May 29, 2013

Grain Challenge -June: Sorghum

**Info from Whole Grains Council
June's Grain of the Month is Sorghum. Ask a hundred people if they've ever eaten sorghum and chances are, they'll have no idea what you’re talking about. However, sorghum, a cereal grain, is the fifth most important cereal crop in the world, largely because of its natural drought tolerance and versatility as food, feed and fuel. In Africa and parts of Asia, sorghum is primarily a human food product, while in the United States it is used mainly for livestock feed and in a growing number of ethanol plants. However, the United States also has seen food usage on the rise, thanks to the gluten-free benefits of sorghum for those with celiac disease.


Sorghum [Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench] is known under a great many names: miloguinea corn in West Africa, kafir corn in South Africa, dura in Sudan, mtama in eastern Africa, jowar in India and kaoliang in China. It is an ancient cereal grain and was collected 8000 years ago in Southern Egypt. But today different varieties of sorghum are grown all over the world. The kernels vary in color from white and pale yellow to deep reds, purples and browns; white, bronze, and brown kernels are most common. 

White Sorghum Grains
This is white sorghum, the kind most commonly consumed in Western countries.
Dark Sorghum Grains
Sorghum comes in many varieties, ranging in color from ivory to bronze to reddish-black. Darker colored sorghums generally have a more pronounced flavor.
A Variety of Sorghums
Sorghum kernels grow in seed heads like those shown here.
Sorghum Growing in a Field
You may actually have seen sorghum growing in a field, but assumed it was corn because of the close resemblance (to the unknowing eye!).
Popped Sorghum
Just as with popcorn, the moisture in sorghum kernels can swell when heated, making the kernel pop into a tasty snack.
Sorghum Flour
Just like all the other grains we've featured here on the WGC site, sorghum flour just looks like plain old flour. Perhaps that will encourage you to try substituting some for the "normal" flour in your favorite recipes.

Increased prevalence and diagnosis of celiac disease have led to strong growth in the gluten-free market, of which sorghum is a key component. While 40,000 to 60,000 Americans have been diagnosed as celiac, the federal government estimates there could be as many as 3 million undiagnosed. A gluten-free diet incorporating sorghum also has been adopted by many with autism, ADHD and irritable bowel syndrome, although research in this area is limited.
But being gluten-free isn’t sorghum’s only bragging right. It’s also a whole grain that provides many other nutritional benefits. Sorghum, which doesn't have an inedible hull like some other grains, is commonly eaten with all its outer layers, thereby retaining the majority of its nutrients.  Sorghum also is grown from traditional hybrid seeds and does not contain traits gained through biotechnology, making it nontransgenic (non-GMO).
Some specialty sorghums are high in antioxidants, which are believed to help lower the risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and some neurological diseases. In addition, the wax surrounding the sorghum grain contains compounds called policosanols, that may have an impact on human cardiac health. Some researchers, in fact, believe that policosanols have cholesterol-lowering potency comparable to that of statins.


Sorghum can be substituted for wheat flour in a variety of baked goods. Its neutral, sometimes sweet, flavor and light color make it easily adaptable to a variety of dishes. Sorghum improves the texture of recipes and digests more slowly with a lower glycemic index, so it sticks with you a bit longer than other flours or flour substitutes.
A wide variety of recipes using sorghum can be found online and in cookbooks, particularly those catering to a gluten-free diet. These recipes include muffins, breads, pizzas, pastas, casseroles, cookies, cakes, pies and more.To get you started, here are links to some sorghum recipes on the Whole Grains Council website:
You can also substitute sorghum in your existing recipes. Start with recipes that use relatively small amounts of wheat flour, such as brownies or pancakes. Substituting sorghum takes some experimenting and patience, but the results can be very delicious. Because sorghum flour does not contain gluten, bakers often incorporate a binder such as xanthan gum or cornstarch to add “stretch.” 
For instance, you could add 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum per cup of sorghum flour for cookies and cakes, and 1 teaspoon per cup for breads.
While it's easy to make familiar Western dishes with sorghum, like those above, it's also interesting to know how sorghum fits into food traditions in other parts of the world. In the Mideast, sorghum is made into cous-cous and flatbread; in Bangladesh it's boiled like rice, to produce kichuri; and in Honduras, sorghum tortillas are common.
Throughout Africa, you'll find sorghum porridge or gruel in almost every country, and sorghum flatbreads such as injera , the Ethiopian flatbread (which is made from sorghum or teff or a combination of both). Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are also made from sorghum. Most of these products start with fermented or sprouted sorghum, as these two processes make sorghum's nutrients more available, while increasing shelf life for greater food safety.

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