General information


Barley, throughout history the most widespread cereal grain, seems to have first been grown in Turkestan, Ethiopia, Tibet, Nepal, and China. Archeological excavations 100 km from Cairo, in Egypt, have shown that barley was grown as early as 5,000 years ago. The Hebrews even made the grain a symbol of power and gave it a warlike connotation shared by the Roman gladiators and the Vikings. Cultivation of barley in the Americas began with Christopher Columbus, who carried it aboard his ships from Europe in 1493.

Sixteen species are known, all originating in the warm, temperate areas of nearly all parts of the world. In France, there are eight species, but the most widespread is common barley (Hordeum Vulgare), which originated in Asia and which produced the various varieties grown today.


Common barley (Hordeum Vulgare), a cereal grain of the Poaceae or Gramineae family, is produced today on a large scale, mainly in Europe and North America. It accounts for 7 to 8% of world cereal production, behind corn, rice, and wheat.

Among the varieties grown, distinctions can be made according to physiological and morphological criteria:

Winter barleys are sown in late September / early October so that they can undergo the effect of low temperatures that is indispensable to the production of seed (the phenomenon of vernalization). The plant can have two flat rows of kernels per head or else have cylindrical heads with six rows.

Spring barleys, relatively sensitive to frost, are sown for the most part at the end of winter (February/March). Compared to barleys planted in the Fall, they have a faster development rate, in particular during the early phases of their growth cycle.

Barley types can also be distinguished according to their use. There are feed (or milling) barleys and malting barleys.

The primary use for barley crops is as animal feed. Used in industrially manufactured feeds or consumed directly on the farm, feed barleys are well suited for use as hog and cattle feed.

As for human consumption, brewing is the primary outlet. Following careful varietal selection, barley is the cereal whose composition (protein content, tight hulls, etc.) is best suited to malting and brewing.