Barley is one of the oldest cultivated foods, going back to prehistoric times in the highlands of Ethiopia. It was a staple in Egypt by 5000 BC, Mesopotamia by 3500 BC, and China by 2000 BC. Until the 16th century, barley was more important than wheat in most of Europe.
Barley is grown to feed both humans and livestock. Hulled barley, which has had the outer shell removed, is used in breakfast cereal and pilafs. Pearl barley, which has also had the germ removed, is eaten steamed or in soups. Barley flour is used to make porridge and flatbreads. Malted barley is the foundation of most beers.