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Naked Barley FAQs

What is naked barley?

Naked barley is simply barley with grains that thresh freely out of the husks or hulls found on normal covered barley.

Why is it naked?

In normal hulled barley the outer parts of the barley flower (pales) are ‘glued’ to the grain as it develops. In naked barley the gene that controls the production of the ‘glue’ is mutated and so the pales are only loosely wrapped around the grain, so they fall off easily. The naked mutation, known as nud, is a recessive mutation and is not found in wild barley.

Where did it come from?

Genetic studies show that the mutation occurred on a single occasion around 8,000 years ago. The area of origin was probably modern Iran, but naked barley quickly spread throughout Europe, Asia and North Africa to become perhaps the most important cereal crop of the Neolithic and Bronze Age.  The amazing implication of this is that all naked barley in the world today is descended from a few grains, saved from the grinding stone and sown the next season by an unknown Iranian farmer 8,000 years ago.

Why is it useful?

The hull or husk of normal covered barley is indigestible for humans and must be removed by pearling. Naked barley doesn’t need this processing.

Why is naked barley a forgotten crop?

Naked barley began to decline in popularity in Europe during the Iron Age, following the introduction of bread wheat (Triticum aestivum). Bread wheat contains the high molecular weight insoluble gluten that traps gas bubbles and stretches allowing the bread to rise. As barley became used mainly as an animal feed the lower yielding naked barleys fell out of favour.

Hulled barley is better for malting, to produce beer. In the UK Barley breeding since the 19th Century has concentrated on producing varieties with improved malting characteristics, so naked barley was neglected because of its poorer yield and lower germination rates.

Why is it being revived?

Barley is a rich source of complex carbohydrates, especially beta-glucan soluble fibre (also found in oats) that has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels.  Barley starch is broken down to release sugar into the blood over a longer period, preventing spikes of blood sugar insulin and reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Spring-sown naked barley is also a sustainable crop, requiring much lower inputs of fertilizer than wheat. Naked barley flour can be used in bread, pastry, pasta, cakes and biscuits, and the grains used in breakfast cereals with little processing.

Barley is also able to grow in adverse conditions, needing only half as much water per tonne of grain as wheat and only a quarter as much as rice. Using barley directly as human food, rather than as animal feed, is much more efficient in terms of food produced per hectare, even though naked barley has a lower yield than animal feed varieties. This is because efficiency of converting grain to meat is poor.

Where can I get seed of naked barley?

To find out where you can get naked barley please contact us.

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