The US Food and Drug Administration has approved a health claim for whole-grain and barley-containing products, linking their consumption to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease.
To qualify, barley-containing foods must provide at least 0.75g of soluble fibre per serving. Sources eligible for the health claim include: whole grain barley, barley bran, barley flakes, barley grits, barley flour, barley meal, sieved barley meal and pearl barley.
"The scientific evidence on barley beta-glucan soluble fibre and its ability to reduce cholesterol is significant," said Mary Sullivan, executive administrator of the National Barley Foods Council. "Barley has a distinct advantage over some other grains in that beta-glucan soluble fibre is found throughout the entire barley kernel. In some other grains, the fibre is only found in the outer bran layer. So if these grains are processed, the fibre can be easily lost.?This is not the case with barley."
The FDA estimates a quarter of hot breakfast cereals, and five per cent of all cold cereals sold in the US will start boasting their health benefits. The cereal market is worth $7.1 billion a year. According to the National Barley Growers Association, barley production in the US averages 319 million bushels per year, with an estimated value of $759 million. Of the barley consumed, most is used for animal food and beer production. About 2 per cent is used in human foods.?
Minnesota Grain Inc, a 50-year-old speciality-grains supplier and one of the largest barley suppliers in the US, welcomed the news. "We have been pushing for this for a long time, and it opens the possibility that people are now going to figure out that barley is really healthy," said CEO and owner Tom Mensing. "We're quite pleased that barley is finally getting the accolades it deserves, and are expecting a substantial increase in sales."
The company, which provides barley to such cereal companies as Kellogg's and General Mills, has also worked with international food aid programs, where barley plays a particularly important role. "Barley is not only nutritional, it uses less water when you're cooking it up, which in places like Africa is a pretty important deal."
Kris Nelson, director of marketing for Grain Millers Inc, a supplier of grain ingredients for commercial food production in Minnesota, said barley is an easy grain to work with because it's very bland, so it doesn't have an overwhelming flavour. "Barley could be used in more applications than it is currently, and maybe with this health claim there will be more interest," she said. "Generally it's less expensive to buy a barley flake than an oats flake."
The health claims petition was filed by the National Barley Foods Council. A unit of Cargill Inc helped underwrite the cost of the petition.