Barley has been served as a food like Postum throughout history and amazingly is one of the only resources on Earth that can provide the human body with the nutrients it needs from birth through old age. Research done by Agronomists shows its use dates back as early as 8000 B.C. and has been used by the ancient Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and Egyptians. Roman gladiators consumed it as a source of energy and strength while the enslaved Egyptians consumed barley bread as their sole sustenance.
It was also used as a food staple in late 16-century Europe and was frequently mentioned in the bible as being used by the Hebrews and Egyptians.
As one of the most ancient cultivated grains in the world, originating in Ethiopia and Southeast Asia, it is thought the post-Ice Age climatic changes, plus barley’s development of a hardened rachis, which prevented early grain scattering, allowed for better grain cultivation.
As one of the first cereals cultivated in the Middle East, it was used by ancient civilizations as a food for humans and animals, as well as to make alcohol. Actually, the first known recipe for barley wine dates back to 2800 B.C.E. in Babylonia. Barley water has also been used for various medicinal purposes since ancient times.
The ancient Greeks relied on it to make bread, and athletes attributed much of their strength and physical growth to their barley-rich diets. Roman athletes also honored it for the strength it gave them. The gladiators were known as hordearii, meaning “eaters of barley”; Since the head is heavy and contain numerous seeds, it was also honored in ancient China as a symbol of male virility.
Given the relatively high cost of wheat in the Middle Ages, many Europeans at that time made bread from a combination of barley and rye. In the 1500s, the Spanish introduced it to South America. The English and Dutch settlers of the 1600s brought it to the United States.
Today, the largest commercial producers are in Canada, the United States, the Russian Federation, Germany, France, and Spain.