Phytases are pro-nutritional enzymes that hydrolyze phytate and make associated nutrients, such as phosphorous, iron, and zinc, bioavailable. Single-stomached animals and humans depend on phytase supplied through the diet or the action of phytase on the food before ingestion. As a result, phytases—or lack thereof—have a profound impact on agricultural ecosystems, resource management, animal health, and public health. Wheat, barley and their Triticeae relatives make exceptionally good natural sources of phytase. This review highlights advances in the understanding of the molecular basis of the phytase activity in wheat and barley, which has taken place over the past decade. It is shown how the phytase activity in the mature grains of wheat and barley can be ascribed to the PAPhy_a gene, which exists as a single gene in barley and in two or three homeologous copies in tetra- and hexaploid wheat, respectively. It is discussed how understanding the function and regulation of PAPhy_a may support the development of improved wheat and barley with even higher phytase activity.