Latin Name: Sorghum bicolor
Other Names: great millet
Uses: grain, sugar, alcohol
Sorghum doesn’t get a lot of recognition in America but it’s one of the world’s most important cereal crops, right up there with rice, wheat, corn, and barley. Like these crops, sorghum is also in the grass family. The plant was introduced to North America by enslaved Africans and now it’s used for everything from distilling baijiu (Chinese whiskey) to biofuel.
Why is it healthy?
Rich in protein, iron, and copper, this gluten-free staple also provides high levels of fiber, vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus. Making sorghum a regular part of your diet can support nerve, bone, and digestive health, help lower cholesterol, and manage high blood pressure.
What does it taste like?
Like most cereals, sorghum has a slightly nutty-sweet, earthy flavor, with a hearty texture similar to wheat berries. The flour is considered a very good gluten-free substitute for wheat. Sorghum syrup (also called sorghum molasses) has a complex flavor similar to buckwheat honey, with a slight wood-smokiness to it.
Where does it grow?
Sorghum originated in northern Africa, with archaeological records from 8000 BCE in the Nubian Desert in southern Egypt; the earliest domestication of the cereal was likely in what is now Sudan and Ethiopia. Different species arose in different parts of the African continent depending on growing conditions, and another (S. durra) came from India. Today it’s mostly grown in the United States; Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Sudan are also major producers.
How do I prepare it and what do I pair it with?
You can use whole sorghum grains the same way you would any other cereal (like wheat berries). Simmer it in a flavorful liquid until it’s plump and al dente, then toss it with chopped greens, nuts and/or chickpeas, and your favorite salad dressing for a hearty winter salad. Sorghum is lovely with garlic, onions, and woody herbs like thyme and rosemary.
In Africa, sorghum flour is more commonly used than the whole grain. It can stand in for maize or cassava in making a fufu-like staple dish called tô, but you can also serve the cooked whole grain instead of rice to eat with stew — it loves ingredients like pumpkin, peanuts, chile, ginger, and curry spices. In Tunisia and South Africa, the flour is cooked with milk and sugar to make a sweet breakfast porridge. The flour is also used throughout India and Honduras for making flatbreads and tortillas.
Use sorghum syrup the same way you would honey or maple syrup. In the South, it’s drizzled on pancakes, mixed with butter to smear onto biscuits, or added to barbecue sauce.
Though the United States is the top sorghum producer worldwide, it’s not for food — it’s primarily grown in the US as livestock feed and for biofuel. Because the price of corn has been steadily increasing due to its use as a fuel source, heat- and drought-tolerant sorghum shows promise as an alternate source of ethanol.