Job's Tears as a Perennial Grain
Job's Tears (called Hato Mugi, in Japanese) is an uncommon grain eaten traditionally from Africa to Japan. It is believed to originate in India, but is most popular as food and medicine in China and Japan. Most Job's Tears grown in this country is of the non-domesticated type, with rock-hard shells that can only be cracked with pliers or a hammer. The grain inside is edible, but very hard to get at. The domesticated "ma-yuen" type (Coix lacryma-jobi var. ma-yuen) can be cracked open with a couple strong human fingers or a normal threshing machine.
The plant resembles corn, but is smaller, often branched, and perennial in mild climates. Believed to originate in India, it is most popular in Japan and China. The flavor is sweet, nutty, and earthy, with a chewy texture similar to pearl barley (which it also physically resembles, but barley and Job's Tears are very different grasses). Water in which the grains have been boiled, after adding some sugar, is often drunk as a medicinal tea.
Very little research has been done into growing Job's Tears as a perennial to produce grain, largely due to the lack of commercial production of ma-yuen Job's Tears in the United States. While the ornamental type grows in as a weed in parts of the country, it's quite difficult to even find seeds for the domesticated type. We grew a few plants in 2015, from the only USDA accession of the ma-yuen type, and have just enough seeds to increase our stocks this coming season, but we recently received over a pound of viable seed which will be the basis for this project. In future years, we hope to experiment with other accessions of this under-utilized perennial grain.