Barley's origins are likely in the Fertile Crescent, Western Asia and Northeast Africa; it was eaten by European peasants in the middle ages and is still consumed by Tibetans (I remember eating Tsampa - barley flour with hot tea and some butter, making a kind of porridge - while trekking in Nepal a long time ago. Tasted like cardboard.) It was one of the first grains to be domesticated by our ancestors in the Fertile Crescent. Jared Diamond, who I think is a bit of a windbag, argues that the availability of barley in Southwest Eurasia, along with other crops and animals, accounts for the way the prehistoric man spread the way he did.
Barley is best known as the base for beer and whiskey (single malt Scotch is typically made with malted barley). A couple of dozen cultivars of barley are grown today. Beer was one of the first things made by Neolithic hunters with the grain - evidence that the idea of drinking a lot and going out and killing things isn't new.
You may know the English folk song "John Barleycorn" that tells the tale of the eponymous hero suffering attacks, indignities and death mapping to the way barley is prepped for making beer and whiskey.
This Saturday's Bake
I will bake a sprouted purple barley sourdough for you this weekend, with fresh ground whol Khorasan, high extraction and white flour (all organic). I sprout the purple barley - and deep blue/red color - by keeping it damp for several days and then refrigerating it once the seeds sprout so that it is ready to add to the dough. It should add a nice color and crunch to the bread and a nutty flavor.
Your Canadian Baker