$2 million barley project gets naked for the good of the grain

CORVALLIS, Ore. – It’s natural. It’s good for you. It’s naked.

Barley is major cereal grain grown in temperate climates. The most commonly-used barleys in food and malted beverages have adhering hulls as they grow. Naked barleys are the result of a mutation that allows the seed to be threshed fully from the hull.

Now, Oregon State University is leading a five-state effort to develop varieties of naked barleys that are not only organic, they can also be used in a variety of ways. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, through its Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), awarded OSU nearly $2 million to lead the project.

Worldwide, most barley is used for animal feed. But whole grain baked goods, porridges, grits, and cereals can all be made from barley, said Pat Hayes, a barley breeder in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences who is leading the initiative, Multi-use Naked Barley for Organic Systems.

“Naked barleys have been around for almost 10,000 years but they haven’t gained the traction that we would like to see in the United States,” Hayes said. “Plant breeders, bakers, chefs, brewers, distillers, animal feeders, we are all united in the goal to provide organic gardeners, growers, processors, and consumers with an alternative crop, food, and raw material that will be economically rewarding and sustainable.”

The grain has an optimum level of beta-glucan, a soluble dietary fiber that lowers cholesterol and aids digestion, said Hayes, who founded the OSU Barley Project (aka Barley World), a team of barley enthusiasts and breeders. Naked barleys are also easier to process in the making of food because of their lack of a hull, he said.

Indeed, OSU is partnering with a brewer in Portland on an experimental beer malted from the university’s recently released variety recorded as “Buck” in the Journal of Plant Registrations. Buck was developed under a prior grant from USDA through its Triticeae Coordinated Agricultural Project.

Buck is the first fall-planted naked barley variety to be bred specifically for the Pacific Northwest, said Brigid Meints, a postdoctoral research associate at OSU who was hired under the USDA-NIFA-OREI grant.

Partnering with OSU in the research project are institutions in regions suited for barley farming – Washington State University (Pacific Northwest), the universities of Wisconsin-Madison and Minnesota (upper Midwest) and Cornell University (Northeast).

The Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative funds projects that will enhance the ability of producers and processors who have already adopted organic standards to grow and market high quality organic agricultural products.

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