Status of Barley as a Dietary Component for Human
Production wise, barley is the fourth among the major cereal crops in the world. The grain is mainly exploited as feed or as raw material for malt production, with only a small fraction, about three percent of the total produce currently being used for human food purpose. Widespread use of maize, wheat, and rice as main food grains has presently relegated barley to the underutilized status. Poor baking quality and grey/dark color development on cooking, probably, have discouraged the use of barley in human food. However, composition wise, barley contains starch as the main carbohydrate, low fat, protein of moderate quality, minerals, vitamins, especially vitamin E (tocopherols and tocotrienols) and other antioxidants, mainly polyphenolics, and insoluble and soluble dietary fiber, i.e., β-glucans, chemically (1-3,1-4)-β-D-glucans. Recent researches have claimed, because of β-glucans, consumption of barley in food offers several health benefits to alleviate the problems of life style disorder. These include control of blood cholesterol and glucose level, and induction of satiety effect required to control body weight. Barley’s potential as a prebiotic has increased significantly as β-glucans promote the growth of beneficial intestinal microorganisms. Besides these, tocotrienols as antioxidants have been the focus of growing research interest for their hypocholesterolemic action. Additionally, tocotrienols may affect the growth and/or proliferation of several types of human cancer cells. To utilize the impressive health benefits, incorporation of barley in food may be advocated through improved technology to overcome the so called undesirable effects. However, in line with the increasing health consciousness, several whole grain products are now getting popularized with sacrifice of desirable colors. It is appreciated that through sustained research and development, barley, currently underutilized, will be considered as a prized food for good nutrition and health in near future.
Madhusweta Das and Sumeet Kaur