Current Weather
The Spy FM

Still Waiting For That Healthy Oats And Barley Revival

Filed by KOSU News in Science.
October 11, 2011

A press release that landed on my desk recently got me thinking about what American agriculture used to look like. There was a time, seventy or so years ago, when oats and barley covered large swaths of Midwestern farmland — 50 million acres in all. Those grains, high in oil and fiber, were grown to feed the millions of horses that powered American farms.

Then when the tractor arrived, workhorses disappeared, and oats and barley almost went out the same exit. The number of acres devoted to these humble “small grains” is down at least 90 percent from its peak in the 1940s. Oats have been hardest hit, despite aggressive marketing campaigns in recent years by oatmeal makers.

Barley still hangs on, thanks to breweries. “Barley can always go into beer. And people don’t want to give up their beer,” says Jennifer Mitchell Fetch, a researcher with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

But back to that press release: It announces that some Italian researchers have perfected pasta that’s made from, yes, barley. If the pasta arrives in stores, it will carry a label saying that it “may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

Apparently, America’s farm horses were enjoying a very healthy diet way back then. Oats and barley are excellent sources of various substances, including soluble fiber, that scientists have linked to lowered cholesterol and lower risk of heart disease.

In fact, the FDA started allowing food manufacturers to advertise such claims for oat- and barley-containing foods several years ago. And some farmers, especially in Canada, where they grow more oats and barley than in the U.S., thought that the old-time crops might be coming back, thanks to the legal green light. Food researchers experimented with barley-containing tortillas, crepes, pancakes, and noodles.

But the demand they were expecting hasn’t happened. The latest figures, in Canada and well as the U.S., show that farmers will harvest a record-low amount of these healthy crops this year.

“I’ve been working on barley for ten or twelve years, and I don’t know why it’s not in the stores,” laments Nancy Ames, from the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals, at the University of Manitoba.

Apparently, we still like our meat and potatoes better. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

3PM to 6PM All Things Considered

All Things Considered

For two hours every weekday, All Things Considered hosts Robert Siegel, Michele Norris and Melissa Block present the program's trademark mix of news, interviews, commentaries, reviews, and offbeat features.

Listen Live Now!

6PM to 7PM Marketplace

Marketplace

Hosted by Kai Ryssdal, award-winning Marketplace is public radio's daily magazine of business and economics.

View the program guide!

7PM to 9PM Juke Joint Revival

Juke Joint Revival

Juke Joint Revival rivals any Rockabilly/Roots show on the air today, and the host of that program, Jenni Zee, lives and breathes the Rockabilly lifestyle. Her show has drawn the attention of Rockabilly fans the world over.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center