Have you ever heard about Job’s tears, adlay, hato mugi, coix seed, tear grass, or coix lacryma-jobi? These are all names for a tropical, naturally gluten free grain of the Poaceae grass family (which also includes corn, barley, sorghum, oats, millet, and rye). This plant is native to Southeast Asia, but today it is also grown in the Southern US. In Asian supermarkets, you can find it as Chinese Pearl barley, but it is actually not the same as regular barley at all. These seeds are over 10% water, 18% protein, and around 7% fat. Traditional Chinese medicine has known and made use of Job’s tears for many years, and it has been used to support the bladder and spleen, and to help with symptoms of arthritis, allergies, and even diarrhea.
But not only alternative medicine is a fan of Job’s tears; today we have some scientific evidence that shows some amazing benefits of this perennial tropical plant. Tear grass can help with fat loss, allergies, viral infections, and even reduce the risk of unwanted cell mutations by protecting us against substances that stimulate cancerous processes in the body. It definitely sounds like something worth trying, don’t you think? Every food that is labeled as anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic sparks my interest, as I like to think outside of the box with healing and medicine (as in a literal carton box of pills from the pharmacy).
I learned about Job’s tears only recently, but it was studied as an anti-allergenic agent in 2003 already (with a follow-up study done in 2012). Results of these studies suggested that Job’s tears might be an effective solution for food allergies and histamine intolerance. Scientists studied the extract of tear grass and found out that it directly inhibits mast cell degranulation and the release of inflammatory cytokines during later stages of an allergic reaction. The effect of tear grass on reducing histamine was proven by more studies. Other in-vitro experiments showed anti-inflammatory effects of tear grass extract, for example reducing the activity of the COX-2 enzyme (this is how some NSAID drugs work).
Tear grass is high in flavonoids and phenolic compounds, which are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. In particular, tear grass contains quercetin and rutin. Quercetin is a very powerful anti-histaminic agent that stabilizes mast cells and prevents excessive release of histamine. Quercetin also helps with asthma and protects against alcoholic fatty liver disease by stimulating the production of bilirubin (a by-product of the red blood pigment called heme). Rutin is a powerful flavonoid that is important for strong and flexible capillaries, but also helps to lower LDL cholesterol and boosts the effect of Vitamin C in the body. The best source of rutin is buckwheat, and tear grass seems to be a perfect replacement for it if you are one of those people who can’t tolerate buckwheat, as it seems to be problematic for many people (even though it was studied as a safe gluten free alternative for Celiacs).
Tear grass also contains fructooligosaccharides (FOS). These compounds work as pre-biotics, food for your gut bacteria (proceed with caution if you suspect or are treating SIBO). FOS doesn’t just feed your gut flora, but also helps to lower cholesterol and balance out your microbiome (especially those species of bacteria that metabolize fats). Studies on obese rats showed that tear grass oil helps to reduce abdominal fat and lower triglycerides, as well as boosting the antioxidant capacity and protecting against cardiovascular disease. It can also reduce levels of uric acid in the blood and therefore prevent gout. As for cancer prevention, a number of studies have been made to prove that tear grass helps to shut-off cancerous cells in the liver, lungs, gut, stomach, and other organs.
Neuroendocrinologists found that tear grass affects the endocrine system and lowers progesterone and estradiol in the blood, and also inhibits the release of testosterone (so it is recommended to avoid tear grass during pregnancy). The extract from tear grass hulls is effective in reducing the intensity of menstrual cramps, and also lowers the risk of osteoporosis. This is some heavy duty evidence! Now the question that might be on your mind is “where do I get this grain” and “how should I use it?”
You can get Job’s tears/tear grass on Amazon (also in bulk, if you happen to fall in love with it), or in your local Asian food store (under various names including Asian barley, Chinese Pearl Barley, or Coixseed). You will most likely be able to only buy Job’s tears as whole seeds, but you might be lucky enough to find it milled into flour and be able to use it as a white flour substitute for baking. The easiest thing you can do with whole tear grass grains is throw them into the pot while cooking soup or stew. It has that nice chewy texture you might miss from gluten-rich grains like barley. Check out this mouthwatering recipe, for example. Here are some more tips on how to cook with Job’s tears. You can also get an alcohol-free Job’s tears extract (this one is non-GMO and free of preservatives, and artificial colorings), and drink it with your water as directed.
I gave up grains, sugar, and dairy a few years ago, and even though I love the way I feel and I would never go back, I often feel bored with the limited options I have. I wouldn’t be honest if I said that I don’t miss bread, pasta, or chewy cookies, so I am grateful for every new, safe option I can get my hands on. Job’s tears are definitely one of these fun options you might want to try adding to your pantry and experiment with it in the kitchen without the fear of being glutened (aside from risks of cross contamination in processing). The health benefits discussed above are a wonderful bonus. I don’t actually think any gluten-rich grain can brag about any such benefit, but even if they could, the fact that they are full of toxic gluten overpowers any benefits they might have. Always make the best choices for yourself, and if there is a safer option, go for it. It is your health, your body, your home.