For thousands of years Tsampa is has been the traditional staple food of Tibet. It is made of roasted whole-grain barley and is very easy to prepare, both at home and whilst travelling, not only in Tibet. It has a characteristic nutty taste and smell and  is very healthy. For more than eight million Tibetans, living in Tibet and around the world, it is, along with meat and milk products, their basic food. Almost every pilgrim and traveller in Tibet carries a stock of tsampa on their journey.
Since tsampa is already cooked, one simply mixes it with hot tea, water, milk or soup and it is ready.
It is a useful addition to almost any food, both sweet and savoury.


Dalailama about tsampa:


How Tibetanas Eat Tsampa

tsampa in LadakhTibetans most commonly consume tsampa in their tea, which is quite unlike other teas. It is boiled for some time and then milk is added. The mixture is again brought to a boil and then strained into a churn to be mixed with butter and salt. It is served in a bowl with tsampa, which is skilfully mixed in to make a dough known as “pa”. Dry Tibetan cheese and a pinch of sugar are also frequent additions. Nowadays tsampa is often replaced by rice or other newer foods, but in the past it was commonly and frequently eaten, and it remains popular in remote areas, amongst travellers and as the first solid food for babies
English traveller Peter Fleming, who visited Tibet in the nineteen-thirties wrote: „… Tsamba has much to recommend it, and if I were a poet I would write an ode to the stuff. It is sustaining, digestible and cheap. For nearly three months we had tsamba for breakfast and tsamba for lunch, and the diet was neither as unappetizing nor as monotonous as it sounds. One of the great virtues of tsamba is that you can vary the flavour and the consistency at will. You can make it into a cake or you can make it into a porridge; and either can be flavoured with sugar, salt, pepper, vinegar, or (on special occasions for you only had one bottle) Worcester Sauce. And, as if that were not enough, you can make it with cocoa instead of with tea. I would not go so far as to say that you never get tired of tsamba, but you would get tired of anything else much quicker.”

Tsampa in the world 

Tsampa is also found in Nepal, Bhutan, parts of Mongolia, Buryatia and nearby countries. In Turkistan it is called talkhan and in same parts of north China it is known as tso-miyen. In Indian Bihar tsampa is made from chickpeas (sattu).
A European variation of tsampa can be found on the Scandinavian peninsula in Finland’s talkkuna and nearby Estonia’s kama. “Gofio”, which is made from corn, is very popular in the Canary Isles, from where it spread along the Caribbean (Cuba, Dominican Rep,…) and Venezuela, Argentina, Chile. In North America it was part of the diet of some native inhabitants.


Green Barley in Ladkh
Green Barley in Ladakh
  • Decreases levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the blood, thus decreasing the risk of heart disease. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2006.
  • Barley is a rich source of vitamin E and the whole vitamin B complex. It contains many important minerals (phosphorus, calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, manganese, copper and zinc), eight essential amino acids and phenolic substances with antioxidant characteristics, is rich in fibre (insoluble and soluble), and has a large ratio of beta-glucans. It has also been found that juice from fresh young barley leaves is effective in cleaning and detox.
  • Nutritional  value is in the form of saccharides.  Barley contains 75 to 85 %  saccharides, 11-13 % proteins and 2-3% fats.
  • Barley is the key ingredient in making beer and whisky.  Barley meal is used as a base in soups, barley flakes in cereal products, and barley flour is added to pasta. Coffee substitutes  frequently contain barley, and because of its high nutritional values, barley is used in animal feed.
  • Barley is one of the oldest agricultural crops. ICultivated more than ten thousand years ago, it spread from eastern Asia to north Africa, and was the food of the gladiators and soldiers of ancient Greece and Rome. Infusions from barley were used to feed infants and as a strengthening agent for the sick and convalescent. Grain was also used as a measure unit of weight and length.
  • In the region of the Czech Republic barley was cultivated 5000 years ago and used to make porridge and flour, but was latter largely replaced by wheat.
     Tibet has a vast variety of hulllesss barley cultivars, the best in the world.
     ((Hordeum vulgare L., subsp. distichon, var. nudum)  This type of barley has an outer hull that’s so loosely attached to the kernel that it generally falls off during harvesting. This cuts down on processing and ensures that all of the bran and germ are retained. Tsampa is made from this type of barley.


Advantages of hulless barley compared to hull barley:
  • Because the husks are lost during harvest, 10 to 15% space is saved for storage and transport.
  • Nutritional value is 7 to 14%. higher
  • Vitamins and minerals are not lost during hulling
  •  Processing costs are lower
Ripen Barley in Ladakh