Barley is one of the oldest cultivated cereals and is well known for its health benefits and medicinal value. Barley and malt are now gaining renewed interests as ingredients for the production of functional foods owing to their concentration of soluble fiber, β-glucan and bioactive compounds. Many of these bioactive compounds have high antioxidant activity. Barley varieties with higher antioxidant activity are beneficial as food for human consumption.

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Barley fields, Punjab, India

The Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research (IIWBR), Karnal, India in association with ICARDA, under the framework of CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals, initiated a study on exploring the antioxidant potential of the Indian barley varieties. The study, for the first time, analysed all the barley released varieties from India for their antioxidant potential. The study could help in identifying barley varieties with higher antioxidant activity for food purposes and the varieties with high phenolics for the brewing purposes. Identification of such lines can help the breeding program in developing food and malt barley varieties with improved levels of antioxidants, which can provide better health and industrial benefits.

Under the study, seventy-two Indian barley varieties grown for two consecutive years at the same location were tested for their antioxidant activity using two antiradical systems. Around two-fold variation was observed in the antioxidant activities of the barley varieties. However, differences were observed in the level of total antioxidant activity in two years. The variation may be due to changes in the local climatic conditions. Although there were year-to-year variations in the antioxidant activity, the genotypic differences were still present.

Based on this study, seven barley varieties (BG-105, BH-75, BHS-380, BHS-352, BH-393, HBL-113, PL-172) with high antioxidant activity were identified. Most of these varieties with the highest antioxidant activity have been released for food purposes. Moreover, BHS352 is a hull-less variety. The hull-less varieties are more suitable for direct food consumption, as these require less processing in comparison to hulled varieties. Thus, these barley varieties can be consumed for food to have additional health benefits due to the higher content of antioxidants. Out of the seventy-two varieties, five barley varieties were grown at six different locations. These were also evaluated for their antioxidant activity. Significant differences between the locations and the genotypes were observed and also a significant genotype × environment interaction (GXE) was obtained. Thus, to have the best variety with high-antioxidant potential and phenolic content, best genotype and location combination is to be identified.

More than 25% of the barley produced in India is used for malt production, as a major ingredient in brewing, confectionery items and energy drinks. Therefore, the effect of malting on the antioxidant activity and the free and bound phenolic components in 12 malting barley varieties was also studied. After malting, no significant changes were observed in the antioxidant activity, however the phenolic content increased after malting which can provide additional health and industrial benefits.

The findings of the study have been published as a research paper in the Journal of Food Biochemistry (link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jfbc.12198/epdf )