Barley is a cereal grain that was originally native to Asia. Barley was very important in ancient times and was one of the first grains to be widely cultivated. However, when leavened bread became popular, consumption of barley was replaced by wheat and rye. Having a lower gluten content (which provides the framework for dough to rise), the application of barley in the production of bread is limited. As such, fewer people today in developed countries eat barley. Although, the discovery that barley is high in beta-glucan has given rise to its use in health-promoting food products, especially foods tailored to cardiovascular health.

A large proportion of the world’s barley supply is used make beer. Barley does however remain a staple food for many people in less developed countries such as those in North Africa and in areas where wheat is difficult to grow, such as Tibet.


BARLEYmax is a novel barley grain developed in Australia by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) using traditional cereal breeding methods. As well as being high in both soluble and insoluble fibre, BARLEYmax contains significant quantities of resistant starch and twice as much Vitamin E as standard barley.

Nutrition credentials of whole grain barley:

  • Low in fat (which is mostly unsaturated) and high in carbohydrate (mainly starch).
  • Moderate protein content (10%) and contains a protein complex which forms gluten (although a smaller amount than wheat).
  • High in soluble fibre, specifically beta-glucan, which is found in the endosperm and aleurone cell walls.
  • Has a low glycemic index (GI) to assist blood glucose control.
  • High in potassium and low in sodium.
  • Contains B-group vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), folate and pantothenic acid.
  • Contains vitamin E.
  • Contains iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus and selenium (depending on the soil content of selenium).
  • Contains small amounts of copper, manganese and calcium.
  • Contains phytochemicals including lignans, phenolic acids, phytic acid, plant sterols and saponins.

A table comparing the nutrient content of different types of grains can be downloaded from our Grains & Nutrition page.

Main culinary uses of barley:

  • Pearled barley – is made by removing the two outer layers. Pearled barley is generally used in soups and casseroles or as a side dish (kasha).
  • Scotch barley – is a husked grain which has been roughly ground is used in soups and stews.
  • Barley flour – is made by grinding the “pearls”. In the Middle East and Africa, barley flour is blended with wheat flour to produce breads or is ground and cooked as porridge. Bread made with barley flour has a sweeter taste. In Japan and other parts of Asia, barley is used to produce noodles.
  • Barley grits – are chopped grains which have a shorter cooking time than whole grains. It’s used in casseroles, hamburgers, soups, stews and as an ingredient in breakfast cereals.
  • Barley flakes – are barley grains that have been soaked to soften before being added to baked products. They may also be used to make porridge, milk puddings and breakfast cereals.
  • Malted barley – is used in the production of alcoholic beverages such as beer and whisky and as a flavouring agent for cereal breakfast foods and for malted milk.