Adlai: What it is and why this heirloom grain is good for you

by Echo Store on May 31, 2022

In the last decade or so, we’ve seen a shift in the way people consume food. There’s an increasing demand for healthier foods and responsible eating, especially among health- and eco-conscious consumers. 

One of the foods that have caught the attention of said consumers is adlai. You’ve probably heard of it, maybe even tried it yourself. But what is adlai, anyway? And more importantly, why should you care?

What is Adlai?

We talked briefly about adlai in our primer on grains and beans. Also known as “Job’s tears” or “Chinese pearl barley” because of its tear-shaped grains, adlai belongs to the grass family, just like corn, wheat, and rice. Its wild variety bears pearly white grains that are very hard, hard enough to be made into prayer beads or rosaries.


The cultivated variety of adlai is softer and makes for a great rice alternative. It tastes close to rice with a slightly nutty flavor. Because of its bigger grains, it takes longer to cook and it is chewier. But it is loaded with way more nutrients than white rice.


In the Philippines, adlai is grown in Zamboanga, Davao, Bukidnon, Sagada, and the Mountain Province. It also grows in some parts of Isabela and Bicol.


Why is Adlai a great alternative to rice?

Adlai has been touted as a healthier, diabetic-friendly alternative to rice, thanks to its nutritional content. But this is not the only reason why it’s worth switching to adlai. Let’s look at why adlai deserves a spot at your dining table.

Adlai is nutrient-dense

A 100-gram serving of adlai yields 356 kcal — the highest energy content compared to white rice, brown rice, and white corn grits. This means that someone who ate a cup of steamed adlai will have more energy for a whole day’s work compared to someone who ate rice.


In addition, adlai also has high dietary fiber content, making it good for the gut. It’s packed with protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, niacin, thiamine, and riboflavin, too.


Adlai may have healing properties

As with many crops that are loaded with nutrients, adlai is also believed to have healing benefits. 


Adlai has a low glycemic index rating of 28, whereas white rice has 73. Foods with a low GI value (55 or less) like adlai are more slowly digested, absorbed, and metabolized. It causes a slower rise in blood glucose and insulin levels. This makes adlai a better choice for those who suffer from diabetes or high blood sugar.


Studies also indicate that adlai has anti-allergic, anti-mutagenic, and hypolipemic and exhibits anti-cancer activity. Adlai seeds were tested on human lung cancer cells and were shown to inhibit cancer cells. Furthermore, adlai is a gluten-free grain, making it ideal for people with gluten sensitivity.


Adlai is an Ark of Taste heritage food

Adlai is an ancient grain that’s only recently rediscovered. It is among the Ark of Taste endangered heritage foods that are maintained by the global Slow Food movement.


The Ark of Taste was launched to preserve at-risk foods that are sustainably produced, unique in taste, and belong to specific cultures. As of writing, the Philippines has 65 products on the Ark of Taste list.


Adlai fits in this category because of its distinct taste, small-scale production, and the way it is used by local indigenous communities. For adlai growers in Mindanao, adlai is not only a rice or corn substitute but also an important food offered to the gods during harvest time.


But adlai, like many Ark of Taste products, faces extinction because of mining, industrialization, climate change, conflict, and more. 


When you choose to buy and consume adlai, you are helping save farmers, local communities, and real food that can very well save us from hunger.


Adlai is good for Filipino farmers

Adlai can survive under any type of climate condition in tropical countries. The Department of Agriculture states that it’s ideal for inter-cropping with other plants. It also requires minimal irrigation as it can survive in slope areas and can benefit from rainfall.


According to the Subanens of Zamboanga, adlai also requires minimal fertilizer. They do not use chemical fertilizers either, relying on organic matter like dried leaves instead.


Being a relatively low-maintenance crop makes adlai a good livelihood source for farmers particularly in Mindanao and Cordillera, especially if more people switch to adlai. 


A point worth mentioning, too: 70% of the rice we consume is imported. By choosing local rice and grains like adlai, we help the local economy and help ensure food security.


Adlai is versatile

Not only is adlai healthier and sustainable but also versatile. You can use it basically in the same way you use and prepare white rice.


Here are some of the dishes you can try with adlai:

  • Steamed and top with your favorite ulam
  • Bringhe or Filipino-style paella
  • Risotto
  • Champorado
  • Maja Blanca
  • Polvoron
  • Turones de adlai
  • Adlai yang chow


These reasons prove just how worthy adlai is of being part of the Filipino diet. Yes, white rice is known as a Pinoy staple but it’s not too late to switch to healthier and local options. 


Bukidnon Adlai is available on and our physical stores.