The Beta-Glucans of Barley and Oats

The “what”? 

Ok, I’m writing a book on home flour milling which has lead me to do more research on the health benefits of whole grains. In my 20+ years of teaching I would have to say that I have acquired a good bit of information that I love to share with others.  In the past weeks, however, I have been devouring every bit of information I can get my hands on, and I must say I am more than excited.  Beta-glucans are just one of my most recent “discoveries”.

Beta-glucans are a polysaccharide found in the soluble fiber of most whole grains but have particularly high concentrations in both barley and oats. There has been an increased interest in the past 20 years of the nutritional benefits of beta-glucans.  Of all the components of fiber studied for their function and contribution to health, beta-glucans have been the most extensively documented.

Nutritionally beta-glucans trigger a cascade of events in the human body that help regulate the immune system, making it more efficient.  Beta-glucans stimulate activity of macrophages.  Macrophages ingest and demolish invading pathogens and stimulate other immune cells to attack invaders.  Macrophages also release cytokines, which enable immune cells to communicate with each other.  Beta-glucans also stimulate white blood cells that bind to tumor cells and viruses and release chemicals to destroy these cells.  Studies also show that beta-glucans reduced the incidence of infection in patients with high risk surgeries, as well as shortened intensive care unit stay and improved survival rate.  Bottom line – of all the polysaccharides studied that act as immunostimulants, beta-glucans were found to be the most effective against infectious disease and cancer. 

Beta-glucans form a viscous solution in the gut which slows digestion and absorption giving a feeling of fullness for much longer and is the basis for many of the health benefits.  Beta-glucans have also been found to improve insulin response, lower cholesterol levels, and to restore the activity of gut organisms.

So maybe all of this information doesn’t excite you as much as me.  However, it may at least inspire you to eat more barley and oats.  For most of us oats are easy.  A bowl of oatmeal or granola, and who doesn’t love an oatmeal cookie.  Barley on the other hand may be a little more challenging to incorporate. 

Barley is sold in two forms, hulled and pearled.  Hulled barley is more nutritious than pearled barley.  Pearled barley has some of the bran polished off, diminishing both the fiber and nutrient content.  Hulled barley can easily be substituted in any recipe calling for pearled barley.

I typically use soft wheat flour for my pastries and cookies, but I recently discovered that barley flour not only works well in cookies but actually adds a wonderful depth of flavor.  Here is a Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe using barley flour.  You will notice it is really just a basic cookie recipe.  So feel free to experiment with some of your favorite recipes substituting barley flour for soft wheat flour.  A cupful of rolled oats could be added as well to increase the beta-glucans even more!  


Chocolate Chip Cookies with Barley Flour


  • ¾ cups butter (1 ½ sticks) softened
  • 1 cup sucanat
  • ¼ cup honey granules
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups freshly milled hulled barley flour
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. 

In mixing bowl, cream the softened butter with the sucanat and honey granules until well blended.  Add the eggs and vanilla extract and continue to beat until well blended. 

In a separate bowl combine the barley flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add the flour mixture 1 cup at the time to the butter mixture until well incorporated.  Stir in the chocolate chips. 

Scoop the dough onto baking sheets using a scoop or spoon using 2-3 Tablespoons of dough.  Bake in preheated oven for about 12-14 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned.  Let cool on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes, then transfer to a plate to completely cool.  These cookies freeze well.


Braided Challah Bread

Celebrating the Sabbath

The first mention of the word challah is found in the Bible in Numbers 15:20.  God instructs the Israelites to "offer up a "cake" (challah) of the first of their dough for an offering to the Lord". Today, challah typically refers to the entire loaf of an egg-enriched yeast bread traditionally eaten by Jews on Shabbot (the Sabbath), ceremonial occasions and festival holidays.  On the Sabbath, two loaves, usually braided, are placed on the table to represent the double portion of manna that was provided by God for the Israelites in the wilderness to remind them that God will provide even if they refrain from working.

The braided loaves are a symbol of love, peace and unity.  As one goes through the 6-day work week our efforts are directed outward.  The idea of the Sabbath is one of unity, absorbing the blessings of our outward week’s work and directing them inward into our homes and lives.  The 6-strand braided loaf beautifully represents the intertwining of all the diversity in our lives throughout the week and bringing them together in unity and harmony.

So often today when we hear the word Sabbath our thoughts turn to a legalistic list of "don'ts" - don't work, don't travel, don't have fun.  Yet, truly experiencing a Sabbath, you will find it a great revelation that it is a day of refreshing and many "do's" - do spend time with friends and family, do relax and read, do enjoy a slower pace, do join the your community in worship and fellowship, do nap without feeling guilty about not doing work, do enjoy a day of rest.

A common greeting on the Sabbath is Shabbat Shalom, a peaceful Sabbath.  Most often we think of peace as simply the absence of conflict.  Shalom actually means to restore in the sense of replacing or providing what is needed in order to make someone or something whole or complete.  It means having no deficiency.  In reality, God made the Sabbath for man (Mark 2:27) so that we could cease (rest) from our work on the seventh day as He did so that we might be restored, renewed and refreshed.

The greeting, Shabbat Shalom, is actually a blessing:“May your day of no work be peaceful.  May you become whole and restored during your ceasing from laborious work.”

Rest from our work may take on many forms, but most importantly it allows us to simply enjoy life.  Perhaps we would look forward to our work week more enthusiastically if we paused to enjoy a Sabbath rest.

“It is not a matter of keeping the Sabbath but of the Sabbath keeping you.”

Braided Challah Bread

A rich, soft textured bread, perfect for any occasion!

  • 1 ½ cups warm water
  • ¼ cup oil
  • ½ cup honey
  • 3 eggs
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 6-7 cups freshly milled hard wheat or spelt flour or your favorite combination
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons yeast
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten with 1 Tablespoon cold water
  • Poppy seed or sesame seed for topping if desired

In a large mixing bowl, combine water, oil, honey eggs and salt.  Gradually stir in 3-4 cups of the flour forming a thick batter.  While continuing to mix, sprinkle in the yeast.  Add the rest of the flour a little at the time to form a soft dough.  Let knead 8-10 minutes.  Cover and let rise until double.  Dough may then be divided to make  1 large braided loaf or 2 or 3 smaller loaves.  Brush loaves with beaten egg mixture and sprinkle with seeds as desired.  Let rise until double.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 – 30 minutes depending on the size of the loaves or until the internal temperature reaches 180 degrees.

Directions for a beautiful 6-strand braid

There are several videos on the internet using several methods to get the same result.  I found this method to be the simplest to do.

1. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces and roll each piece into a rope about 12 inches long.  If sticky sprinkle with a little flour or add oil to your hands.

2. Connect the tops of each rope together, pressing firmly to secure.

3. Take the far right rope across the top, all the way over to the left forming a "T" with the other ropes.  Do the same with the far left rope taking it across the top all the way over to the right forming the other side of the "T".  At this point the ropes should look like a 4 legged creature with outstretched arms across the top.

4. Now take the 4 ropes that are the "legs" and separate them down the middle - 2 to the left and 2 to the right.

5. Starting with the top left part of the "T" - bring it down the middle of the 4 separated ropes.  Now take the rope that is on the far right (not top right) across the top, all the way over to the left replacing the left part of the "T" that was taken down the middle.

6. Separate what is now the 4 legs - 2 to the right and 2 to the left.

7. Take the top right part or the "T" and bring it down the middle of the 4 legs.  Now take the far left rope  across the top all the way over to the right, replacing the right part of the "T" that was taken down the middle.

8. Separate what is now the 4 legs - 2 to the right and 2 to the left.

9. Repeat the process again with the left part of the "T" then the right part of the "T" until the ropes are too short to continue.  Tuck ends under to fininsh.

10. Carefully place on prepared baking sheet.  Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with seeds as desired.

11.  Let rise and bake as directed.


Hot Cross Buns

The Bread Beckers lend a “healthy” hand to Judith McLoughlin, the Shamrock and Peach Irish foodie.


Having grown up in Northern Ireland where Hot Cross Buns were an Easter tradition, Judith wanted help to make a healthier version using only freshly milled whole grains.  With a Wonder Mill in hand and Judith’s new pearl green Ankarsrum Assistent Original, Sue came to her aid.  The two kindred spirits had great fun in the kitchen coming up with two healthy variations of the traditional Hot Cross Buns.  Sue enjoys the flavor of spelt, so used it for the Apple Cinnamon version and used the hard white wheat for the Orange Cranberry recipe.  This is a yeast dough so any hard wheat combination of grains could certainly be used. 

There are varying legends surrounding the origination of the hot cross bun.  Some claim pagan roots while others say it is strictly Christian.  What ever the origin, these little buns are absolutely delicious.  If so inclined, you can skip cutting in the cross and omit the icing. The eggs, milk and butter used in Hot Cross Buns make a light and airy bun with a soft texture.  Though traditionally eaten on Good Friday, you will want to enjoy these delicious Hot Cross Buns all year long.

Orange Cranberry Hot Cross Buns
Makes 12  

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened and cut in pieces
  • 1/2 cup honey granules
  • 1 egg
  • 1  1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 - 3 1/2 cups freshly milled hard wheat flour or spelt
  • 3/4 teaspoon Real salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons instant active dry yeast (2 - 1/4 ounce packages)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • Zest of one orange
  • 1 egg white slightly beaten, for brushing


For the icing/glaze:

  • 1 cups finely powdered honey granules (powdered in a blender)
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely gated orange zest
  • 2 Tablespoons (or more as needed) fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Combine the water, milk, and butter in a medium saucepan over low heat until slightly warm and butter is melted. Remove from heat and pour into a large mixing bowl. Add the honey granules, egg and vanilla and stir to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Stir in half the flour mixture to the warm liquids, then sprinkle the yeast in while continuing to mix.  Add the rest of the flour as needed to form a slightly sticky dough. Stir in the orange zest and dried cranberries. Knead  until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes, adding a little more flour if necessary. Shape into a smooth ball.

Put dough in lightly buttered bowl, turning to coat. In the Ankarsrum, the dough can rise right in the mixing bowl by simply covering the bowl with white lid once the kneading is completed.  Cover and let  rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour.  Dough can be made the night before and allowed to rise in the refrigerator overnight.

To form the rolls:  Grease a cookie sheet.  Turn the dough out of the bowl and using a bench scrapper divide into 12 equal portions, about 2 ounces each.

Tuck the edges of the dough under to make round rolls and place them seam-side down in the prepared pan, leaving a little space in between each roll. With a sharp knife cut a cross in the top of each roll. Set aside in a warm place until the rolls rise doubled in size, about 25-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.

Once risen, brush the tops of the buns with the slightly beaten egg white. Bake rolls until golden brown and puffy, and an instant read thermometer inserted into the center of the rolls registers 190 degrees F, about 20 minutes.

For the glaze: Whisk together the powdered honey granules, orange juice, orange zest and vanilla until smooth. When making icing with honey granules instead of powdered sugar, it is best to make the icing, then allow it to sit for a few minutes to dissolve the honey granules.  Whisk again just before using to make a smoother icing. Transfer icing to a zip bag or pastry bag, and make a small cut in the corner of the bag. Ice buns in a thick cross shape over the top of the cooled buns using the slice markings as a guide.


Apple Cinnamon variation with Caramel Icing  

To the above recipe: Substitute 1 finely chopped apple for the cranberries (or add them in addition to the cranberries for an even more delectible variation) and use zest of lemon for orange zest if desired.  

For the Caramel Icing:  In a small saucepan, over low heat, melt ¼ cup butter.  Add ½ cup sucanat or molasses granules and stir constantly over medium heat for 2 minutes.  Whisk in 1/8 cup of milk. Remove from heat and  cool slightly.  Transfer to a mixing bowl and whisk in about 1 cup powdered honey granules until smooth and spreadable consistency. If too thick add a dash more milk.  Whisk vigorously to make a smooth icing.  Pipe onto buns in a cross shape.