What the Heck Is Sorghum?

Sorghum has increased in popularity among people who are choosing to exclude wheat from their diets, due to Celiac disease or other reasons. Learn more about this grain, with recipes included!

Sorghum is a type of grass containing a cereal grain, much like wheat, oats, or barley. It was originally native to Africa, but has been cultivated in many other parts of the world, including North America, for at least 150 years.

In its homeland, sorghum can grow to heights greater than six feet, and the long stalks are often used to make furniture and building materials. Here, shorter dwarf varieties are favored because they are easier to harvest. When it ripens, sorghum is becomes red and hard. It can be dried and stored whole after harvesting to extend its shelf life.

Because it thrives in dry conditions, sorghum is one of the most important food crops in many parts of Africa, India, and other arid regions. In China, distilled sorghum is fermented into a popular liquor called maotai, while in Northern Africa and the Middle East, unmilled sorghum grains are often used to make couscous.

Here, it has been primarily used for animal feed, though there has been a recent renaissance in the production of sorghum products for people, and it’s possible to buy commercial flours made from sorghum grains. Its increased popularity is due in part to the growing number of people choosing to exclude wheat from their diets, due to Celiac disease or other reasons.

Sorghum flour is heavy, similar to whole-wheat flour, and can be used in a wide range of baked goods, including breads and muffins. It is high in fiber, protein, iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium, and is low in calories. Sorghum flour is very dry, though, and can be tricky to bake with. Cornstarch can help to compensate for this dryness, so that baked goods made from sorghum flour come out moist instead of crumbly. For best results, add one tablespoon of cornstarch for every cup of sorghum flour. Extra oil or egg white can also help.

One variety of sorghum — sweet sorghum — has been a popular food crop in some parts of the United States for several years. As the name suggests, this variety of sorghum is high in natural sugar content. Traditionally, it has been cooked down and concentrated into a syrup that is then bottled for sale. Sweet sorghum syrup, which is thick and brown and sticky, is often called “molasses,” though true molasses is made from sugar cane or sugar beets. It is often used much like maple syrup in regions where real maple syrup is hard to come by, particularly in southeastern and plains states. In Appalachia, it was most often eaten over biscuits.

Sweet sorghum leaves and stalks are also useful sources of ethanol, a type bio-fuel.

Here are a few recipes to help you appreciate this versatile and nutritious cereal grain:

Broom-corn - Mural

Sorghum Cranberry Bread

Course Breakfast
Cuisine American

Ingredients
  

  • 1 1/2 cups grain sorghum flour
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons xanthan gum or clear gelatin
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups applesauce
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 3 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • Granulated sugar to top

Instructions
 

  • Directions:
    Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly coat loaf pans with nonstick cooking spray. Combine flours, sugar, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. Separate eggs. To egg yolks, add applesauce and buttermilk and beat well. Gradually add dry ingredients to applesauce mixture and beat until just combined. Beat egg whites until stiff, but not dry, and fold into batter. Stir in cranberries and walnuts. Transfer to prepared loaf pans. Top with granulated sugar. Bake 45-55 minutes. Let stand five minutes and remove from pans to cool on rack.
Keyword easy sweet cornbread recipe, how to make bread at home
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Sorghum Ginger Snaps

Course Snack
Cuisine American

Ingredients
  

  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 2 tablespoons sweet rice flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 3/4 cup sorghum flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 cup chickpea flour
  • Granulated sugar to coat

Instructions
 

  • Ingredients:
    Cream the shortening and sugar. Add the egg and molasses and mix thoroughly. Stir together the sifted sorghum flour, chickpea flour, sweet rice flour, soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Stir into the dough. Refrigerate until firm. Form into 1 1/2 inch balls, and roll in granulated sugar. Preheat oven to 350° F and bake on a parchment lined cookie sheet for 12-15 minutes. Makes about five-dozen cookies.
Keyword how to make cookies at home, types of cookies
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Chocolate Sorghum Buttermilk Cake

Course Dessert
Cuisine American

Ingredients
  

  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 1/4 cup sorghum flour*
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum or clear gelatin
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa

Instructions
 

  • Directions:
    Beat together oil, eggs, vanilla, and buttermilk. Sift dry ingredients together and add. Beat well and add 1/2 cup boiling water. Bake in an 8" square pan at 350° F for 35-40 minutes.
Keyword eggless jowar cake with jaggery, sorghum flour chocolate cake
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Farmers' Almanac - Itch
Jaime McLeod

Jaime McLeod is a longtime journalist who has written for a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites, including MTV.com. She enjoys the outdoors, growing and eating organic food, and is interested in all aspects of natural wellness.

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Charlotte Kilbury

I make the best gingersnaps with sorghum molasses. When baked the cookies look professionally made. My family and friends love them. My husband use to take sorghum molasses and mix in peanut butter and put it on bread. I love your Farmers Almanac. I am on your mailing list.

Sheila

We grew up on this in the southern USA. My grandfather put it on his biscuits for breakfast, that is after he did all of ours first. Thanks for the ariticle.

CRaleigh

I appreciate the article and the recipes! I have used the flour in baking before and noticed that the dough was “duller” and dryer. I will make the adjustments and try again. Thanks.

Bob Herndon

Here in Tennessee, we have some counties that are famous for our Sorghum Molasses. We don’t consider it molasses here unless it comes from Sorghum. We call all that other stuff “corn syrup” or “Karo”. When I was a kid, we grew it to feed the cattle with and would put it out in the feeder on snowy winter days. Sometimes my brother and I would chew on the stalk for a sweet treat. If the cows chewed on it too much, the cracks in the stalk would make their tongue sore because it would pinch or act kind of like a paper cut. Anyway, the cows loved the Sorghum and we loved the molasses on a hot, buttery biscuit.

Frutero

Incidentally, from time to time, Pine Tree Seeds offers white popping sorgum, and if you stick the ripe “broom” into hot oil, you are supposed to get a little popcorn tree, though I never tried it (I used it like any other grain sorghum). I grew one twelve feet high two years ago, which also had ancillary ears at the sides, like corn. There are members of the genus native to the Americas, though they are not cultivated. As one horticulturist speculated, “Millenia ago, the rachides of a sorghum – like ancestor may have united ino a single cob, creating cornfusion.”

Frutero

Thank you for finally discussing this wonderful grain! In Florida and the Gulf South, it is the easiest grain to grow, and from 9B south, it is even perennial, though successive crops require heavy fertilizing (it’s hungry, like corn). Locally, it pays to grow it intercropped with zipper peas, or to rotate it with pulse (legumes) or fallow after with indigo or sticktight (Desmodium). You have well explained its many virtues, but I add that the threshed-out “brooms” can be cut to length for handy whisk brooms. They make good tinder, too. I am copying your recipes. Sincerely, Sorgha the Geek

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