What is barley?
Quatr.us answers questions
Upgrade /Log in
Options /Log out
Early Europe
Central Asia
Islamic Empire
Native Americans
S./Central America
American History

What is Barley?

barley growing

Barley's a kind of grass, like wheat, that is a good source of carbohydrates for people. Barley is different from wheat mainly in that it will grow with less rain, so you can grow it more different places, and also in that it doesn't taste as good as wheat. So poor people usually ate more barley, and rich people ate more wheat.

In the grasslands where people liked to live, barley grew wild, and people gathered it to eat boiled or ground into flour and baked when it came ripe every spring. People first began to farm barley (instead of picking it wild) around 10,000 BC in West Asia, possibly because of a climate change that made the world hotter and drier.

cooked barley
Barley stew

People ate barley like wheat as a boiled porridge, or in soup, and they also made barley bread. Barley is also the grain that people usually used to make beer. But people didn't make noodles out of barley.

Because you only ate the seeds from the barley, you had all the rest of the plant left over. The stalks dried into straw, and you could weave the straw into mats to sleep on, or give it to animals to sleep on, or make shoes or baskets out of it, or tie it into bunches to thatch your house. The leftover straw was nearly as useful as the seeds.

Learn by doing - barley soup
What about wheat?

Bibliography and further reading about barley:

Ancient Agriculture: From Foraging to Farming, by Michael and Mary Woods (2000). For middle schoolers, with plenty of information about how farming got started, and how it worked.

Oats, Peas, Beans and Barley Cookbook, by Edyth Young Cottrell (1974).

Famine and Food Supply in the Graeco-Roman World : Responses to Risk and Crisis, by Peter Garnsey (1988). By a leading specialist in Greek and Roman food and farming, and not too hard to read. Especially good on crop failure.

Last Hunters-First Farmers: New Perspectives on the Prehistoric Transition to Agriculture, by T. Douglas Price (1995). Why people started farming.

Barley Matzoh
More about West Asian food
Quatr.us home

Cooking and eating barley:

Buy some barley flour and try making bread with it

Or make even more authentic barley porridge or barley soup

This is the kind of cooking pot you should use for your barley soup

Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

Help support Quatr.us!

Quatr.us (formerly "History for Kids") is entirely supported by your generous donations and by our sponsors. Most donors give about $10. Can you give $10 today to keep this site running? Or give $50 to sponsor a page?

'Tis the season: read all about the history of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas. Who invented Christmas trees? Who were the Maccabees? When was Jesus really born? How did people celebrate Hanukkah in the Middle Ages? Plus, some great gift ideas.