Barley and Oats
Both barley and oats are ancient grains with outstanding pedigrees—that is, both have contributed beneficial nutrients to the human diet, from necessary complex carbohydrates to protein, minerals, and fiber. And both have played their part in the daily menu as the basis for breads, cooked cereal, soups, and, in the case of barley, beer.
According to a study conducted by the Agricultural Research Service of the USDA, barley is a mega powerhouse filled with nutrients that aid in reducing the risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease. But besides the study, health experts tout barley because it’s also rich in soluble fiber, one of the elements that helps slow the absorption of sugar. Its insoluble fiber may also reduce the risk of some cancers. One study suggests that barley’s insoluble fiber may even help prevent gallstones in women. Note that one cup of barley contains 13.6 grams of fiber.
Achieving good health is one reason to eat barley. Another is enjoying its versatility. When cooked, its chewy grains and nutty flavor enhance a variety of dishes, from soups, porridges, and stews to stuffings and pilafs. Barley is available in the market as either quick-cooking flakes or slower-cooking barley pearls. In health food stores, you can also find hulled, or whole grain, barley, which requires soaking and longer cooking times. For complete barley information, check out BarleyFoods.org.
Another of Mother Nature’s wholesome and ancient grains, oats have not always found favor on the table. In ancient times, both the Greeks and the Romans spurned oats in favor of wheat. Englishmen once thought oats were fit only for horse feed; their Scottish compatriots, on the other hand, have long favored oats as a sustaining cereal; hence, the Scottish favorite— an old-fashioned breakfast of porridge oats.
When oats arrived in the New World, Americans grew it primarily as horse feed—that is, until two entrepreneurs developed a machine that could easily cut oat groats, or whole oats, into a steel-cut oatmeal for a palatable cereal. Today’s mass-marketed morning oatmeal comes as quick-cook or instant cereals, flavored with assorted tastes, though the old-fashioned rolled oats are still available.
When research pinpointed oats—and oat bran—as a valuable agent for reducing blood cholesterol and cutting the risks of heart disease, oats became a fashionable mainstream breakfast cereal as well as an ingredient used in numerous other products, from beer to breads to cosmetics.
As you shop for oats, you may find a bewildering number of oat products, including whole oats, which require soaking and lengthy cooking for softening; oat bran, the oat grain’s outer casing; steel-cut oats, or whole oats chopped into smaller pieces; rolled or old-fashioned oats, or oat groats that are steamed then rolled flat; quick-cooking oats, or groats cut into small pieces before steaming and flattening; and instant oats, highly processed groats that have been chopped, precooked, dried, and flattened.
Whichever form you buy, remember that oatmeal contains a small amount of fat, so it tends to turn rancid more quickly than other cereals—store it in a cool, dark place.