In the Philippines, no meal is complete without rice, our main source of carbohydrates. Filipinos are so addicted to rice — white rice in particular — that most of us treat dishes of other carb sources, such as pasta or ramen, as just “snacks”. Some even pair other carbs like pancit as the ulam to their rice!
I’ve long been wanting to reduce my white rice consumption, as research has shown that too much intake of white rice, with its high glycemic index, is “associated with a significantly increased risk of type 2 diabetes, especially in Asian…populations” (Hu et al, 2012). I once tried to quit rice cold turkey, but obviously that didn’t last long (lol). I tried substituting with potato, but it still felt kulang. Same with corn. One alternative I tried that felt as filling as rice was quinoa, a pseudocereal native to South America, but it’s an outrageously expensive imported product (PHP 800+ for just a 26-oz pack at Healthy Options).
So when I heard about a supposedly healthier rice substitute that is grown locally called adlai, my interest was piqued. Adlai — also known as adlay, Chinese pearl barley, coix seed, hatomugi, or Job’s Tears — is a gluten-free “heirloom” grain that belongs to the same family as rice and corn. Although it’s only just starting to become widely known in the country, apparently the Subanen tribe of Zamboanga has long been cultivating adlai as their staple food.
Last week, I bought a pack of adlai online from The Hineleban Store. So how does it stack up?
- Cost. Adlai is more expensive than local black rice, but definitely more affordable than quinoa.
- Health. Adlai has a lower glycemic index than brown rice (Lin et al, 2010).
- Nutrition. According to the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), adlai contains more carbs, fat, and protein and provides more energy (calories) than rice or corn. (There are some lifestyle blogs that claim adlai is low-carb and low-cal compared to rice, but I’m more inclined to believe BAR than them.)
- Taste and Satiety. These are subjective, but I like the taste of adlai better than quinoa. Its texture also felt close to rice, unlike corn or potato. It also felt more filling than rice; I consumed only around 1/3 cup of adlai per meal.
I’ve been eating adlai instead of rice for a week now, and so far haven’t experienced any rice withdrawal symptoms (lol). I can definitely see adlai as a viable alternative to rice for Pinoys; the barrier is its hefty price tag because of low supply. There was a push by the Department of Agriculture for more adlai cultivation by local farmers, but it seems to have petered out. Here’s hoping they actively promote adlai farming again so its price would go down.