When most people hear the word barley, they tend to think bread or beer. But Oregon State nutrition students are showing the world there’s much more to barley than a refreshing pint – by creating healthy, nutritional and easy-to-make recipes.
Students in Associate Professor Mary Cluskey’s Nutrition 311 Quantity Foods course were tasked with developing and preparing a desirable, nutritious dish that meets culinary, sensory and nutrition goals. The catch – one of the main ingredients had to be barley.
“It is important for students to learn about different foods and how to prepare them,” Mary says. “Having our class focus on barley nutrition gave students the opportunity to learn what barley is, what forms it comes in and how it behaves in recipes. Classes like this give students a diverse perspective on food. If you can develop recipes that are both healthy and tasty, people learn that healthy food is not dull, dry and tasteless.”
“I thought it was really beneficial because I had never personally cooked with barley, and it was a whole learning experience,” says Dietetics student Amber Hill. “Now, I personally feel like I can experiment more with some of the different grains to get some variety in my diet.”
Students paired up and created 20 recipes including barley pizza, lasagna, risotto, cookies and barley salad.
“My group made a barley chicken Thai stir fry that took us three classes to perfect – but it turned out great,” says student Rachel Kelly. “This experience showed me there’s different ways you can cook barley that don’t take as long or as much work as some may think. I’ll definitely be more inclined to cook with it in the future.”
The recipes were first served as part of “Barley Days” organized by Patrick Hayes, Crop and Soil Science professor and principal investigator of the Barley Project at Oregon State. The event educates the community about the benefits of barley nutrition and the research being done on the product at Oregon State.
“These events are a great way to allow students to experience what it is like to plan and initiate preparation of food for groups of people,” Mary says. “It is also a wonderful way for the campus community to see what students do in food and nutrition classes.”
Hayes and Crop and Food Science Associate Professor Andrew Ross asked Nutrition students to develop uses for barley that did not include soups, baked products or beer. The objective is to create uses for the grain that maximize the use in food products for consumers.
“We wanted to find new ways for people to cook with barley other than just beer and soups because it’s not utilized like it could be and has a lot of beneficial properties as far as cholesterol goes,” Amber says. “It also was recently discovered that it creates probiotics and promotes healthy gut bacteria. We were using recipes that had low amounts of fat and sodium, so they were healthy in general.”
Mary says the grain has a different texture than wheat or other ingredients and creates a tasty meat-like filling that can easily be used in place of pasta or rice, or substituted instead of flour in a baked good. However, it’s best to use 50 percent barley flour and 50 percent regular white flour in order to avoid having the product become too dense.
It’s a healthy substitute as well. Mary says barley is used by gut microbiota and creates improvements in systematic inflammation, which is known to be a cause of chronic disease, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
“Barley contains higher amounts of healthy soluble fiber – beta glucans,” Mary says. “This type of fiber ‘holds’ water giving a sense of fullness. Similarly, it is beneficial in delaying the absorption of cholesterol, slowing glucose absorption, as well as improving cholesterol levels and controlling diabetes.”
Because the recipes were such a hit, they were used again at this year’s annual Senior Day Dinner held June 4 that celebrates the graduating Nutrition seniors with a meal prepared by Nutrition 311 students.
“Eating behavior is a result of taste, cost, convenience, health and other less influential motivators,” Mary says. “Getting people to make more healthful choices involves improving the opportunity to learn of tasty, healthy foods. Our goal in the Healthy Foods and Diets cores is to find ways that facilitate the use of healthy ingredients.”