Tibetan Buddhism has been the spiritual diet for many western spiritual seekers for half a century, but there is an actual food in Tibet that might be the new attraction for westerners. Scientists found a special nutritional value in Tibetan barley, the staple food of Tibetan people, and began to experiment adopting Tibetan “barley blood.”
Professor Patrick Hayes from Oregon State University is an internationally known barley breeder. He said that he has been working on hybridization of Tibetan barley verities so that it can grow in the United States. “We would [then] be able to share those traits with American people because the barley is a very healthy food. It can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart attack, and cholesterol level and so forth,” he told VOA Tibetan Service.
Why Tibetan barley? Dr. Zhang Gouping, Executive Deputy Dean, College of Agriculture and Biotechnology, Zhejiang University, China, has been studying Tibetan barley for over a decade. “Actually, there is a difference between Tibetan barley and other barleys in terms of chemical composition,” said Dr. Zhang, talking to VOA Tibetan Service. He said barley has higher beta-glucans than the other grains, and that the Tibetan barley has the highest beta-glucans—containing more than 7 percent of it.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information and U.S. National Library of Medicine, dietary intake of beta-glucens reduces the risks and has potential for the treatments of diabetes and associated cardiovascular disease. There is also an agricultural advantage, according to Dr. Zhang. He said that the barley has high tolerance to salinity, drought and poor soil fertility, while containing high nutritional value for humans.
But barley grass might be greener on the other side of the world. With China’s hunger in mass production, authorities in Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) developed a new hybridized barley verity called Tibetan Barley 2000, which they say was developed in 19 years. It was first tested in Lhundup County, near Lhasa, in 2012.
According to Xinhua news in Tibetan language, in 2013 it was distributed to farmers in five prefectures in the TAR, and planted on a total field size of 106,000 mu (about 18,000 acres). The plantation is being increased in 2014, says the same report.
John Navazio, a senior scientist with Organic Seed Alliance in Port Townsend, WA, warns potential consequences of such development. “So, all of sudden the new verity can supplant the older verities that the people have been growing for thousands of years,” he told VOA Tibetan Service. As of now, there is no report of making of genetically modified barley in Tibet, but Dr. Zhang sees benefits in GM. “Genetic modification is very important in improving yield and other aspects.”