Barley is a type of cereal grain, similar to rice or wheat. The plant it is harvested from is a member of the same plant family as grass. Barley flakes are a product that results after freshly harvested barley grains have their hard, outer shells removed, a process known as hulling. Once each grain piece is hulled, it is then flattened and cut into thin slices. Since the hull is removed, the flakes may not have as much nutritional value as if the outer shells were left completely or partially intact.
The appearance of barley flakes is similar to commercial oats, with a small and round look. The taste of barley flakes is generally considered to be a slightly nut-like flavor. Although the flakes are not technically a whole grain since they have been hulled, they may still share some of the nutrients of other whole cereal grains.
Supporters of the product believe it has a wide variety of potential health benefits, due to the fiber it contains. Fiber is a substance that mostly occurs in plant that is difficult for the body to completely digest. Eating foods that contain fiber, such as barley, is thought to help ensure regular and bulky bowel movements. Promoters of fiber also believe it can absorb some of the cholesterol in the body and prevent unhealthy levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream. Although it has not been conclusively proven, supporters of the health benefits of barley flakes claim that consuming regular amounts of the product has been shown to help prevent breast cancer, diabetes, and childhood asthma.
Barley flakes can be purchased commercially packaged or in bulk out of containers. After they are purchased, it is generally recommended to keep them stored in an airtight container in a cool place. If moisture comes into contact with the flakes, it can cause them to spoil.
Since the product is harvested from a plant, it can hold onto dirt and other debris. Prior to preparing and consuming the flakes, it is recommended to thoroughly rinse them off in cool, running water to ensure they are clean. Once they are cleaned, they can be boiled in hot liquid, such as water or broth, until they are softened. The cooking time can vary, but it is typically around one hour to 90 minutes.
Barley flakes can be eaten alone or mixed with other ingredients. The freshly cooked barley can be served in a bowl with milk and served as a hot cereal, similar to oatmeal or porridge. It can also be used in place of pasta or other starches in dishes like stews or soups.