I’d never heard of Job’s Tears until I went to the Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery. Wandering through the gallery, I was particularly struck by a truly lovely drawing which turned out, inevitably, to be by Leonardo da Vinci. It’s one of the earliest botanical drawings ever to be made and, not surprisingly, bearing in mind the draughtsman, it’s not merely a skilled rendering of the plant but a good representation of its physical properties – consideration given to the weight of the seeds being such as to cause the stems to arc.
I peered at the label and found that the plant in question was Job’s Tears – a type of cereal that I’d never heard of. Investigation was in order.
The scientific name for Job’s Tears is Coix lacryma-jobi and it’s also known as adlay and coix. Indigenous originally to South-East Asia, it came to Europe around Leonardo’s lifetime and it’s now grown worldwide either as a decorative plant in gardens, or cultivated for its grain. During the Vietnam war Job’s Tears became a staple in the south as rice supplies dwindled. In South Korea they make a kind of tea from the powdered grain, and in both South Korea and China they make a kind of hooch from Job’s Tears. They’re available white (hulled) and brown (unhulled, sourced from Japan).
There’s also a wild variety of the plant whose grain is used for making beads, so if you’re thinking of growing it make sure you get the variety ma-yuen.
Job’s Tears have all kinds of, mostly unproven, health benefits from encouraging luxuriant hair growth to fighting cancer. However a serious scientific study published in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research in September 2006 put forward some proof that eating Job’s Tears could help with reducing cholesterol – at least if you’re a mouse.
Job’s Tears look and behave very similarly to pearl barley although it’s a completely different plant. However, Job’s Tears have less fibre but more protein and iron. More importantly for celiacs, unlike pearl barley, Job’s Tears is gluten-free.
Like pearl barley Job’s Tears are good in soups and in salads (go here for a great recipe with beans and chard). They are not widely available so you will either have to nip over to Korea…. or you can visit Amazon.
Who was Job, and why should he be crying? Job is a character in the Old Testament. Satan contended that Job was only being good because God was protecting him and making it easy. So, poor guy, God removed his patronage and everything went wrong… Job lost his money, family, health… hence the tears. He stayed true to God however, and once all his losses had been restored to him, including seven sons, and three stunningly beautiful daughters, one of whom was called ‘horn of eye-make-up’ (yes, really) he dried his tears. I am not sure that three stunningly beautiful daughters is such a blessing, nevertheless Job seemed to enjoy their presence.
This rather lovely painting is by the Russian artist, Ilya Repin. It depicts Job with his friends whose faulty advice represents an essential element of the story. The lesson here is to keep your own counsel; and that others, well-meaning or no, may not know the whole story, let alone the secrets of your own heart.
This post is dedicated to Grace Kim, with all best wishes for a happy marriage
And below there is Smokey Robinson singing, appropriately, Tracks of My Tears.