Food ingredients supplier Edme is reintroducing the ancient grain naked barley into Britain - the first commercial crop was recently harvested.

According to the company, it has been 80 years since naked barley was grown in the UK and well over 100 years since it was grown in significant quantities. Now, it won’t be long before it is appearing some breads and baked goods on supermarket shelves, the firm claims.

The project is being led by Edme with support from agricultural environmentalist William Hudson of Hodmedod, an independent company that sources and supplies beans and other products from British farms.

Mike Carr, sales director at Edme, said: “We’re expecting demand to far outstrip supply. Bakers are really keen to get their hands on unusual, wholesome ingredients, especially those with a good story to tell. Naked barley is a fascinating ancient variety that delivers huge dietary benefits. Its flour and flakes can be used in breads, cakes, biscuits, pastries and breakfast cereals, enhancing nutritional value as well as adding flavour.”

Most barley grown in the UK is used in the production of beer and whisky, where the ‘glume’ or ‘husk’ plays a vital role in brewing and distilling. However, it has to be removed for food production, as it is indigestible. With naked barley the glume isn’t attached so firmly to the grain and, when harvested, the husk just drops off.

“The grain still has its bran layer and is still packed with all the goodness of this amazing cereal,” explained Hudson. “In addition to the vitamin and mineral content, barley grains have a low glycaemic index (GI). They are also said to have three times the beta glucans – the cholesterol-busting agents – of oats.”

According to Edme, naked barley is known to reduce blood cholesterol levels and prevent spikes of blood sugar insulin, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.

“Barley is often classified as a super food and so it should be,” Hudson said. “By reintroducing naked barley to Britain and getting the whole supply chain excited about it, I believe the nation’s diet can be improved.”

The variety of naked barley being grown and processed by Edme is known as Gengel. Three growers are currently involved in its production, one each in Essex, Suffolk and Lincolnshire.

Edme and Hudson are continuing to work with the John Innes Centre on the project, experimenting with 120 different types of the grain.

Carr said: “The ingredients we produce include flour, flakes and a sprouted wholegrain called WholeSoft. The naked barley versions of these products will be limited until greater quantities of the raw grain are being produced.

“Over the next couple of years, we will be in a position to meet the demand from bakers and food producers. This will result in more consumers being able to benefit from the superfood that is barley.”

Earlier this year, Edme gave students an educational day about science in the field to fork baking industry supply chain.