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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains
sayings often feature this "king of grains." Everyone in the highlands encourages children to consume lots of barley. It makes them brave and courageous, they say.8
Ethiopians turn barley into bread, porridge, soup, beer, and many other foods. A favorite snack is roasted unripe barley seed. Several types are made into various barley-water drinks, most of them nonalcoholic.9 These beverages (made of water infusions of roasted and ground grains) are highly valued. Also, some intoxicating liquors (areuie ) are home brewed from barley grains.
Ethiopians draw clear associations between each grain type and its use. The white large-grained forms are preferred for porridges. The white, black, or purple large-grained types are made into bread and other baked foods. Partially naked grains are usually roasted or fried. Small-grained types (mainly black and purple) are used for beverages.
Barley is also important to the country's livestock. The grain itself is sometimes fed. (Wealthy farmers, for instance, use it to fatten horses and mules before and after long journeys or to strengthen cattle before the plowing season or going to market.) But more commonly, the animals end up eating the straw. Finely broken barley straw is also employed in constructing mud walls.
For all its importance, however, Ethiopia's barley production can be strengthened. A vast store of indigenous germplasm has yet to be tapped. Indeed, some of it is being lost. (This genetic erosion is happening mainly as farmers switch to crops such a bread wheat, tef, and recently, oats.)
Some of Ethiopia's barley could be made more useful by genes of the barleys developed elsewhere in the world. But the multitude of local types offer great opportunities on their own accounts. Many are unique. Even the number of rows of grains on the seedhead (spike) can be unique. Everywhere else in the world, barleys have exactly two rows or six rows. However, Ethiopia's irregular barley has two full rows as well as parts of other rows. And its deficient barley has two full rows, but the lateral spikelets are greatly reduced or are wanting entirely.
Although essentially unknown elsewhere, irregular barley10 ranks fourth among Ethiopia's crops, both in quantity produced and area planted.11 At altitudes above 2,500 m it is usually the only cereal that
The ancients had similar traditions. Greeks, for example, are said to have fed much barley to gladiators. Roman gladiators were called "hordearii" in the belief that barley was the source of their strength.
A popular trail food is roasted and ground barley. The traveler can stop at any stream, stir the powder into a cup or gourd of water, and have "instant barley water."
It is also known as Abyssinian intermediate barley. It occurs also in Yemen, Arabia, and Egypt, but only as a very minor crop.