Barley has long been used as a food source and a further post-domestication change resulted in barley grain that threshed free from the husk and was thus much more palatable. The mutation that resulted in this change is thought to have occurred in the Middle East around 8000 BC but gradually spread to other regions so that hulless (naked) barley grain have been found in archaeological digs in Northern Scotland. Barley was viewed as a nutritious food and Roman gladiators were known as hordearii (barley men) because it formed part of their training diet. Wheat gradually took over from barley as a major food cereal due to the increased numbers of grains per ear and free threshing so that today food use of barley amounts to 4% of the total production at 6Mt p.a.
Barley is a good source of beta-glucan, a soluble fibre that has useful properties that have been recognised by the US Food and Drug Administration publishing a health claim for high beta-glucan barley. Many US supermarkets stock food barley in whole grain, flaked or milled forms in recognition of a small but growing demand for barley as a foodstuff. Visit the National Barley Foods Council website for some information and recipes from the US or check out The Guardian for some UK recipes.