Although it’s delicious and healthy, barley flour is something of a curiosity to many bakers. Despite its rarity, this relatively new flour is gaining popularity across Western Canada thanks to producers like Hamilton’s and Schroeder’s in Alberta, and growers of Millhouse barley in Manitoba.
Schroeder, maker of SunnyBoy barley pancakes, has been in Alberta since the 1920s, but in 2003, its parent company went into bankruptcy. In fact, the iconic hot breakfast SunnyBoy Cereal had completely disappeared from grocery store shelves by mid-2003 and it looked like nostalgia was all that was going to be left of this 75-year-old classic brand. That was until three brothers, Jim, Larry and Elmer Schroeder and Jim’s son Randy Schroeder bought it, pulled it from receivership and restarted operations under the new company name, Schroeder Milling Ltd.
Schroeder processes, mills and packages cereal grains to produce quality “organic” and conventional breakfast cereals, pancake mix, baking mixes and flour. Barley flour is the company’s hallmark, purchased commercially by the popular Byblos Bakery in Calgary for a line of barley buns and cookies sold through Calgary Co-op stores.
For bakers who long for the magical words “whole grain” to appear on their bread and bun packages, barley flour is highly recommended. Adding 30 to 40 per cent barley flour to a whole wheat loaf recipe will allow the use of such phrases as “whole grain,” and “a good source of fibre” on the product label. Whole grain barley is higher in fibre than whole wheat and expands three to four times its starting volume when consumed. Pearl barley is known to fill you up and delay feelings of hunger.
Fifteen years ago, Donna and Alex Hamilton milled hulless barley grown on their farm in Olds, Alberta. They tried it as a hobby until their mixed farming business began to flourish through local sales. Today you’ll find 2.5 kg bags of Hamilton’s Barley Flour in Safeway and Co-op stores throughout Alberta and parts of B.C.
In 1995, the Hamiltons received Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers Award for Alberta and the Northwest Territories. The winning recognition was in thanks to their progress in agriculture, their use of soil, water and energy conservation practices, their crop and livestock production history, and their contribution to the wellbeing of the community, province and nation.
Recommended for cookies, cakes, muffins, pancakes, squares and quickbreads, barley flour can even make a great tantalizing chocolate cake and is a healthy addition to favourite wheat bread recipes. Donna Hamilton recommends you combine 25 per cent barley flour with 75 per cent all purpose flour for a yeast-raised bread.
Because barley flour blends well with wheat, a Manitoba breeder and researcher has grown a new type of crop called Millhouse barley. Millhouse was bred specifically for milling purposes and adds fibre and nutrients to wheat flour.
Not only does 40 per cent Millhouse flour in a bread recipe double the normal fibre content in a regular loaf of wheat bread, it also provides the Vitamin A, beta-glucan, starch and protein that benefits wheat flour.
“You get a better product,” says Mario Therrien, a barley breeder at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Brandon, Manitoba.
“But Millhouse is not a stand-alone flour,” he warns. “Bread made from Millhouse alone doesn't rise sufficiently.”
So, when will the hulless Millhouse blend of flour be available to Canadian bakers?
“Probably in the five-year range,” says Therrien. “These things are slow.”
Millhouse flour is currently handled by the Canadian International Grains Institute (CIGI) in Winnipeg. Small truckloads of it are cleaned, milled and blended with wheat flour for testing. Ashok Sarkar, head of CIGI's milling and pasta technology, says Millhouse flour flows through commercial mills almost as easily as wheat flour, which is crucial to barley flour’s success in the market.
“We couldn’t control the flow of other waxy breeds of barley through the mill equipment,” explains Sarkar. “They kept getting stuck.”
“That’s one of the reasons why barley flour has never been successful in the first place,” says Jim Schroeder. “It’s awful to work with.”
But if Millhouse tests well in the CIGI's analytical lab, and it can be refined to mill smoothly, its future is encouraging.
For now, barley flour may be more difficult to find, but Bev Whitmore, a Calgary dietitian, believes it’s worth hunting down.
“Is it worth trying?” I ask Whitmore as she bites into one of Byblo’s Barley Bite cookies.
“It is,” she says. “Barley makes some of the most nutritious and tasty baked goods I’ve ever tried.”
Cranberry Barley Muffins
Created by SAIT student David Beard
Barley flour, 387 g, 100%
Oat bran, 97 g, 25%
Flax meal, 32 g, 8%
Baking soda, 5 g, 1%
Baking powder, 5 g, 1%
Salt, 2.5 g, .5%
Brown sugar, 97 g, 25%
Sunflower oil, 125 ml, 32%
Milk, 375 ml, 97%
Water, 125 ml, 32%
Eggs, 100 ml, 26%
Dried cranberries, 258 g, 67%
1. Combine dry ingredients (barley flour, oat bran, flax meal, baking soda, baking powder and salt).
2. Combine moist ingredients (brown sugar, sunflower oil, milk, water and eggs).
3. Add the dry and moist ingredients together.
4. Add cranberries.
5. Bake in a 375˚F oven until golden brown.
6. Test muffins with a toothpick before removing from oven.
Yield: 12 muffins.
Batch weight: 1608.5 g
Individual muffin weight: 134 g
Batch cost: $5.58
Muffin cost: 47¢
Barley Apple Toffee Tarts
Created by SAIT student Kristin Grant
Barley flour, 1 kg
Salt, 20 g
Cold water, 400 g
Apple pie filling, 4 cans (540 ml)
Toffee bars, crushed, 4
Barley flour, 200 g
Brown sugar, 120 g
Cold butter, 60 g
1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
2. Cut shortening into 1 kg of barley flour until mixture resembles cornmeal.
3. Dissolve salt in water and add water to flour mixture; mix by hand until a dough forms.
4. Roll out dough desired thickness and cut tart shapes; fit into pan.
5. For streusel, mix 200 g of barley flour and brown sugar; cut butter into mixture until it resembles cornmeal, then set aside.
6. Fill tarts with filling, sprinkle streusel onto tarts and bake for approximately 30 to 40 minutes, depending on size.
Yield: 100 tarts
A Burgeoning Interest in Barley
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