When I used to think of barley, I imagined a plain, bland box of cereal. Of course, who in their right mind would choose an ordinary box of barley cereal when there is a plethora of more colorful, fruity, and exciting options? Naturally, we are drawn to foods that are eye-catching, aromatic, and familiar. In the case of barley, it is none of the above.

But what is actually special about barley is that it is a halal food mentioned in the Sunnah (practices) of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him [PBUH]), and it is amazingly full of nutritional value. Certainly in this case, we must not judge a food by its exterior. This reminds me of the forewarning verse, “…perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And God knows, while you know not” (Quran 2:216).

The Prophet Muhammad [PBUH] recommended a meal made from barley, known at the time as talbina, for the ill and heartbroken. He is known as saying, “Talbina relieves pain and helps ease sorrow.” Talbina is made by mixing two spoons of barley with a cup of water or milk, cooked for a few minutes, then mixed with a cup of yogurt and some honey. In a hadith narrated by Bukhari, Prophet Muhammad [PBUH] advised his followers to use barley as a medicine, specifically, as a cure for sadness. It is also narrated that when any one of Aisha’s relatives died, she would gather the women in the family, have a pot of talbina prepared, and then eat it together.

Before Prophet Muhammad [PBUH] died in 632 AD, he left us with ample knowledge to enrich our lives. Today, centuries later, we are still discovering the value of some of his teachings. How could a man from the seventh century teach us what we are now using advanced technology to decipher? Obviously, he was a chosen man from God, sent to humankind to help us follow the right path. One of his pearls of wisdom is the benefit of consuming barley.

Today, we know that it provides us with high fiber, antioxidants, and a range of vitamins and minerals which aid in heart health and diabetes management, among other benefits.

Montana State University College of Agriculture professors, Rosemary K. Newman and C. Walter Newman, in their book titled Barley for Food and Health, discuss a study where a variety of baked products and cereal foods made from either barley or wheat are used to measure their effects on cholesterol levels. Several volunteers consumed these products daily for four weeks. Those who consumed the wheat foods had increases in total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, whereas those who consumed the barley products had lower cholesterol levels. In conclusion of their study, they found that barley, although a plain food, can “…effectively normalize blood cholesterol. B-Glucan, a significant part of the dietary fiber in barley, is the most important component for lowering blood cholesterol concentration.”

Another top benefit of consuming barley is the low sodium versus high fiber content. Barley contains nearly thirteen grams of fiber per cooked cup compared to four grams of fiber found in the more common grain, oatmeal. Fiber, as we know, helps promote regularity and a healthy digestive tract, which in turn helps in weight management. The low sodium in barley helps control blood pressure.

Additionally, barley is a source of protein. Protein is a building block for human muscles, bones, skin, and blood. One cup of cooked barley provides about seven grams of protein. As a component of every human cell, protein is used to build and repair tissue, to formulate enzymes and hormones. Although protein bars and shakes provide supplemental protein, the more natural and healthier way to consume protein can be found directly from barley.

Mary Ann Allen, also known as “The Frugal Chef,” from Dallas, Texas, makes a fast, easy, and inexpensive barley salad. She prepares the barley by boiling it until it becomes slightly tender, then she drains it and lets it cool down. She then chops a few vegetables, which can basically be any vegetables you have on hand, such as celery, bell peppers, tomatoes, scallions, and parsley. Toss all the ingredients together, then dress it with some olive oil, salt, and lemon. There, you have a healthy, halal, and quick lunch with minimal effort. As a hot option, you might also enjoy IFANCA halal-certified J&M Food Products Lamb & Barley Stew.

It is important to note that barley can be found in the market in various forms. The most common, and fastest to cook, is pearl barley. In this form, pearling of the grain takes place. This essentially means that the grain’s outer layers are peeled away in an effort to make the cooking process quicker. This peeling also causes the grain to lose some of its nutritional value, depending on how many layers are peeled away. Hulled barley, on the other hand, retains most of the nutritional value since only the outermost layer is removed. Although this type of barley requires additional cooking time, it makes for a more nutritious meal and is considered to be whole grain.

Islam is a wonderful gift. Through Islam, we not only have guidelines on how to lead our lives, but we also have general measures on what is good and beneficial for us and what is harmful. There are countless beneficial foods and drinks available for our consumption that are both tasty and full of nutrition. One of these foods is barley. Barley is a versatile grain with a deep, nutlike flavor and a pasta-like feel. Although it appears plain at first sight, it contains vital nutrients in each grain, and when paired with meat or vegetables, provides a satisfying, well-rounded meal.

Asma Jarad is a freelance writer from the Chicagoland area. Asma has a bachelor of arts degree in liberal studies from the University of Illinois, and a master of arts degree in English from National University.