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Barley (Hordeum vulgare)

Barley ( Hordeum vulgare )

Order : Sweet grass (Poales)
Family : Sweet grasses (Poaceae)
Subfamily : Pooideae
Tribe : Triticeae
Genre : Barley ( hordeum )
Type : barley
Scientific name
Hordeum vulgare
Leaf sheath with auricles
Blooming ear of wheat
Barley field in May
Barley ears

The barley ( Hordeum vulgare ) is a plant from the genus of barley ( Hordeum ) within the family of grasses (Poaceae). It is one of the most important types of grain . It was obtained and domesticated from wild barley ( Hordeum spontaneum ) around 10,000 years ago in the area of ​​the Fertile Crescent . The seeds of the plant are also referred to as “barley” (in the sense of barley grain or “barley grains”).


Barley is an annual grass that reaches heights of 0.7 to 1.2 m. The plant is smooth and hairless. The stalk is upright. The alternate and two-line (distich) arranged leaves are simple and have parallel veins. The flat leaf blade is 9 to 25 cm long and 0.6 to 2 cm wide. The most important morphological identifying features are the two long, unlashed leaf auricles of the leaf sheath , which completely surrounds the stalk. The narrow and slightly toothed ligule (ligula) is 1 to 2 mm long. The thousand grain weight is 35–50 grams.

The annual inflorescence has a flexible, so non-fragile rachis , in this it differs from the other Hordeum species. The rows of sessile spikelets are all equal and fertile . The spikelets usually contain only one flower , rarely two. The glume is linear-lanceolate . The awns are 8 to 15 cm long.

The year-old fruit cluster with long awns is inclined to drooping when ripe. From a botanical point of view, the grains are caryopses , i.e. solitary closing fruits.

Barley is divided into two-line and multi-line forms based on the different ears. The two-line forms ("Hordeum distichon") develop only one grain per attachment point, which is full and strong. The multiline forms of Hordeum vulgare have three grains per attachment point, which develop more slowly. Two-row barley varieties (mainly spring barley) contain a lot of starch and little protein. They are mainly used in beer production as brewing barley ( malt ) and are processed into barley barley. Four- and six-row barley varieties are predominantly winter barley varieties that (in contrast to summer cereals sown in spring) are sown in autumn and need vernalization for shooting . Due to the longer vegetation phase and the effective use of winter moisture, the yields are higher and the nutrients are favorable for use as feed barley. Newer winter barley varieties with high levels of protein and fiber are only grown for human consumption.


Barley originates from the Middle East and the Eastern Balkans . The oldest evidence of barley use goes back to 15,000 BC. Backdate. Barley is closely related to wild barley ( Hordeum vulgare subsp. Spontaneum ) found in the Middle East . As a classic grain of antiquity , it was cultivated in Mesopotamia and on the Nile more than 8000 years ago . In many areas, barley was an important staple food in the form of porridge or soup for millennia; Barley, einkorn and emmer were the first types of grain cultivated by man. From around 7000 BC The systematic selection of breeding began and since the Neolithic Age (5500 BC) barley has also been grown in Central Europe.

In the case of wild barley, the ripe grains fall out of the ear and have to be laboriously collected. Cultivated barley probably arose from a non-targeted selection of people who preferred to harvest and cultivate a mutation in which the ripe grains remained in the ear.

In the Middle Ages, barley was valued as a high-yield fodder and as a filling food. By breeding undemanding varieties, the yields can compete with those of wheat. In addition to increasing quality, breeding also tried to produce a technically more manageable awnless barley. This has been successful (varieties such as Ogra , Nudinka), but the shape has not caught on . It should not be neglected here that the awn is also photosynthetically active.

Subspecies and varieties

  • Wild barley ( Hordeum vulgare subsp. Spontaneum )
  • Cultivated barley ( Hordeum vulgare L. subsp. Vulgare ):
    • Two-row barley ( Hordeum vulgare f. Distichon )
    • Multi-row barley:
      • Rolled barley ( Hordeum vulgare f. Hexastichon )
      • Hordeum vulgare f. agriochriton
  • Hordeum vulgare var. Coeleste L.
  • Hordeum vulgare var. Trifurcatum (Schlechtendal) Alefeld
  • Bere (Orkney and other Scottish islands)


  • Winter barley is mainly used as animal feed ( feed barley ); compared to spring barley, it is characterized by higher yields and more protein (12–15%).
  • For human consumption comes mainly spring barley as malting barley used. In the unmalted form, barley is processed into groats or pearl barley and occasionally ground into flour. Barley specially grown for human consumption with a beta-glucan content of more than 4 g per 100 g is offered as grain, as flakes or processed into flour. Barley bread is also made from it.

Barley is also said to have medicinal properties. Mashed barley ( Ptisane ) is already described in detail by Hippocrates of Kos . The soluble barley fiber is of medical interest. Barley varieties with a high content of beta-glucans (β-glucans) are offered to help maintain normal cholesterol levels. Beta-glucans are used by the intestinal bacteria as a source of energy. Barley beta-glucans reduce the rise in blood sugar levels after meals. A daily intake of 3 g of beta-glucan from barley has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels. Accordingly, a health claim can be made for barley varieties with a high content of barley fiber, in particular the soluble beta-glucans (more than 4 g per 100 g) . The following labels may be used on ready-to-eat foods:

Nutrient / substance / food Information (VO 432/2012) Conditions for use (VO 432/2012)
Beta glucans "Beta-glucans help maintain normal cholesterol levels in the blood" The information may only be used for foods that contain at least 1 g of beta-glucans from oats, oat bran, barley or barley bran or from mixtures of these cereals per given portion. In order for the claim to be permissible, consumers must be informed that a daily intake of 3 g beta-glucans from oats, oat bran, barley or barley bran or mixtures of these cereals will have a positive effect.
Beta-glucans from oats and barley "The inclusion of beta-glucans from oats or barley as part of a meal helps reduce the rise in blood sugar levels after the meal" The claim may only be used for foods that contain at least 4 g beta-glucans from oats or barley per 30 g available carbohydrates in a given portion as part of the meal. In order for the claim to be permissible, consumers must be informed that the positive effects will result if beta-glucans from oats or barley are included as part of the meal.

Barley has hardly been used as a renewable raw material . The grains could be used as a source of starch. In so-called “waxy barley”, the proportion of branched-chain starch amylopectin, which is interesting for technical uses, was increased to over 95% of the total starch . Waxy barley contains around 50% more beta-glucan than brewing and feed barley.


Structure of the grains

With the exception of naked barley, the grains are firmly fused with the husks . They must therefore be peeled off before they are prepared for human consumption. This used to be done in the mill using a tanning process , today this work step is done in a peeling mill . In barley, unlike oats, the health-beneficial soluble fiber beta-glucan is not concentrated in the outer layers of the grain (bran), but rather in the light-colored interior. Barley contains gluten , which can lead to health problems for people with gluten intolerance.

Average composition (barley, husked, whole grain)

The composition of barley naturally fluctuates, both depending on the environmental conditions (soil, climate) and the cultivation technique (fertilization, plant protection).

Details per 100 g of edible portion:

water 12.7 g
Egg white 1 9.8 g
fat 2.1 g
Carbohydrates 2 63.3 g
Fiber 9.8 g
Minerals 2.3 g
sodium 18 mg
potassium 445 mg
magnesium 115 mg
Calcium 40 mg
manganese 1.5 mg
iron 2.8 mg
copper 0.42 mg
zinc 2.8 mg
phosphorus 340 mg
Selenium 3 7 µg
Retinol (Vit. A 1 ) 165 ng
Thiamine (Vit. B 1 ) 430 µg
Riboflavin (Vit. B 2 ) 180 µg
Nicotinic acid (Vit. B 3 ) 4800 µg
Pantothenic acid (Vit. B 5 ) 680 µg
Vitamin B 6 560 µg
Folic acid 65 µg
Vitamin E 4 670 µg
essential and semi-essential amino acids
Arginine 5 560 mg
Histidine 5 210 mg
Isoleucine 460 mg
Leucine 800 mg
Lysine 380 mg
Methionine 180 mg
Phenylalanine 590 mg
Threonine 430 mg
Tryptophan 150 mg
Tyrosine 390 mg
Valine 580 mg

1 mg = 1000 µg
1 mg = 1,000,000 ng

1 Protein content according to the EU directive on nutrition labeling (factor 6.25): 10.6 g
2 Difference calculation
3 Often higher values ​​in foreign grain
4th Total tocopherol 2200 µg, α-tocopherol 310 µg
5 semi-essential

The physiological calorific value is 1320 kJ per 100 g of edible portion.

Products made from peeled barley grains

  • Barley groats; for this, the peeled barley grains are cut into groats. Grits are sold in different grain sizes.
  • Pearl barley (rolled barley or cooked barley) is obtained by grinding the barley grains, whereby the tips are also rounded. The best known are the " pearl barrows ". Todothis, grits are processed on grinding machines until they get their rounded shape.
  • Barley flakes are rolled from hydrothermally treated barley grains.
  • Barley flour (from Middle High German gërsten mël ) is made from the seeds of Hordeum species (especially H. vulgare and H. distichon) by grinding barley flakes.
  • Barley coffee / malt coffee as a decaffeinated coffee substitute drink.
  • Tsampa is a powder made from roasted and ground barley grains, a Tibetan staple food.
  • Certain types of barley have a high content of the soluble fiber beta-glucan (more than 4 g per 100 g).


Depending on the work equipment, barley straw can be softer and more absorbent than wheat straw, but it is only possible to a limited extent as litter. Remains of awns can in susceptible animals (horses, pigs) u. a. cause irritation of the respiratory tract.

Barley grass

Barley grass is often used in animal fattening . In addition to vitamins B and C, it also contains calcium , potassium and iron in larger concentrations. The leaves of the young barley plant are freeze-dried for consumption. This powder is dissolved in cool water and taken. The taste is somewhat reminiscent of diluted spinach .

Barley grain as a basic measure

Since a grain of barley has a relatively constant size, it used to form the basis for some measures and weights, including the Arabic Habba and the Persian Jou , see also Gerstenkorn (unit) .


Cultivation cycle and harvest

The barley is one of the self-fertilizers; a distinction is made between winter and summer barley. Winter barley sown in September is more productive. Temperatures below 10 ° C are ideal for growing winter barley. The winter barley freezes at long-term temperatures below −15 ° C. The formation of secondary shoots (tillers) is completed before winter. The ear-bearing stalks develop from them next spring. Barley thrives best in deep, well-moistened soils, but it can also cope with less favorable conditions. As a rule, the annual grain harvest begins with the winter barley.

The spring barley is sown in late February to early April. It matures in less than 100 days. After the tillering, shooting and ear pushing phases, flowering and harvesting follow.

The harvest takes place at full to dead maturity. Depending on the location, winter barley yields between 50 and 90  dt / ha , spring barley 40–65 dt / ha. In Germany, winter barley is grown on around 1.24 million hectares, while spring barley is grown on around 0.5 million hectares.

Diseases and pests

Viruses and fungal diseases

  • The yellow dwarf virus ( Barley yellow dwarf virus ) and the Barley stripe mosaic virus are the most important viral diseases of barley.
  • Powdery mildew (Blumeria graminis) is the economically most important fungal disease of barley in Central Europe.
  • Black rust (Puccinia graminis)
  • Dwarf rust (Puccinia hordei)
  • Barley blight (Ustilago hordei)
  • Ergot (Claviceps purpurea)


  • The barley is attacked by various types of nematodes.
  • Important pests on barley are lice, v. a. as virus vectors.


As with all types of grain, barley must also be checked for moisture before storage, otherwise there is a risk of mold growth (risk of mycotoxins ). The upper limit of grain moisture for storage is 15%.

Barley grains
Harvest-ripe barley field in Sweden

Economical meaning

The largest barley producers

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization FAO, around 141.4 million t of barley were harvested worldwide in 2018 . The following table provides an overview of the 20 largest producers of barley worldwide, who harvested 83.2% of the total.

Largest barley producers (2018)
rank country Quantity
(in t )
  rank country Quantity
(in t)
1 RussiaRussia Russia 16,991,907 11 KazakhstanKazakhstan Kazakhstan 3,971,266
2 FranceFrance France 11.193.034 12 DenmarkDenmark Denmark 3,485,656
3 GermanyGermany Germany 9,583,600 13 United StatesUnited States United States 3,332,970
4th AustraliaAustralia Australia 9,253,852 14th PolandPoland Poland 3,048,273
5 SpainSpain Spain 9,129,535 15th MoroccoMorocco Morocco 2,851,022
6th CanadaCanada Canada 8,379,700 16 IranIran Iran 2,800,000
7th UkraineUkraine Ukraine 7,349,140 17th EthiopiaEthiopia Ethiopia 2.101.375
8th TurkeyTurkey Turkey 7,000,000 18th AlgeriaAlgeria Algeria 1,957,327
9 United KingdomUnited Kingdom United Kingdom 6,510,000 19th RomaniaRomania Romania 1,870,710
10 ArgentinaArgentina Argentina 5,061,069 20th IndiaIndia India 1,780,000
world 141.423.026

In 2018, 695,072 tonnes of barley were harvested in Austria and 182,120 tonnes in Switzerland.

Compared to the above figures, the world harvest in 1928 was 36.3 million tons, of which 2.8 million tons in Germany.

See also

Harvest quantities in Germany

In the last 10 years (2009–2018) the annual harvest was between 10 and 12 million tons, with one exception: in 2011, only 8.7 million tons were harvested.

The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) published the following preliminary figures for 2019 on harvest volumes in Germany:

Kind of barley Acreage Yield per hectare Harvest quantities
Winter barley 1,363,000 ha 72.1 dt / ha 9,824,000 t
Spring barley 360,000 ha 54.2 dt / ha 1,949,000 t
Barley together 1,723,000 ha 68.3 dt / ha 11,773,000 t


  • barley. In: Jacob Grimm , Wilhelm Grimm (Hrsg.): German dictionary . tape 5 : Gefoppe – Drifts - (IV, 1st section, part 2). S. Hirzel, Leipzig 1897, Sp. 3734-3736 ( ).
  • Elisabeth Schiemann : Wheat, rye, barley. Systematics, history and use. Gustav Fischer, Jena 1948.
  • information.medien.agrar eV (Ed.): Plants in agriculture. 2004 ( PDF).
  • Wilfried Seibel (Hrsg.): Commodity knowledge of cereals - ingredients, analysis, cleaning, drying, storage, marketing, processing . Agrimedia, Bergen / Dumme 2005, ISBN 3-86037-257-2 .
  • Chen Shouliang, Zhu Guanghua: Hordeum. In: Wu Zheng-yi, Peter H. Raven, Deyuan Hong (Eds.): Flora of China . Volume 22: Poaceae . Science Press / Missouri Botanical Garden Press, Beijing / St. Louis 2006, ISBN 1-930723-50-4 , pp. 399 (English). , ( PDF, Hordeum vulgare ).

Individual evidence

  1. ^ KMA Badr, R. Sch H. El Rabey, S. Effgen, HH Ibrahim, C. Pozzi, W. Rohde, F. Salamini: On the origin and domestication history of barley (Hordeum vulgare). In: Molecular Biology and Evolution , 17, No. 4, 2000, pp. 499-510, doi: 10.1093 / oxfordjournals.molbev.a026330 ( PDF).
  2. Tobias Reetz, Jens Léon: The preservation of genetic diversity in grain. Selection of a barley core collection based on geographical origin, ancestry, morphology, quality, importance of cultivation and DNA marker analyzes. In: Teaching and research focus “Environmentally friendly and site-appropriate agriculture” . Research report 119, 2004, ISSN  1610-2460 , Agricultural Faculty of the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn, PDF file .
  3. Steven Mithen: After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5,000 BC , Harvard 2012, ISBN 978-0-7538-1392-8 .
  4. European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA): Scientific Opinion on the substantia of a health claim related to barley beta-glucans and lowering of blood cholesterol and reduced risk of (coronary) heart disease pursuant to Article 14 of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. In: EFSA Journal. 9, No. 12, 2011, p. 2470 ( ).
  5. Regulation (EU) No. 432/2012 of the Commission of 16 May 2012 laying down a list of permitted health claims made on foods other than claims about reducing the risk of disease and the development and health of children , see annex on EUR-Lex . Retrieved April 5, 2017.
  6. Gerlinde Nachtigall: Association of science and industry researches material applications for waxy barley . Julius Kühn Institute 2009, press release.
  7. German Research Institute for Food Chemistry (DFA), Garching (Hrsg.): Food table for practice. The little souci · specialist · herb . 4th edition. Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-8047-2541-6 , p.  224 .
  8. Jürgen Martin: The 'Ulmer Wundarznei'. Introduction - Text - Glossary on a monument to German specialist prose from the 15th century. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 1991 (= Würzburg medical-historical research. Volume 52), ISBN 3-88479-801-4 (also medical dissertation Würzburg 1990), p. 131 f.
  9. NDR: Superfood: How healthy are barley grass and wheat grass? Retrieved June 19, 2020 .
  10. a b Süddeutsche Zeitung. February 28, 2012 (No. 48), p. 2.
  11. a b c Crops> Barley. In: FAO production statistics for 2018., accessed on March 14, 2020 .
  12. Figures for 1928 from Der Volks-Brockhaus , FA Brockhaus, Leipzig, 1935; Page 242
  13. Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture: Harvest Report 2019 - Quantities and Prices | accessed on March 14, 2020

Web links

Commons : Barley ( Hordeum vulgare )  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Barley  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations