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What is Barley Grass?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Barley grass is a grain plant that is used in a number of foods for both humans and animals. Known in some places around the world as mai ya, it is also used in some alternative medical traditions to provide solutions for health issues like high cholesterol and blood sugar. It is quite nutritious, and some forms are used as a dietary supplement.

Many farmers use barley grass to create feed for livestock, often after the plant has first been used to make beer. Barley malt is grain that has been sprouted and, when mixed with hot water, breaks down its starches into a sweet malty liquid called wort. The remaining barley components are dried, processed, and combined with other grains to produce livestock feed that is both nutritious and affordable. While the process today is usually manufactured and mass marketed, there are countries where the drying and preparation process remains a local phenomenon. Small farmers around the world continue to produce barley that is used for home remedies, with the leftover components turned into natural food sources for cows, pigs, and other animals that are part of the farm.

For humans, barley grass is also considered a healthy means of dealing with several health conditions. For example, there is evidence that this plant can help to minimize LDL, or bad, cholesterol in some people. Barley seeds are often credited with the ability to regulate blood sugar levels in people with diabetes by slowing down the speed at which the body absorbs carbohydrates. It should be noted, however, that this benefit has not been demonstrated in individuals who have not yet developed diabetes.

Because of the nutritional value of barley grass, it often is used in soups and as a substitute for wheat flour or oatmeal. It is known to be rich in beta carotene, folic acid, calcium, and a number of the B vitamins. Currently, there are several nutrition supplements on the market today that feature this grass as one of the main ingredients in the formula.

For cooking purposes, pearl barley is the most common form used. Pearl barley has gone through a process that has removed both the outer hull and the bran layer that protects the center of the plant, which means that it will take less time to cook. It can be be used to thicken soup as well as eaten as a hot cereal.

Scotch barley, also known as pot barley, is another popular form. Often found in health food stores, it retains some of the nutritional value that is lost when pearling barley grass. Its cooking time is not a great deal longer, often a little over an hour.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including All Things Nature, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By sapphire12 — On Mar 14, 2011

My mom used to add pearl barley to soups all the time when I was a kid. While I really don't like the texture much, I know it added a lot of fiber and other nutrients to the soup.

By sherlock87 — On Mar 13, 2011

Barley is highly nutritious in all forms, but be careful if you have celiac disease or even a milder form of gluten intolerance. Gluten is too often ruled out as being only related to wheat, but is actually present in many other grains, including barley.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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