Job’s Tears

Ark of taste
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Job’s Tears


Nyeli (Coix lacryma-jobi), or Job’s Tears as it is known in English, is a grain grown in Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, in between rows in rice paddies. It is a tall plant, measuring 130 – 150 cm in height. It is normally sown in September and harvested in January of the following year. The plant resembles corn and it bears tear drop-shaped seeds that change from bright green to dark brown at maturity. Nyeli is labor intensive to grow and is harvested by hand. The dark brown seed coat is removed by threshing and the grain is cream or yellow in color, depending on the variety. It has a characteristic aroma, texture and taste.   The Iban people of the area grow nyeli as a second cereal crop with rice. As a variation, they cook it with rice or porridge. It is also simmered for about 30 minutes in water, with the addition of sugar or wild honey, as a nourishing drink for the digestive system. It is know to have has medicinal values and considered beneficial for the skin and hair. Nyeli is nutritious, packed with amino acids, fiber, vitamins and minerals. It has more or less the same amount of B-complex vitamins and calories as brown rice, but is richer in calcium and iron. It has twice the amount of protein compared to brown rice.   Nyeli is commonly grown in multiple rice growing countries in Asia. Besides its food use, parts of the plant can be used in ornamental jewelry as a replacement for beads. The Ibans farming hill paddies have been growing nyeli for as long as they have been growing rice. In Sarawak, nyeli is mainly grown for home consumption, but excess crop is sold in community markets. Because it is cultivated on hilly slopes and requires much effort and manual labor, it is feared that this crop, mainly grown by elderly farmers, will disappear without younger generations to continue its cultivation.

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Cereals and flours

Indigenous community:Iban