A Coffee Substitute Called Cevada. What Is It & Should You Drink It?

Coffee Substitute Called Cevada
Photo Credits: Cyril Saulnier
I've never heard of the word cevada till my first trip to Portugal. I was told cevada was a caffeine-free coffee substitute so I was looking forward to knowing more about this mysterious substance. In my opinion, cevada taste is very similar to that of a decaf, but it isn't made with coffee beans. So what is cevada and should you be drinking it?

What is Cevada

You read the word cevada on many food items in Portugal, most popular being beer. Cevada is actually barley (Hordeum vulgare), a whole grain cereal known for its fiber content, particularly β-glucan, which is a soluble fiber shown to reduce blood cholesterol and to produce a flattened glucose response (Vasan et al., 2014). According to World Atlas, Russia, France and Germany are the leading barley producers in the world (2017).

History of Cevada

Cevada (barley) might have originated either in Egypt, Ethiopia, the Near East or Tibet (Vasan et al., 2014). However, barley as a coffee substitute became popular in Italy during WWII. Due to shortages caused by the war, people learned how to make do with whatever they had (McConnon, 2013). For example, they used to eat parts of the cow they weren't used to eating (udder and lungs), writes McConnon (2013). He also states that eggs were substituted by a powder called ovocrema and cigarettes were replaced by rice-paper cylinders filled with dried chamomile flowers (2013). Finally, coffee was substituted with the indigenous plant, barley (McConnon, 2013). Based on true stories written by McConnon, barley coffee was also given to children as a part of their diet (2013).

Coffee Substitute Called Cevada
Red Cross Christmas Party for Italian orphans on Christmas Eve 1944. Photo: National WWII Museum
"The boys stormed through the front doors and made a beeline to the room where the nuns brought them together for meals. Lunch this day was the same thing they had eaten at lunch every day since Giorgino arrived: a bowl of watery soup and a serving of peas. Dinner, a slice of stale bread and a warm glass of barley coffee, would just be a repeat of breakfast. "For an eleven-year-old child, this was not enough," explained Giorgio.".
 An excerpt from the book Road to Valor by Aili McConnon.

Coffee Substitute Called Cevada
A child eating what seems to be bread and coffee, usual breakfast during WWII. Photo details are unknown. Photo: Lagenda News

Nutritional Value of Cevada

"The nutrient content of barley compares favorably with that of corn, oats, wheat, milo and field peas." (Vasan et al., 2014). "Barley contains eight essential amino acids. According to a recent study, eating whole grain barley can regulate bold sugar (i.e. reduce blood glucose response to a meal) for up to 10 hours after consumption compared to white or even whole-grain wheat, which has a similar glycemic index." (Vasan et al., 2014). But it also contains gluten (Vasan et al., 2014).

Should You Drink Cevada?

Coffee Substitute Called Cevada
Cevada variations at a Portuguese supermarket chain. Screenshot of Continente.pt

Cevada is a delicious coffee-substitute with a rich history. If you don't suffer from any gluten allergy, there's no reason why you shouldn't enjoy a cup of cevada every once and while. Also, if you're worried about caffeine intake, this is a good substitute. Cevada can also be mixed with coffee to create a light blend. Not to mention, cevada consumption can lighten up the severe impact coffee beans cultivation has on the environment. Dangers of coffee cultivation include loss of biodiversity, deforestation, soil erosion, water pollution and worker health problems due to the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers (Marcela & Blackman, 2015). Additionally, Cevada is a good option if you're trying to save money since it's cheaper than coffee. Have you tried cevada before? Let us know in the comments below!


Ibanez, Marcela, and Allen Blackman. “Environmental and Economic Impacts of Growing Certified Organic Coffee in Colombia.” SSRN Electronic Journal, 2015.

“La Cerimonia Di Rivoli per La Consegna Delle Medaglie Della Liberazione.” L'Agenda.News, www.lagenda.news/la-cerimonia-di-rivoli-per-la-consegna-delle-medaglie-della-liberazion.

McConnon, Aili. Road to Valor: a True Story of Wwii Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation. Broadway Books, 2013.

Nag, Oishimaya Sen. “The Leading Barley Producing Countries In The World.” WorldAtlas, www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-leading-barley-producing-countries-in-the-world.html.

“Oral History.” Red Cross Christmas Party for Italian Orphans on Christmas Eve 1944. The Digital Collections of the National WWII Museum, www.ww2online.org/image/red-cross-christmas-party-italian-orphans-christmas-eve-1944-0.

Vasan, Alka, Manisha Mani, and Pinky Boora.” Barley foods and health: Opportunities ahead.” International Conference on Intelligent Agriculture. 63 (2014): 88-93.