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Quest for an Elusive Grain

Posted Mar 18 2013 12:16pm

Hato Mugi with Chopped Veggies

Whenever I find an oddball ingredient, I get excited. Especially if it’s a hard-to-find oddity (at least in our cuisine). And if it’s a gluten-free whole grain I’ve never tried before, well … that’s the ultimate oddity. Enter Job’s tears, or — as it’s called in its native Asian lands — hato mugi. Sometimes it’s called Chinese barley, but botanically, it has nothing to do with barley. The two just look a bit alike.

I first saw Job’s tears in a Canadian gluten-free cookbook. Apparently it’s somewhat common north of the border. In the States, though, it’s more commonly found in jewelry-making circles than culinary ones. Unhulled Job’s tears, it turns out, are used as beads. But unhulled grains are pretty much inedible, so resorting to trying to eat beads as grains wouldn’t be a good idea.

I scoured natural-food stores and couldn’t find the mysterious grain. I went online to my usual sources and couldn’t find it. Finally, I found hato mugi listed on a website specializing in Japanese and Korean ingredients. (I had already looked in local Japanese grocery stores and couldn’t find it, although looking for an ingredient you’ve only seen in pictures among packages only labeled in Japanese does make one prone to overlooking the target item. I might have better luck now that I’ve held Job’s tears/hato mugi in my hand.)

The mysterious grain arrived on my front doorstep last week. Hooray! Nothing like questing and then finding the searched-for treasure. And yes, Job’s tears look a lot like barley. They taste more earthy and less nutty than barley, though, but they do have that perfect-for-soup chewy texture.

For my first taste trial, I simmered a 1/2 cup of Job’s tears in 1 cup of water for about 50 minutes — that’s about when they felt tooth-tender to me. Then I simply tossed them with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and some chopped carrots, cucumbers, and pea sprouts. Next I’ll add them to a hearty stew or Scotch broth. Then I might try adding the cooked grains to an Asian stir-fry or use them to make a faux barley salad. Bet they’d be good as porridge, too.

So many possibilities! I’m just glad I succeeded in my quest. Should you be lucky enough to stumble across a bag of Job’s tears/hato mugi, you might like to try them, too.

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