best natural foods

'Chinese' barley water - a fever remedy

There are two ways of preparing barley water - the Chinese way and the Korean way.

Both ways, however, should rightly be prepared using Chinese barley, also known as hato mugi or Job's tears.

This is a different grain from regular barley. Both types of "barley" share similar appearance, taste and health benefits, but Chinese barley or hato mugi is believed to have more medicinal qualities.

So if you wish to enjoy the healing properties of barley water, including its effect in colling the body and reducing fever, you should rightly use Chinese barley or hato mugi.

Sure, regular "Western" barley works too, but to a lesser extent. In Southeast Asia, a popular brand of barley is Ayam (meaning chicken or rooster) brand, and this is often used to brew the drink even though it is pearl barley and not Chinese barley.

I suspect the reason this is used is because many Chinese families are confused and do not know the difference between pearl barley vs Chinese barley. Also, the pearl barley is more widely sold.

Chinese barley water

The Chinese way of brewing this drink is simple - just boil Chinese barley grains in plenty of water and then sweeten to taste.

You may use, for example, one cup of barley to five or 10 or more cups of water, depending on whether you want a thick or a light drink. If you intend to use barley water as a fever remedy, you should make a rather thick and "milky" drink. Otherwise don't expect too much results. For general enjoyment, a thinner drink is fine.

The barley grains that settle to the bottom of the pot are either retained or discarded. Many Chinese families throw the barley grains away, at most "accidentally" scooping a few grains into their drink. This is a waste because the barley grains are rich in fiber and may also contain other nutrients that do not get dissolved in the water.

A friend of mine who went to study macrobiotics at the Vega Study Centre in America was shocked to see the Americans do just the opposite - they discard the water and eat the grains. So now my friend has learned to eat barley grains while the Americans he met have learned to drink barley water.

Usually, the Chinese sweeten with rock sugar, which is sugar crystals formed into very large crystals, like rocks. This is regarded in Chinese medicine to be healthier than regular sugar, although rock sugar is still refined white sugar.

I have yet to find out why rock sugar is healthier. Perhaps the original way of making it was more natural and less industrialised, but I suspect modern rock sugar - particularly those shaped as even-size "pebbles" with smooth rounded edges - is made from industrialised refined sugar. Genuine rock sugar are shaped like unpolished crystals, with rough, jagged edges.

A sweetener that I like to use - for I find it fragrant - is melon strips. These are sugar-coated pieces of dried winter melon, a melon that the Chinese also brew into a cooling drink, like barley water.

Korean barley water

Korean barley water is brewed with barley flour rather than whole barley grains. It is typically very thick and milky white, as opposed to the Chinese version which is more translucent white.

The thickness is an advantage. As mentioned above, you need a thick drink if you want its therapeutic, fever-reducing effects.

The use of flour instead of the whole grain, however, is both a plus and a minus. On the plus side, you end up consuming the flour with its beneficial fiber and other nutrients. On the minus side, flour products begin to oxidize once the grain is broken and ground - just as an apple turns brown when cut. The process is slow, but then, the flour might have been ground months or years ago.

Barley water as a cooling drink

Traditional Chinese Mecidine considers Chinese barley or hato mugi as a "cooling" food that helps brings down the body temperature. And the best way to enjoy this benefit is by drinking it as barley water.

This is not just for countering hot summer or tropical heat. More importantly, it reduces internal body heat and can be an effective fever remedy.

The Chinese concept of "heatiness" is not the same as that of a fever associated with illness such as bacterial or viral infection. It could just as well result from tiredness, especially lack of sleep, that makes the body feel hot inside. Or it could be due to eating excessive amounts of "heaty foods" such as deep fried foods, chilli, most spices and chocolate.

There may or may not be other symptoms such as sore throat and dry cough. Also there may or may not be an increase in body temperature. Symptoms like sore throat and dry cough, without fever, are also considered "heaty" and might be helped with "cooling drinks" such as barley water.

Note also that "cooling" in this case refers to the effect of the drink and not its temperature. Hot barley water will cool the body - in fact more effectively than cold drinks because hot drinks promote perspiration. Cold drinks are generally discouraged anyway.

Incidentally, beer, which is also made from barley, is also considered cooling.

Related to the health benefits of barley in cooling the body, barley is considered in Chinese medicine to be nourishing for the liver. All grains with a line down the middle - including barley, wheat, oats and buckwheat, called "mugi" in Japanese - are classified as having tree / wood or "upward rising" energy that nourishes the liver (which, in the human anatomy, is also an "upward rising" organ).

Click here to read more about the health benefits of barley and barley water.

Barley soft drink

Through East Asia, barley water is a popular drink sold freshly brewed in some coffee shops, as well as in bottles and packets as "soft drink". There is also lemon barley.

A lot of this is mainly sugar, water plus a bit of barley and maybe lemon. Some don't even taste like the real thing and are probably made from artificial barley and lemon flavoring. So don't kid yourself into thinking that they are healthy drinks.

In this case, the Korean barley water sold in Korean supermarkets is more genuine and healthier - but, unless you are in Korea, more costly too.

Roasted barley tea

Another somewhat popular drink in East Asia is roasted barley tea, which tastes like very weak coffee. The grain - again usually Chinese barley or hato mugi - is dry roasted until dark brown and then brewed into a tea, either by pouring hot water or boiling for a few minutes.

This is the standard drink served at Korean restaurants. It is drunk also by the Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese - but not so much these days, as regular tea and coffee have become more popular.

However, roasted barley tea - along with roasted brown rice tea - has gained popularity from the health movement. You can find roasted barley tea as tea bags in health stores, where it is called by its Japanese name, mugi cha. But, it is much cheaper to buy the roasted barley grains from Korean supermarkets.

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