What are Job’s tears?

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Job’s tears are a tropical Asian herb with edible teardrop-shaped grains that have been used for thousands of years in food and crafts. They are often mistaken for barley and have no religious significance despite their biblical names. They can be used in soups and ground to make flour, and are also used to make beads for crafting.

Job’s tears are the grains of a tropical Asian herb, Coix lacryma-jobi. These grains have a range of uses, from foods to ornaments, and appear to have been harvested and grown for thousands of years. Many Asian markets sell them in their grain sections for cooking. Beaders and crafters also use the beads and they can be found at bead and craft stores for this purpose.

The common name for Job’s tears comes from their distinctive teardrop shape, although the tears are sometimes attributed to different people, such as Mary’s tears, Christ’s tears, and so on. The plant does not appear to have any religious significance, despite Biblical references in its common names, although the beads are sometimes used as beads in rosaries. The scientific name suggests that the plant was originally known as Job’s tears, whatever that might be called, as that is what lachryma-jobi means.

Many people mistakenly believe these grains are a form of barley, possibly because many markets label them “Asian barley” or “Asian pearl barley.” In reality, barley belongs to a completely different botanical genus, although the two plants belong to the same family. Like barley, Job’s tears are dense, mineral-rich, and easy to use in a variety of recipes, so the case of mistaken identity can be forgiven. The plants are also grown as ornamentals, incidentally, and Western gardeners may not be aware that the large grains on these herbs are perfectly edible.

As food, Job’s tears can be used like any other grain in soups and cranes, and can also be ground to make flour. In Asia, the grains are believed to be beneficial for joint pain and are sold in a glossy white form and an unpeeled brown form. Unpeeled tears are more readily available in Japan, where they are called juzudama.

In crafts, these grains are used to make beads and can be dyed or carved to enhance their artistic value. It’s generally not a good idea to eat ones that are designed for crafting, as they can be treated with various substances to make them more resistant. Many varieties of the plant actually grow naturally with a small hole, making them suitable for stringing like beads.

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