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Barley field
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Liliopsida
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Genus: Hordeum
Species: H. vulgare
Binomial name
Hordeum vulgare

Barley (Hordeum vulgare) is an annual cereal grain, which serves as a major animal feed crop, with smaller amounts used for malting and in health food. It is a member of the grass family Poaceae. In 2005, barley ranked fourth in quantity produced and in area of cultivation of cereal crops in the world (560,000 km²). The domesticated form (H. vulgare) is descended from wild barley (H. spontaneum). Both forms are diploid (2n=14 chromosomes). As wild barley is interfertile with domesticated barley, the two forms are often treated as one species, Hordeum vulgare, divided into subspecies spontaneum (wild) and subspecies vulgare (domesticated). The main difference between the two forms is the brittle rachis of the former, which enables seed dispersal in the wild.

Crop history

Wild barley comes from Epi- Paleolithic sites in the Levant, beginning in the Natufian. The earliest domesticated barley occurs at Aceramic Neolithic sites in the Near East such as the (PPN B) layers of Tell Abu Hureyra in Syria. Barley was one of the first crops domesticated in the Near East, at the same time as einkorn and emmer wheat.

Barley in Egyptian hieroglyphs
jt barley determinative/ ideogram
jt (common) spelling
i t U9
šma determinative/ideogram

Barley was alongside emmer wheat, a staple cereal of ancient Egypt, where it was used to make bread and beer; together, these were a complete diet. The general name for barley is jt (hypothetically pronounced "eat"); šma (hypothetically pronounced "SHE-ma") refers to Upper Egyptian barley and is a symbol of Upper Egypt. According to Deuteronomy 8:8, barley is one of the " Seven Species" of crops that characterize the fertility of the Promised Land of Canaan, and barley has a prominent role in the Israelite sacrifices described in the Pentateuch (see e.g. Numbers 5:15). A religious importance extended into the Middle Ages in Europe, and saw barley's use in justice, via alphitomancy and the corsned.

In ancient Greece, the ritual significance of barley possibly dates back to the earliest stages of the Eleusinian Mysteries. The preparatory kykeon or mixed drink of the initiates, prepared from barley and herbs, was referred to in the Homeric hymn to Demeter, who was also called "Barley-mother".

The practice was to dry the barley groats and roast them before preparing the porridge, according to Pliny the Elder's Natural History (xviii.72). This produces malt that soon ferments and becomes slightly alcoholic.

Tibetan barley has been the only major staple food in Tibet for centuries. It is made into a flour product called tsampa.

Palaeoethnobotanists have found that barley has been grown in the Korean Peninsula since the Early Mumun Pottery Period (c. 1500–850 BCE) along with other crops such as millet, wheat, and legumes.

As of 1881

Baled barley hay in Falcon, Colorado.

According to the 1881 Household Cyclopedia:

Next to wheat the most valuable grain is barley, especially on light and sharp soils. It is a tender grain and easily hurt in any of the stages of its growth, particularly at seed time; a heavy shower of rain will then almost ruin a crop on the best prepared land; and in all the after processes greater pains and attention are required to ensure success than in the case of other grains. The harvest process is difficult, and often attended with danger; even the threshing of it is not easily executed with machines, because the awn generally adheres to the grain, and renders separation from the straw a troublesome task. Barley, in fact, is raised at greater expense than wheat, and generally speaking is a more hazardous crop. Except upon rich and genial soils, where climate will allow barley to be perfectly reared, it ought not to be cultivated.

Preparation of ground
Barley is chiefly taken after turnips, sometimes after peas and beans, but rarely by bad farmers either after wheat or oats, unless under special circumstances. When sown after turnips it is generally taken with one furrow, which is given as fast as the turnips are consumed, the ground thus receiving much benefit from the spring frosts. But often two, or more furrows are necessary for the fields last consumed, because when a spring drought sets in, the surface, from being poached by the removal or consumption of the crop, gets so hardened as to render a greater quantity of ploughing, harrowing and rolling necessary than would otherwise be called for. When sown after beans and peas, one winter and one spring ploughing are usually bestowed: but when after wheat or oats, three ploughings are necessary, so that the ground may be put in proper condition. These operations are very ticklish in a wet and backward season, and rarely in that case is the grower paid for the expense of his labor. Where land is in such a situation as to require three ploughings before it can be seeded with barley, it is better to summer-fallow it at once than to run the risks which seldom fail to accompany a quantity of spring labor. If the weather be dry, moisture is lost during the different processes, and an imperfect braird necessarily follows; if it be wet the benefit of ploughing is lost, and all the evils of a wet seed time are sustained by the future crop. The quantity sown is different in different cases, according to the quality of the soil and other circumstances. Upon very rich lands eight pecks per acre [11 t/km²] are sometimes sown; twelve [16 t/km²] is very common, and upon poor land more is sometimes given. By good judges a quantity of seed is sown sufficient to ensure a full crop, without depending on its sending out offsets; indeed, where that is done few offsets are produced, the crop grows and ripens equally, and the grain is uniformly good.


Barley output in 2005
Top Ten Barley Producers — 2005
(million metric tonne)
 Russia 16.7
 Canada 12.1
 Germany 11.7
 France 10.4
 Ukraine 9.3
 Turkey 9.0
 Australia 6.6
 United Kingdom 5.5
 United States 4.6
 Spain 4.4
World Total 138
UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Barley was grown in about 100 countries worldwide in 2005. The world production in 1974 was 148,818,870 tonnes, showing little change in the amount of barley produced worldwide.



Barley can be divided by the number of kernel rows in the head. Two forms have been cultivated; two-row barley (formerly known as Hordeum distichum but now also classed as Hordeum vulgare), and six-row barley (Hordeum vulgare). In two-row barley only one spikelet at each node is fertile; in the four-row and six-row forms, all three are fertile. A four-row type (formerly classed as (Hordeum tetrastichum) is actually a six-row type with very lax structure.

Two-row barley is the oldest form, wild barley having two rows as well. Two-row barley has a lower protein content than six-row barley and thus more fermentable sugars content. High protein barley is best suited for animal feed. Malting barley is usually lower protein ('low grain nitrogen', usually produced without a late fertilizer application) which shows more uniform germination, needs shorter steeping, and has less protein in the extract that can make beer cloudy. Two-row barley is traditionally used in English ale style beers. Six-row barley is common in some American lager style beers, whereas two-row malted summer barley is preferred for traditional German beers. Four-row is unsuitable for brewing.

Barley is widely adaptable and is currently a major crop of the temperate areas where it is grown as a summer crop and tropical areas where it is sown as a winter crop. Its germination time is anywhere from 1 to 3 days. Barley likes to grow under cool conditions but is not particularly winter hardy.


Oats, barley, and some products made from them.
Raw barley
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 1,474 kJ (352 kcal)
Carbohydrates 77.7 g
- Sugars 0.8 g
- Dietary fibre 15.6 g
Fat 1.2 g
Protein 9.9 g
Thiamine (vit. B1) 0.2 mg (17%)
Riboflavin (vit. B2) 0.1 mg (8%)
Niacin (vit. B3) 4.6 mg (31%)
Pantothenic acid (B5) 0.3 mg (6%)
Vitamin B6 0.3 mg (23%)
Folate (vit. B9) 23 μg (6%)
Vitamin C 0.0 mg (0%)
Calcium 29.0 mg (3%)
Iron 2.5 mg (19%)
Magnesium 79.0 mg (22%)
Phosphorus 221 mg (32%)
Potassium 280 mg (6%)
Zinc 2.1 mg (22%)
Percentages are relative to
US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

Half of the United States' barley production is used as an animal feed. A large part of the remainder is used for malting and is a key ingredient in beer and whisky production. Two-row barley is traditionally used in German and English beers, and six-row barley was traditionally used in American beers. Both varieties are in common usage in America now. Non-alcoholic drinks such as barley water and mugicha (popular in Korea and Japan) are also made from unhulled barley. Barley is also used in soups and stews, particularly in Eastern Europe. A small amount is used in health foods and coffee substitutes.

Barley is more tolerant of soil salinity than wheat, which might explain the increase of barley cultivation on Mesopotamia from the 2nd millennium BC onwards. Barley is not as cold tolerant as the winter wheats (Triticum aestivum), fall rye (Secale cereale) or winter Triticale (X TricticaleWitt.), but may be sown as a winter crop in warmer areas of the world such as Australia.

Barley must have its fibrous outer hull removed before it can be eaten. Barley grains with their hulls still on are called covered barley or 'hulled barley". Once the grain has had the inedible hull removed, it is called dehulled barley. At this stage, the grain still has its bran and germ, which are nutritious. Dehulled barley is considered a whole grain, and is a popular health food. Pearl barley or pearled barley is hulled barley which has been processed further to remove the bran. It may be polished, a process known as "pearling". Dehulled or pearl barley may be processed into a variety of barley products, including flour, flakes similar to oatmeal, and grits.

According to a recent study, eating whole grain barley can regulate blood sugar for up to 10 hrs after consumption compared to white or even whole-grain wheat, which has a similar glycemic index.

An additional barley product is the straw. It is placed in mesh bags and floated in fish ponds or water gardens to help reduce algal growth without harming the plants or animals in the habitat.

Plant diseases

This plant is known or likely to be susceptible to barley mild mosaic bymovirus as well as Bacterial blight. Barley can be susceptible to many diseases but plant breeders have been working hard to incorporate resistance. The devastation caused by any one disease will depend upon the susceptibility of the variety being grown and the environmental conditions during disease development.


The Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1910–1911) cites the following composition of barley meal according to Ernst von Bibra, omitting the salts:

Water 15%
Nitrogenous compounds 12.981%
Gum 6.744%
Sugar 3.2%
Starch 59.95%
Fat 2.17%


In British English barley may be referred to as corn.

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