Among the so-called “minor” cereals, barley (Hordeum vulgare) is probably the most versatile. Barley has been known since the origin of agriculture; it comes from the East and it was easily spread in all the Continents since it fitted any kind of weather. Barley is mainly known for its dual use in animal feed and human food.
Zootechnics owns this grass a lot, not to mention homo sapiens species who should be very grateful as well. First of all, barley has been used to make bread (it contains gluten) from ancient times up to now, even if its role in bread making gradually decreased over the centuries, beaten by the impressive and overwhelming diffusion of wheat in increasingly larger lands of our planet.
As it is well known, barley has many other beneficial effects that many food industries have and are still taking advantage of today: from beer to whiskey, to the use of barley as a natural surrogate for coffee, without the “side effect” of caffeine when such an “effect” is not required.
Barley in pasta
What about barley and pasta? Well, barley has no traditions for pasta, but things work out over time and do justice to barley (sometimes too late unfortunately…). Finally barley flour plays a leading role also in the pasta factory. Since when? Since the concept of “functional food” has been integrated and reinforced in the human food logics. In fact, barley is also officially recognized as a “functional” element: back in time, the American Food and Drug Administration allowed some healthy claims to highlight barley verified properties against cardiovascular diseases. More recently, also Efsa gave its scientific opinion on the «substantiation of health claims related to beta-glucans from oat and barley and maintenance of normal blood LDL-cholesterol concentrations, increase in satiety leading to a reduction in energy intake, reduction of post-prandial glycaemic responses and digestive function». So, Mister Hippokrates of Kos was absolutely right when, approximately two thousand and four hundred years ago, recommended to his disciples to eat barley, since it is healthy and easy to digest.
Supported also by this exceptional reference, I am going to introduce you DV-4, functional pasta made of durum semolina and barley flour
A preliminary remark may be useful here: “functional food” (healthy food) does not only meet normal biological, organoleptic and nutritional needs, but it is also beneficial to human health; when this type of food has not only a nutritional function, and not just one or more healthy functions, but it also has some therapeutic functions for certain diseases, the best expression to identify it is “nutraceutical food” (nutritional claim).
Clearly, the strategic value of this food (function and/or nutraceuticals) is higher if it is appreciated and tasty, easily available and widely consumed; in a nutshell, if this food is integrated in our eating habits.
Here comes pasta with its well-known “functional” quality that can be even stressed by adding compatible and “targeted” ingredients in order to make its original functionality even more specific. Among the cereals that contain “bioactive components”, required for their “functional” quality, oat and barley are well-known to the scientific community for their content: beta-glucans, minerals and anti-oxydants. Beta-glucans belong to a large family of ingredients and substances that are classified and labeled as food fibers: «fibre has been traditionally consumed as plant material and has one or more beneficial physiological effects such as: decrease intestinal transit time, increase stool bulk, is fermentable by colonic microflora, reduce blood total cholesterol, reduce blood LDL cholesterol levels, reduce postprandial blood glucose, or reduce blood insuline levels» (Commission Directive 2008/100/EC Directive on nutrition labelling, editor’s note).
Food fibres are divided into two specific groups: soluble and insoluble. This distinction is important in order to better understand the “mechanism of their functionality”. Soluble fibres form a gel when mixed with water, whereas insoluble fibres do not and, therefore, they are indigestible. Soluble fibres (beta-glucans, oat and barley among others) form a gel in the stomach and even before then, when mixed with saliva. The effect is: increase salivation, slow down stomach emptying time and increase satiety index. All this implies a reduction of the postprandial glucose peak as well as a lower absorption of cholesterol that might be contained in food.
Insoluble fibers (i.e. wheat and partially oat fibres) are not digested in the stomach nor in the small intestine, then they arrive in the large intestine where they ferment and act mechanically, i.e. they remove toxic subtances from the intestine wall and help their ejection through bowel transit. This implies important beneficial effects, such as: eliminate or reduce constipation and its related discomfort, by helping the prevention of neoplasia of the digestive system, especially colon cancer.
What is the right quantity of beta-glucans that is needed to obtain these effects? The obvious answer is “it depends”, since human beings and their life styles imply many variable elements. However, the American Food and Drug Administration set some parameters for this: regular and constant consumption of oat and barley-based products that can provide at least 3 grams of beta-glucans a day. It has been calculated that oat and barley functional pasta should then provide about 700-750 milligrams of beta-glucans per serving size. All you need to do is to adjust as necessary.