Barley ”Hordeum Vulgare” is a cereal grain that grows in warm climates globally, it was one of the first cultivated grains in Eurasia as early as 10,000 years ago.

Barley has been used as animal fodder but it is best known as a source of fermentable material for beer and certain distilled beverages. In 2017, barley was ranked fourth among grains in quantity produced (149 million tonnes) behind maizerice, and wheat.

Historical Uses

Used in soups and stews of various cultures cuisines. Barley grains are commonly made into malt (the product that is left over after a cereal grain has been dried, allowed to sprout, air dried again, then heated in an oven) malted grain is used to make beerwhiskey, malt vinegar among other fermentable beverages.

Barley has been in the Tibetan cuisine since the fifth century, it is mixed with toasted flour, butter, and a herbal tea to form a stiff dough that is eaten in small balls called "Tsampa” that is still a staple in Tibet.

In medieval Europe, bread made from barley and rye was consumed by lower classes while wheat products were consumed by the upper classes. 

Potatoes largely replaced barley consumption in Eastern Europe in the 19th century.

Scientific Health Evidence

  • Barley bromatology studies have shown a rich content of vitamin B9 (Folic Acid), and vitamin K, in addition, it contains Lysine (essential amino acid) which may play a role in the absorption of calcium (Zamora D., et al.)
  • Barley contains a large number of β-glucans, located in the cell walls of the endosperm, these β-glucans are classified as soluble dietary fiber (Skendi A., et al.)
  • β-glucans have shown to up-regulate Th2 and Th1 helper cells, involving cellular immune response, which may increase resistance to bacterial and parasitic infections (García H., et al.)
  • A mice study showed that a diet high in barley β-glucans decreases glucose, weight and appetite as they increased the levels of plasma peptide YY and glucagon-like peptide-1 (Junki Miyamoto; et al.)
  • Laboratory culture of barley seeds showed concentrations of Hordenine, this substance elicited stimulation of gastrin release and a positive effect on mood in rats, as it may stimulate dopaminergic receptors (Idehen E., et al.)

Expert Opinion

Barley is an ancient cereal with a unique profile that may put in on top of other highly consumed cereals like wheat, based on the scientific evidence it is, in fact, its high content of Lysine that makes barley a superior cereal, Lysine is an essential amino acid that needs to be taken within the diet, and although barley doesn't have the nine essential amino acid to make it a complete protein cereal its nutritional profile is great.

Nevertheless, it's important to know that barley is not gluten-free, a very important note for “Celiac Disease” an immune condition in which people can't eat gluten because it will damage their small intestine, persons with Celiac Disease can’t eat foods with gluten. Gluten protein is present in cereals like wheat, oats, rye, and barley, but free in others like rice, quinoa, and corn.

β-glucans found in barley are indeed fiber, soluble fiber also called prebiotic fiber or just prebiotic, which provides a substrate for microbiota in our gut, producing short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) as byproducts with wide-ranging physiological activities, however, β-glucans physicochemical properties differ from other polysaccharides (soluble fiber) making it not the best source for prebiotics.

Immunity claimed benefits can be attributed to the SCFA, as the mechanism of action of these fatty acids has been well documented, so depending on the content and/or type of polysaccharides of the aliment it can elicit SCFA benefits, although some more than others.

Hordenine is a substance that occurs naturally in a variety of plants but most commonly in barley (Hordeum Vulgare) therefore its name, hordenine is a nitrogenous compound formed mainly by amino acids, nowadays hordenine is widely sold as an ingredient of nutritional supplements, with the claims that it is a stimulant of the central nervous system and has the ability to promote weight loss, such claims are based on the nitrogenous profile of hordenine to enhance neurotransmitters which are the ones responsible for appetite regulation (weight loss) and cognitive mood changes (stimulation of the central nervous system).

Nevertheless as seen on the scientific evidence these effects are not reproduced by oral administration (with diet), the effects are seen with IV (intravenous) administration of very high dosages on only in rodent models, and virtually no scientific reports of the effects of hordenine in human beings have been published.

“Barley is a cereal with superior nutritional profile than other highly consumed cereals like wheat, the key health benefits of barley are seen in its soluble fiber and Lysine content, it will indeed enrich the diet with more amino acids intake and a good source of dietary fiber intake, boost immunity, positive mood behavior and weight loss through appetite suppression are very unlikely to happen, it also important to note that the barley found mainly in fermented beverages like beer will not have the same health-nutritional benefits compare to whole barley, alcohol consumption is detrimental not only to overall health but from a nutritional point of view it packs a lot of calories with zero nutrient value.” 



  • Consumer E., “Betaglucanos: sus beneficios en el pan”. Consumer (2015).
  • Lazaridou A., et al. “Molecular aspects of cereal B-glucan functionality: Physical properties, technological applications, and physiological effects”. Journal of Cereal Science (2007).
  • SAGARPA., “Planeació Agríola Naional 2017-2030”, Cebada Grano Mexicano. 1ra Edición (2017).
  • Skendi A., et al. “Effects of two barley B-glucan isolates on wheat flour dough and bread properties”. Food Chemistry (2010).
  • Zamora D., et al. “Maravilla: variedad de cebada forrajera para Valles Altos de México”. Revista Mexicana de Ciencias Agrícolas (2017).
  • García H., et al. “Inmunomoduladores como terapia adyuvante en la enfermedad infecciosa”. Elsevier (2009).
  • Junki Miyamoto., et al. “Barley β-glucan improves metabolic condition via short-chain fatty acids produced by gut microbial fermentation in high-fat diet-fed mice”. PLoS ONE (2018).
  • Yokoo Y., et al. “Isolation from beer and structural determination of a potent stimulant of gastric”. Alcohol and Alcoholism (1999).
  • Idehen E., et al. “Bioactive phytochemicals in barley”. Journal of Food and Drug Analysis (2017).
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