General English


  • noun a cereal crop used as animal feed and for making malt for beer or whisky.


  • One of the oldest cultivated cereals, Hordeum vulgare, with a seed of similar size to rice. Not suitable on its own for making leavened bread since it contains little gluten. Sometimes used in soups (as an addition to broth), occasionally to make a flour or meal, but predominantly either as animal feed or for conversion to malt (by sprouting) for fermentation in the beer and spirit industries.

Origin & History of “barley”

The Old English word for ‘barley’ was bære or bere. It came from an Indo-European base *bhar- which also gave Latin farīna ‘flour’ (from which English gets farinaceous (17th c.)) and Old Norse farr ‘barley’. Barley (Old English bærlic) was in fact originally an adjective formed from this (like princely based on prince), and it was not until the early twelfth century that it came to be used as a noun.

A barn (OE) was originally a building for storing barley. The Old English word ber(e)n was a compound formed from bere and ern or ærn ‘house’ (which may be related to English rest).