Ark of taste
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The product is flour made from bere, the distinct Northern Scottish, six-row local barley (Hordeum vulgare L.). At present bere is easily identified from other barleys as the only 6-rowed spring barley on the UK market. A scientific nutritional analysis of beremeal was done by H.E.Theobald published in the essay ‘The Nutritional Properties of Flours Derived from Orkney Grown Bere Barley’ of 2006 confirming a wide variety of macro- and micro nutrients, including significant quantities of folate, thiamine, pantothenic acid, iron, iodine and magnesium.  Beremeal has been described as having an earthy, slightly stringent, nutty flavour. It does not store well. It is traditionally used to make a dark-greyish bannock, a soft roll that is a speciality of Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. Bere was grown historically in Wales (as Haidd Garw or Coarse barley) and Scotland on higher land of poor fertility such as Highlands and Islands. Environmentally, the short growing season of bere suits the lands of low fertility and long summer daylight hours, partly offsetting the poorer soils and lower temperatures due to higher latitude. The long history of bere cultivation in Scotland has lead to a wide genetic diversity within and between bere populations. Molecular markers work by the biologist Catherine Southworth (2007) showed three distinct genetic groups within bere: one on Orkney, one on Shetland and a large and highly diverse group formed by the Hebrides. However, the genetic differences were not expressed in distinct morphological differences. Historically the flour was used throughout Scotland and barley bannocks were eaten widely as the main bread. From nineteenth century onwards its use declined except for the Highlands and Islands, on Orkney and Shetland it remained used as bread. Handmills or querns produced meal for household purposes while watermills produced meal on a larger scale. For example, the historian Bill Lawson (2004) records three millers on North Uist – one of the Hebrides – in 1793 but most people relied on their own querns or little Norse type mills to grind their grain. The Hebridean folksong Tir an Eorna, Tir an machrach (Land of barley, land of machair) testifies the centuries-old link between the traditional barley (bere) and the islands.

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Cereals and flours