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The Greatest Grain You've Never Tried: Sorghum

You may not know it, but there are 7 reasons you need more sorghum in your life. In its syrup form, it's beloved when drizzled on Southern buttermilk biscuits. A nutritional powerhouse — high in iron and antioxidants — sorghum is a healthier alternative to sugar, and sorghum flour has become a go-to for gluten-free baking. Yet it remains largely under the radar in much of this country. Here are 7 reasons you should give it a whirl.

102304912 sorghum grain by meredith

Photo via Meredith Publishing

1) It's Good for the Planet

Because it's drought tolerant, sorghum requires much less water than similar crops, such as wheat -- and that makes it good for the future of the planet.  It's in the same family as oats, rice, millet, barley and teff. There are many varietals of sorghum, but the top three types are grown for different purposes.

  • Grain sorghum, pictured above, comes in various hues, from light bronze to black. The darker the grain, the more antioxidants it contains. It's also known as milo, and has a texture similar to a wheat berry.
  • Forage sorghum is an overachiever, growing up to 14 feet tall, looking much like a corn stalk. It provides fodder for the livestock industry. Cattle are also fed grain sorghum.
  • Sweet sorghum becomes the prized syrup when the canes are pressed and juice is extracted. While sorghum syrup is sometimes referred to as molasses, that's just not accurate; molasses is made from sugar cane.

sorghum grain

Whole grain sorghum is about the size of a peppercorn. Photo by Leslie Kelly

2) It's Hiding in Plain Sight

More than 8 million acres of sorghum was planted in the U.S. in 2015, up significantly from the previous year. It's mostly grown in the nation's breadbasket, with Kansas ranking no. 1 in production and Texas coming in second. Matthew Cox from Bob's Red Mill near Portland, Ore., said the company is noticing an uptick in sales of the whole grain. "We have seen it rise dramatically in popularity since introducing it as part of the Bob’s Red Mill Grains of Discovery family of products, which was created to help broaden the availability and awareness of such lesser-known ancient grains."

sorghum syrup and biscuits

Photo by Leslie Kelly

3) It's So Good for You

Grain sorghum contains significant amounts of niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin, as well as high levels of magnesium, iron, copper, calcium, phosphorous, and potassium. A single serving of roughly half a cup has nearly half the recommended amount of dietary fiber, and nearly 11 grams of protein. Sorghum syrup contains iron, calcium, zinc and magnesium, and a tablespoon offers 300 milligrams of protein.

4) Chefs are Discovering Sorghum's Charms

Adventurous diners crave new, exciting ingredients, and while sorghum has been around for thousands of years, it's only recently that it's surfaced on the menus at upscale restaurants, especially in the South. The dessert menu at Standard Foods in Raleigh, N.C., features sorghum as a showy finishing touch. The grain is popped like popcorn, tossed with sugar to caramelize it and served on top of a sweet potato cheesecake. Linton Hopkins has served sorghum-glazed pork belly at elegant Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta, Georgia. Josh Feathers, the chef at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn., has paired sorghum with Benton's country ham and artisan grits, pickled ramps on the side for a dish that's Next Level comfort food. Bob's Red Mill suggests cooking the grain like quinoa or barley and serving it instead of pasta in cold salads or adding it to soup.

sorghum popped

Sorghum can be popped like popcorn. Photo by Leslie Kelly

5) It Has a Cool History

Sorghum is an ancient grain, with roots growing wild in the Old World before being widely cultivated in North Africa, around 8000 B.C. It traveled along the Silk Road to the Middle East, Asia and beyond. In Australia, China, and India, it's now a major crop, because it thrives in the dry conditions there.

6) It's Useful Way Beyond Food

This versatile crop is also used to make ethanol, and to create durable building materials. It's also an important grain for livestock feed and finds its way into pet food. One of the first references to sorghum in this country is credited to none other than Benjamin Franklin, who praised its ability to accomplish a clean floor. Yes, sorghum stems are used to make brooms. That stalk with seeds in your floral arrangement? Chances are it's sorghum. Sweet!

7) Challenging to Find, but So Worth The Effort

Sorghum syrup is challenging to find outside the American South, but thanks to interwebs commerce, it's easy enough to order online. Check out the special Bourbon Barrel Aged Sorghum from Oak and Salt Quality Goods in Louisville, Kentucky or the excellent Muddy Pond Sorghum from middle Tennessee, featured in an entertaining short film produced by the Southern Foodways Alliance. Sorghum grain and flour are available in supermarkets that carry Bob's Red Mill products or you can order directly from that employee-owned company.

Recipes featuring some form of sorghum:

Cinnamon and Sugar Popped Sorghum
Best All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Blend
Gluten-Free Waffles
Crazy Good Southern Baked Ham
Zesty Whole Grain and Vegetable Salad

About Leslie Kelly

Always hungry to learn, never had my fill of oysters, Memphis dry rub ribs, wild salmon, chocolate chip cookies or a well-rolled lumpia. Washington state wine lover, bourbon fan. Totally obsessed with brunch!