in 1493 and it has been cultivated there ever since.
People in ancient cultures baked loaves of barley bread long before they baked wheat loaves.
Barley was brought to China before wheat.
The Babylonians created the oldest known recipe for making barley wine. They inscribed the instructions in a cross-shaped form on a brick dating back to 2,800 BCE.