Barley can be milled with wheat, say experts

Flour milling is an ancient business, and millers harbour an ancient prejudice against barley.

That’s something researchers at the Canadian International Grains Institute hope they can banish with results of a new study.

They have found that hulless barley, even waxy barley, can be mixed into wheat at up to 40 percent and run through mills without gumming up the machinery.

“We can show commercial millers who never milled barley … that you can treat it just like another wheat and produce a healthy barley without having to do anything else,” said Ashok Sarkar, CIGI’s head of milling technology and over-seer of the barley blend research.

Millers had previously backed away from mixing wheat and barley in milling, even though they wanted to produce flour blends, because “millers were intimidated milling anything in their flour mill that they didn’t know.”

Sarkar and fellow CIGI researcher Elaine Sopiwynk found that hulless barley, including waxy varieties, could be mixed with wheat at up to 40 percent without requiring millers to tweak their machinery or processes.

Sarkar said he thinks the grain blend could probably be boosted to 50 percent, but that’s not a level they have thoroughly checked.

Barley is often touted as a healthy ingredient for grain food products because of its high beta glucan, but the beta glucan is also seen as a risk to milling equipment because of the belief it could gum it up.

Millers know how to make 100 percent barley flour, but producing it requires milling machinery to be reset, which is timely and hurts mill productivity.

The novel finding in the CIGI research is that millers can simply mix wheat and barley before milling without having to reset or adjust anything.

“You can treat it just like another wheat in the mill, so any miller with an existing mill having done nothing to the mill can bring hulless barley and blend it (with wheat) and produce flour,” said Sarkar.

The research was commissioned by Alberta Barley and Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions, which had previously supported a study that looked at boosting barley in human food products.

That research showed barley could be mixed into flour at up to 15 percent without causing problems, but it didn’t greatly increase beta glucan levels.

The research was shelved until Alberta Barley held a meeting with CIGI and other researcher and Sarkar suggested it be revived and taken further.

Now the researchers are preparing to present their findings to the world’s millers, many of whom operate in countries that like and use barley and buy it from Canada.

“I was hoping (the project’s res-ults) would be good and it would work out,” said Sarkar. “Until you actually do it, you don’t know.”

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