Adlai: The Healthier Alternative to Rice, Its Nutritive Value and Uses

Adlai: The Healthier Alternative to Rice, Its Nutritive Value and Uses

For most of us, Filipinos, a meal would not be complete without rice. Rice in itself, when consumed as whole grain, is healthy. However, consuming a variety of whole grains, and not just rice, is recommended to bring in a wider array of nutrients into our bodies. Other examples of whole grains include quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, bulgur, sorghum, wheat, triticale, farro, oats and adlai. While these (when whole) are all great sources of complex carbohydrates, one grain that has gained so much popularity in the recent years is adlai, and for good reason. It’s a powerhouse grain.

What is Adlai? 

Just like corn and rice, adlai belongs to the grass family with its long stalks that primarily grow in the tropical areas of Eastern and Southern Asia. It is also known as Chinese pearl barley, or Jobs’ Tears because it bears tear-like shape grains which has become the staple food of the many indigenous people. Here in the Philippines, majority of what’s available in the market are cracked adlai grains due to the milling practices in the country.

Adlai is the champion crop of the Subanen Tribe in Mindanao, particularly in Zamboanga and Northern Mindanao. It also grows in the regions of Cordillera, more commonly in Sagada and the Mountain Province. 

It looks and tastes close to rice, but has slightly nutty flavor. It’s similar to al dente pasta and fluffy rice but the grains are a bit larger. Compared to white corn grits, cooked adlai grains are softer in texture and more compact. It is slightly chewy which can be an adjustment for some people. 

Nutritive Value, Its Interpretation and Health Benefits

Here is a table of Adlai’s nutritive value and how it compares to some of our staple carbohydrate sources.

Nutritive Value per
100-gram edible portion
AdlaiWhite Corn GritsBrown RiceWhite RiceQuinoaOats
Energy (kcal)368357363356392374
Carbohydrates (g)73.377.576.380.463.961.5
Protein (g)13.18.38.17.416.212.6
Fat (g)2.51.52.80.56.97.1
Dietary Fiber (g)94.531.33.55.6
Sugars (g)0.70.60.40.11.51.2
Calcium (mg)63116274780
Iron (mg)6.80.481.075.8
Glycemic Index (Average)359068735358
Gluten FreeFreeFreeFreeFreeFree
Sources: 1) Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) Philippines,
and 2) www.foodnutritiontable.com

1. It is an energy-dense and nutritionally-dense food. It is a perfect energy boost that leaves you full longer.  If you are restricting your calories, you may eat ⅓ to ½ cup of it per meal. 

2.  It is a good source of protein contributing 14% of its macronutrient distribution. Carbohydrates and fats contribute 83% and 3% respectively.

4. It is also high in dietary fiber which nourishes healthy probiotic bacteria in our gut, removes bad cholesterol from the body and slows down absorption of glucose in the body.

5. It is a high in calcium which helps maintain healthy bones and teeth and is very important in nerve transmission, blood clotting and muscular function.

3. It has a low glycemic index rating of 35 whereas glucose is 100.  What does it mean? Carbohydrates with a low GI value (55 or less) are more slowly digested, absorbed and metabolized and cause a lower and slower rise in blood glucose and, therefore usually, insulin levels. This makes it completely safe for those who are watching their blood sugar levels. 

4. It’s a gluten-free grain which is great for people with gluten-sensitivity.

How to Use Adlai

For every cup of adlai, add 2 or 3 cups of water. Try each ratio and decide which of the ratios you prefer. For a fluffier texture, pre-soak the grain in cold water for 4 to 8 hours, or overnight after the initial cleaning. 

It can also be used as an ingredient in soups and broth. The grain can be ground into flour and used to make bread, pasta, and porridge. 

For desserts, adlai can be cooked into maja blanca, champorado, polvoron and turones de adlai. It can also be used to make our kakanin. 

In traditional Chinese medicine, adlai is used extensively as an alternative medicine leveraging its anti-inflammatory properties for treating the painful effects of rheumatism and lower lung inflammation and damage.

Some Recipes to Try 

Mexican Spiced Adlai (left), Roasted Vegetable And Adlai Salad With Mustardy Dressing (right)

Final Thoughts

  • Adlai is a great whole grain alternative because it is a great source of energy, complex carbohydrates, protein, dietary fiber, and minerals such as phosphorus, niacin, riboflavin, and thiamine. Also, it has a low glycemic index. 
  • There are a number of options on how to eat adlai. To start, you may try to cook it as an alternative to your staple rice. 
  • Include this in your whole grain cycle to add diversity to your diet. 
  • Locally source your adlai by buying directly from farmers or from businesses partnering directly with farmers. 

Shop for Adlai

References: 

Roni Matalog

Roni is a Registered Nutritionist-Dietitian. She completed her certification in Plant-Based Nutrition from eCornell University and T.Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. Her interest in plant-based nutrition, holistic wellness and sustainable living only intensified in recent years, but she has long been passionate about helping individuals make positive and sustainable changes to their health, to be able to live and enjoy a better quality of life while being mindful of the environment and all beings. She founded Plants & Purpose where she offers her services and shares things about plant-based nutrition.

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