GRAINS: “B” is for Barley

Barley when compared to wheat is often quoted as being lower in gluten content than wheat. This really is a misnomer because…

there appears to be a lot of confusion about what gluten in itself really means. Both barley and wheat have gluten, the only difference is that the glutens found in each come under a different name. This will then dictate how these glutens may or may not affect an individual.

So now we ask ourselves: what is gluten? Without wanting to get too technical but still wanting to understand how all this works in the context of different grains, this is what needs to be understood:

Gluten is a protein which is composed of two parts, namely, a prolamin and a glutelin.

Prolamin functions as the storage of all the proteins in the grain, whereas, glutelin has the assigned function of being the glue that holds the overall gluten together. This is where I think all that confusion seems to arise when wheat is simply labelled as “high in gluten”. What tends to be omitted is the fact  that the prolamin (gluten)  in wheat is called: “gliadin”. Yes, the diva that has been exposed as the culprit in triggering all celiac suffering.

Glutenin, on the other hand (prolamin’s mate in crime) is more associated with the cause of wheat allergies – which is not the same as suffering of celiac disease – and what is not pointed out is that most other grains also have prolamins, that just go under a different name and structure which may or may not again affect individual tolerance levels.

So back to barley here. Barley also has a structure of one part prolamin and one part glutelin, just like wheat. The difference lies in that barley’s prolamin (gluten) is called: “hordein”, which I guess is capable of being as much of a diva as “gliadin”. The prolamin content in barley is also relatively high, although not as high as in wheat. Barley’s total hordein percentage is 46-52%, wheat is as high as 69%. In other words, every grain actually has its own particular component of gluten in it which is capable of affecting different individuals in different ways.

My take on all this is that we should not be demonising gluten, instead we should be making every effort to understand how this affects the composition of different breads we make and eat and how this composition can determine our own well-being on an individual level.

So what is: “good for the goose, is not always good for the gander” it should be more: “horses for courses” don’t you think?

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4 thoughts on “GRAINS: “B” is for Barley”

  1. Very interesting stuff. Despite having researched gluten quite a bit, I had been all too focused on wheat to learn about hordein… Thanks for sharing the info!

    1. It all started with wanting to know more about barley and I stumbled on this fact which was quite an eye opener. Just shows goes to show how fixation on one thing can make you a bit blinkered!

    1. Very good question, spelt is an ancient grain which is related to the wheat family and it definitely has gluten in it and would not be suitable to someone suffering from the celiac disease. However, because it has a fragile protein structure it is often tolerated by those who have certain gluten allergies, but I would recommend anyone who does have such allergies to carefully check this. I do intend to write more about spelt but at this point it sits at the other end of the alphabet 😉 Thanks for your comment it’s good to have discussions on these subject matters! 🙂

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