Oats and barley are both cereal grains grown around the world. Both are cultivated for human and livestock consumption but differ in planting, uses and nutritional value. The Latin name for oats is Avena sativa. Barley is Hordeum vulgare in Latin. Most oats grown in the U.S. are used for livestock, whereas 25 percent of barley grown in this country is used for beer production.
Oats are a good source of protein and minerals. One cup contains 68 percent of the recommended daily allowance of manganese, 27 percent of selenium and 18 percent of thiamine and dietary fiber. A cup of barley provides 54 percent of the recommended daily value of dietary fiber, 52 percent of selenium and more than 30 percent of copper and manganese.
Oats grow in a variety of soil types, usually in cool, moist climates. Barley is one of the earliest known cultivated grains and is grown the world over, including in regions where other cereal grains do not thrive due to altitude, lack of moisture or other climate conditions. There is even a variety that will grow in the Arctic Circle. Barley is a staple in Tibet, where it is called tsampa and used much like North Americans use wheat. Oats are grown in all of the continental states.
Rolled oats are a common and nutritious breakfast cereal and are also used in baking. Barley flakes are also used as cereal, though barley is more often used in pearl form in soups and stews. Several varieties of barley, each with distinct characteristics, are cultivated to make beer. About 25 percent of barley grown in the U.S. is used for malting. Eighty percent of the malted barley is used for beer, with 14 percent used for distilled alcohol products and 6 percent for malt syrup, malted milk and breakfast foods. Less than 5 percent of oat production in the U.S. is used for human food.
Oats can be fed to animals, stalk and all. Livestock will eat barley but prefer other grains due to the barley hulls. Poultry will eat either grain, though it is best to sprout barley first for this use. Oats are also grown for use as animal bedding straw. Most oats grown in the U.S. are used for livestock feed. About half of the barley grown in the U.S. is used for livestock feed.
Small Scale Production
Hulling oats is impractical on a small scale. Commercial producers roast the grain at 180 degrees and mill it using a centrifugal process that does not crush the grain. Barley can be hulled in a kitchen blender.
- The Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening; Rodale Press, Inc.; 1978
- Purdue University: Horticulture & Landscape Architecture: Barley
- Purdue University: Horticulture & Landscape Architecture: Oats
- The George Mateljan Foundation for the World’s Healthiest Foods
- A 2 Z of Health, Beauty and Fitness: Oats
- A 2 Z of Health, Beauty and Fitness: Barley
Lisa Jensen grows organic food and lives in an adobe house that she built. She teaches aikido, is an experienced back-country skier and backpacker and is active in her community. A graduate of the University of Calgary, Jensen writes about gardening, home projects, social sciences and sports and recreation.