Thursday, 6 September 2012

Old-fashioned Barley Water



I do love Singapore, but sometimes this love withers in the sun. Now that I'm finally back home in a country where the over-enthusiastic sun shines the whole year round and temperatures hardly dip below 30 degrees (air-conditioned malls not counted), I find myself actually wishing for a dose of grey London chill. It doesn't really help that I live on top of a hill, and that the bus stop is at the bottom of the hill, and that  the driving school refuses to recognise my driving talent. It's no wonder I feel cross, bagged, sweaty, thirsty, hot, and very heaty.

No I didn't just mean to type hot twice. Heaty is a very different concept from hot. I think it's a very exclusively Asian concept, because I only meet with perplexed stares and confused frowns from non-Asian friends when I try to explain why I'm drinking a 'cooling' cup of hot tea in summer. The notion of cooling and heatiness is related to the balance of yin and yang. Growing up, I've always been taught to see food as medicine. We don't run straight to the doctor's when we've got a tickle in the throat, we drink some herbal tea instead, or maybe some pears double-boiled with almonds. These random nuggets of wisdom are so ingrained into our culture that even my local GP tells us to avoid 'damp-producing' oranges for phlegm-accompanied coughs, advice that probably will seem queer to those unacquainted with traditional Chinese 'hocus pocus'.



Barley water is an oldie but a goodie for a hot summer's day, or in Singapore's context, a hot day. It cools your internal 'fire', so it not only soothes a parched throat, but all heat-related signs, raging irritability and pimples included. I read that it's apparently a very old British tonic drink too, once prescribed for the ill and infirm, so I guess it doesn't matter which school of thought you subscribe to. You can change it up and add a squeeze of lemon for a zesty burst the English way, or add wintermelon for a traditional Chinese detoxifying treat. Or make both since it's so freaking simple.

OLD-FASHIONED BARLEY WATER
makes about 2l
Ingredients
1 cup barley*
2l water, more or less depending on how thick you want it
raw local honey or rock sugar, to taste

some variations
juice of 1 lemon AND/OR
handful of torn mint leaves OR
1/2 cup of candied wintermelon (reduce above sweetener) AND/OR
bundle of pandan leaves

*The pearl barley is most common, but there's also another grain called the "Chinese barley", or Job's tears, which I prefer (below, left). It gives a less glue-y barley water, and when cooked, reminds me of popcorn with a soft but nutty bite in the middle rather than a smooth chewiness. It's also gluten-free so it might be a better option for the gluten-sensitive.



Method
1. Rinse barley. If using Chinese barley, soak for a couple of hours.
2. Bring water and barley (and candied wintermelon, if using) to a boil in a saucepan and then reduce the heat and let simmer for 30 minutes to an hour, until the grains are cooked and softened. Add more water if needed.
3. Strain the liquid and add honey/ rock sugar and lemon/mint, to taste. Chuck into the fridge and enjoy for the next 3 days or so.

Tip: My mum discards the barley but I find it a pity. Save it for cheat risottos or stews or salads, or just leave it in the barley water to turn it into a tong sui (sweet soup dessert), in which case you can also add ingredients like jujube dates/ dried longans/ white fungus.



Such a humble tiny grain, so tiny it's not even pea-sized, but so wonderfully cooling and cleansing for the body. For those of you who may not have tried barley water before, it tastes kind of neutral, with the light flavour of those grains, and can be as creamy or mild, and as sharp or sweet, as you like it. I know it doesn't sound very exciting. I know barley's old-fashioned. But I'm old-fashioned. And this is the most refreshingly old-fashioned thing to let run down your throat when you're feeling the heat.

67 comments:

  1. Loved your post. It's so interesting that all Asians(Indians included) have the same concept of "not rushing to the Doctors" when you're sick but trying a home remedy first!!

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    1. Yes, I think that, coupled with the fact that I really hate drinking/popping medicine, means I only go to the doctr's when I'm at my wit's end!

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  2. One of my childhood favourite drink...you've got the winter melon too...good girl ! :)

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    1. I still like it as an adult! (:

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  3. how special to make your own barley water... perfect with lemons to cool you down!... very stylish

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    1. So cute that you call it stylish when I'm worrying about people finding this all too old-fashioned!

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  4. Our neighbours used to give my daughter barley water if she was having a play date and the children seemed heaty.
    It's such a curious and complicated concept, heatiness, that I always felt I wanted to write an essay about it (from my extremely western, evidence-based conventional medicine background). Never got around to it yet (I even had interviews lined up with various people in my head!).
    My husband, who was baffled by the whole concept, always gently teased his (slightly hopeless) secretary when she was being... well, hopeless, by asking "heaty today lah?", and she would, incredulously, reply "yah!! Very heaty today!" Naughty man.

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    1. Haha you can interview me, I think I know quite a bit from all my mum's nagging. It's funny we weren't really taught it, we just kind of got these bits of information everywhere, so to those comign from a different culture, it'll most likely seem very confusing and you probably will balk at the list of foods that belong to either category to remeber, but for me, there's nothing to remember, and it's quite instinctive.

      HEHE your husband's a cheeky one eh.

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  5. I love love drinking barley water, like mom always says that it's cooling!

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  6. Never heard about barley water before! I always learn new things reading your blog ;-). Love it!

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    1. aw thanks so much, yes I think it's one of those horribly old-fashioned things that has totally gone off the radar for most people..

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  7. Very interesting! I think the last time I heard of barley water I was reading one of the Little House on the Prairie books--but it never occurred to me to try making it myself! Thanks for the great idea. :)

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    1. Wow, little house on the prairie books..Now I know I'm really being quite an old git.

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  8. Totally with you on the heaty - I usually go for chrysanthemum tea but this looks lovely too. Can you buy Chinese barley in London?

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    1. I like chrysanthenum too! Especially with goji berries thrown in. Yea you can but I see it in only quite small packs sold alongside those random chinese herbs and things, you'll probably use up the whole pack in one boiling i.e. it won't be like that never-ending bag of barley that you can easily get for cheap at the supermarket. New Loon Moon 2nd floor I think.

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  9. I only heard about barley water but never had it. I hate rushing to hospital in fact I hate hospitals, so in my house you can find different types of herbs. Will get some barley and add it to the group :)

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    1. me too, I hate the doctor's, I only go as a last resort!

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  10. welcome back to sunny spore! time to chomp on all your favorite local fares and gulp down some barley drink to cool down. enjoy yr trip back!

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    1. thank you! I've been eating too much already..

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  11. I haven't made barley water in years! I love it.

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    1. Time to revive the good old barley water (:

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  12. Yeah, barley! I'm always trying to get people to consume more barley, but I must confess that I've never made barley water. Chinese barley sounds intriguing - must find some and experiment!

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    1. It's funny, most westerners boil the barley and throw the water, but the chinese throw the barley and keep the water! Hope you find the chinese barley!

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  13. My daughter prefer this old-fashioned barley water as she said she can even eat the cooked barley unlike the Chinese slightly bigger barley, which she don't like the texture.. Usually i cook with Pandan leaves and sugar only..

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    1. I LOVEEEE the texture of chinese barley, it's nutty and reminds me of popcorn, er kind of! pandan leaves, yes have almost forgotten about that!will add it to my recipe, thansk for the reminder!

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  14. What a classic drink. And so perfect for our hot, humid weather in Msia/Singapore. I love ordering iced barley at coffee shops so refreshing. Good on you for explaining the concept of "heaty" in Chinese terms. Enjoy that your posts are very SE Asian/Singaporean these days now that you're back home haha. FUN! Enjoy your time back and have fun with the family. Eat loads yah =D

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  15. My family in Singapore also boil this drink often cos it is almost heaty all-year round in S'pore :O

    For me, I always add barley when I cook porridge.

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    1. what a good idea! I'll throw it into my porridge next time!

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  16. You are right a hot tea in the heat does well. =) tried it out myself.

    Thanks for sharing your old fashioned barley water with us. Cant wait to try it out myself!

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    1. It's a very old-fashioned thing isn't it! Glad you agree!

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  17. GORGEOUS! I can't wait to try this healing tonic of a beverage!! =D

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  18. It sounds like an excellent and very unusual drink idea. Actually I have already read somewhere about it as an English drink (but apparently old and forgotten by most people). I had no idea it was also popular in Singapore. I must try it.
    I have heard many times that if one wants to quench the thirst, the drink must be above the air temperature, so what you say sounds very logical.

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    1. I've never heard of that one though! But yes, the chinese believe that in drinking soemthign hot, you promote sweating and that cools your body down! Yup, barley water is so popular here, you can find it in all the coffeeshops! Looks like it hasn't yet gone out of fashion in asia as much as it has in the western world!

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  19. I drink roasted barley tea (mugi cha) all day long, but my knowledge of barley ends there. I learned something new today - barley water sounds very healthy and good for us!

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    1. I've always wondered about this tea, whether the roasting brings a whole different flavour! Must try mugi cha one day!

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  20. Gosh that brings back memories of drinking Barley Water when I was a child and poorly. Never thought how it was made though so this was a very interesting post-thank you Shu Han!

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  21. Hi Shuhan, I've been rather out of the loop somewhat - have you moved back to Singapore now, or are you just there temporarily on vacation? Thanks for sharing this recipe - I've never actually tried it before... I'll admit I've very curious to what it tastes like!

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    1. I'm only back for vacation. Will be here sadly, for less than 2 weeks more only, but hope to share what I can while I'm here! I miss seeing you on the blogs!

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  22. Shu Han, I'm so impressed that you made your own barley water - it's never occurred to me to do that! And it does look gratifyingly simple - I'll definitely be trying this. I love barley water!

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  23. Love bailey water & it's been ages I've not make any. I think it's about time I make some , at least for myself even though no one at home like it! heheheh

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  24. “like“. Wanted to know how to make barley drink.

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    1. Yay! I hope this helps. It's probably good to go boil some barley now after all the 'heaty' cny cookies actually, haha.

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  25. hi shu han im from south africa 60 something young and have always enjoed barley water tried this recipe man its good and you can eat the barley afterwards i make a salad

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    1. aw cheers robert! so happy you found it good, and good call on the salad! I hate wasting food! :)

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  26. Hi girl, was searching about barley water to make sure that I was boiling barley water correctly and came across ur post! Didn't expect to find such comprehensive info and realize that it's an Asian thing! Haha...

    Anyway, just wana let u know that barley water can also help cure UTI, esp for pets. That's what my vet taught me and I've been boiling it for my family,including my furkid ever since! :)

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    1. I didn't know it's a UTI-cure for pets too! wow this really is an even more powerful tonic drink than I thought! glad I could be of help :) It's VERY asian.

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  27. oh thank you thank you thank you! i live in india and visit singapore often. and i drink barely water there, by the gallon. now i can make it at home :) yay!

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    1. hurray suchitra! glad to help!

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    2. am now wondering if i could trouble you to give me the recipe of Cheng Teng as well :)

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    3. I do it very much to taste. And probably add a lot more stuffs to it than what's normal haha. This is a good one from another blogger's you can look at maybe: http://ellenaguan.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/dessert-cheng-teng.html It's pretty similar to mine (esp in terms of serving size) but I don't use dried persimmons and I use rock sugar.

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  28. Where is Singapore can you get Chinese Barley?

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    1. Hey! It is really easy to find in singapore, just check out any of those chinese dried goods store. Or even some bigger NTUC or Shop and Save have them. A really good (but pricier) one my mum really likes is an organic one, I forgot the brand, but it says Hatomugi on the packet. Hope this helps! x

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  29. This is just a really fabulous article-- practical and well written! My mom and I could definitely use these recipes in the "heaty" atmosphere of India...
    In fact, my mom drinks this all the time, but I guess I'm inspired to try barley water now too :)

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    1. Thank you so much Parimala! Your comment made my day:) I just made some today too haha! Been eating too much "heaty" nuts lately and had a few spots. Fingers crossed this will cure all! Hope to see you back on this blog again x

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  30. I finally got to make this last week-end and really enjoyed it ! I love that plain cereal taste, it's so refreshing. And, I totally agree about not discarding the grains ! Not only isn't it up my alley but I loved the tong sui that I made (with jujubes) maybe even more than the barley water itself :)
    Thanks for this lovely post, Shuhan !

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    1. Thanks Helena- so glad you enjoyed it! And that you didn't waste the grains after, I agree I love the tong sui so much, perhaps even more too ;)

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  31. Barley water is really good if your gums are swelling or when your wisdom tooth is growing. It really helps to ease the pain :)

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    1. Never knew that, woo! Another reason to drink up!

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  32. I love your style of writing!

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  33. Hi Shu Han! Thank you so much for your post. I just moved to London from sg for a short one year course and made barley last week - tasted nothing like the one back home! Love the details in your post & am going to try it today!! Cheers :)

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    1. Good luck gwen! Sorry I only just saw this comment yikes. Hope it went well!! I think the one you get outside in coffee shops use the (cheaper) western barley, the one mums like to make use chinese barley, if that helps!

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  34. Chinese barley is better choice compared to pearl barley as it causes less phlegm. That's what my mom said.

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    1. Ah! I do know the Chinese barley is preferred because it's considered more cleansing than the peal barley, but didn't know about the phlegm bit- think in tcm that's referred to as 'dampness' whereas Chinese barley is known to get rid of dampness. Another reason to go for the Chinese barley if one can get hold of it. Thanks for the info! xx

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  35. Like your idea of using the leftover barley grains. Instead of risotto, maybe I can mix them with rice. Think Japanese or Korean do add barley to their rice.

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