adlay Coix lachryma-jobi, a cereal plant with large, starchy, tear-shaped grains. It is native to SE Asia, where it has long been used for food, though generally only as second best when there is a shortage of a main staple crop. It is most widely grown in the Philippines.
The plant travelled westwards long ago, through India. It is now found wild in Spain and Portugal, and there is a dwarf form, probably introduced by the Portuguese, in Brazil.
Varieties may have hard or soft seed coats. The hard-shelled kinds are very hard, and the grains have an attractively lustrous appearance. They have been used in many regions as beads, sometimes for rosaries, which is why ‘Job’s tears’ figure in their botanical name. (Naturally occurring round lumps of the shiny mineral chrysolite, similarly used, have the same name.)
Soft-shelled varieties, especially that called ‘Ma-Yuen’, are preferred for eating, for example in macrobiotic diets. After being husked and roasted they may be ground to a coarse flour, which can be used for making bread if mixed with flour from a conventional cereal.
© the Estate of Alan Davidson 1999, 2006, 2014 © in the Editor’s contribution to the second and third editions, Oxford University Press 2006, 2014.