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Barley to support food and drink innovation

Barley to support food and drink innovation

  • Human Nutrition
  • 2022-2027
Sustainable Development icon: good health and wellbeing
Sustainable Development icon: responsible consumption and production
Sustainable Development icon: climate action


Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are inherent in food production but GHG mitigation strategies within agriculture may conflict with the need to provide healthy, nutritious food and diets. There is a need to provide an alternative, sustainable sources of important dietary micronutrients that are predicted to decrease as agricultural and consumer practices transform to address the climate emergency and the need to achieve Net Zero.

Barley is an important Scottish crop in terms of contributing to the distilling industry but underutilised as a healthy and potentially sustainable food source. Our previous research has shown that barleys entering the food supply chain are not bred for food but destined for distilling. Grain is not rich in components of value for human nutrition, for example (1,3;1,4)-β-glucan, micronutrient vitamins and minerals as well as bioactive phytochemicals associated with reduction of non-communicable diseases, such as type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) and cardiovascular disease. We have also shown that phytochemical-rich extracts can attenuate glucose response and there is strong evidence for the role of fibre.  


  • How can we develop our understanding of the physiological effects of interventions on dietary health?
  • How should we understand the changing Scottish diet and what can be done to promote climate responsible choices and those which improve biodiversity?


This project explores whether whole grain phytochemical-rich barley accessions can be developed from ancient grain (for improved climate credentials) to produce a significant change in blood sugar levels to complement the health claims associated with lipid lowering, supporting new food and drink market opportunities.


Selection and Analysis of Barley Accession

To do this, we select barley from ancient lines based on high levels of (1,3;1,4)-β-glucan and phytochemical content. These are naked barley’s meaning the will not require to be dehulled. This is beneficial for commercial processing, reducing time and costs, as well as potentially allowing many of the micronutrients/phytochemicals found in the hull to be in the grain. The barley sample and a selected commercial line are being characterised for their macronutrient (protein, fibre), micronutrient and bioactive phytochemical content using standardised standard operating procedures. We are preparing barley porridges for analysis using standardised cooking procedures.          


Intervention Study

We are conducting a dietary intervention study involving volunteers at risk of or living with T2DM. We are determining how the barley accession impacts on blood glucose and insulin levels compared to the commercial barley. We are also hosting a focus group with individuals at risk of or living with T2DM, and other important stakeholders in the supply chain, to understand barriers and opportunities for incorporating barley-based foods designed to reduce blood lipids and glucose into the diet.  This evidence supports a multi-disciplinary approach to develop barley as a sustainable healthy staple food ingredient or wholegrain for Scotland’s farming and food production markets.

The outcomes of this project are helping to open-up new markets for Scottish produced foods to meet the needs of people choosing a healthy lifestyle, as well as those living with or at risk of T2DM.

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