Sorghum is an ancient grain that’s slowly being rediscovered. Versatile and nourishing, sorghum is available in the form of whole grain, flour, and molasses (aka syrup). This guide to sorghum will introduce you to all three, with tips on buying, using, as well as links to plant-based recipes.
Tiny but mighty sorghum is the whole grain on everyone’s lips, but few in the US realize it. It’s not a regular staple on grocery lists, nor a common menu item at restaurants. However, roughly 90% of the world’s sorghum production comes from six western states in the United States.
Woven into a dizzying array of foods, household items, fuel, and more, the best days for sorghum may yet lie ahead. Even if you’re late to embrace this age-old staple, sorghum still has a long, bright future head. Now is the best time to stock up!
What is Sorghum and Where Did It Come From?
Other ancient grains have nothing on this prehistoric superfood. Earliest records show sorghum use dating as far back as 8,000 BCE, originating in Africa.
Sorghum is a grassy, husked grain that grows in clumps roughly 13 to 15 feet tall. Sometimes called Chinese sugarcane, it’s a plant related to millet that has much in common with sugarcane. In fact, sorghum is sometimes known as great millet (not to be confused with ordinary millet),
Around the world, it’s also known as broomcorn, guinea corn, durra, imphee, jowar, or milo.
There are more than two dozen species of sorghum but only one, sorghum bicolor, is cultivated for a wide variety of uses. Those applications range widely and include culinary uses (whole grains, flour, syrup as a sweetener, and liquor), biofuel, building materials, and household goods (such as brooms and brushes.)
Sorghum’s flavor has been described as mildly sweet and nutty, most comparable perhaps to wheat berries (but without the gluten). The stalk is used to create a sugar-rich syrup, which can be used in baking, cooking, or fermented to develop into alcohol.
The grains themselves are inedible until husked, at which point they can be steamed or boiled like other whole grains, popped like popcorn, or ground into fine flour.
Is Sorghum Gluten-Free?
Yes, sorghum is gluten-free. Whole sorghum looks similar to quinoa (though it’s not as quick-cooking) and is similarly a great option for those who follow a gluten-free diet. Sorghum is Celiac-friendly, but you should always check packages to make sure there’s no possibility of cross-contamination during the manufacturing process.
How to Buy and Store Whole Sorghum and Sorghum Products
Whole sorghum grain is something of a specialty item, found primarily in natural foods stores and coops, often in bulk. If your local markets don’t carry it, your best bet is to shop online, where it should cost around $3 to $5 per pound.
Bob’s Red Mill is a popular brand that’s often found in natural foods stores and well-stocked super market. This brand offers packaged sorghum grain as well as sorghum flour.
Once opened, save sorghum in an airtight container where it can keep in a dry, cool, dark place for up to a year. If your kitchen is warm in the summer, it never hurts to refrigerate whole grains and their flours.
Sorghum molasses (sorghum syrup)
Sorghum molasses, also known as sorghum syrup, has declined in popularity over the last century, making it a rare find in mainstream markets. If you’re lucky, you’ll find it alongside other liquid sweeteners like agave or barley malt syrup.
Otherwise, your best bet is to shop online. Due to its relative obscurity, sorghum syrup can command steep prices ranging from $14 to $20 per pint. However, much like honey, it has an indefinite shelf life and is almost impervious to spoilage.
Used as a sweetener, sorghum syrup is low on the glycemic index, which means it won’t spike blood sugar in moderate quantities. It’s still calorie-dense, however, so it should be used sparingly, as you would maple syrup, molasses, and other liquid sweeteners.
Sorghum molasses was quite common in North America from about the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries, then all but faded away before it began to make a reappearance via the natural foods market.
The process of producing this syrup is similar to the one used to make regular molasses. The stalks of the plant are crushed, and the sweet syrup is released. It is then cooked and clarified into a thick, almost black syrup. The sorghum syrup available in natural food stores is either domestically produced or imported from Barbados.
Like molasses, sorghum molasses is rich in minerals, such as potassium, iron, and calcium, and contains a good range of B vitamins. It is 65 to 70 percent sucrose.
The characteristics of sorghum molasses are similar to those of blackstrap molasses in every way, except that its flavor is milder (though still very bold), without as much bite. It can be used a bit more freely without fear of overpowering other flavors. Use in all the same ways you’d use regular molasses (see our Guide to Molasses).
How to Cook Sorghum Grain
The easiest way to enjoy whole grain sorghum is to cook it like most other whole grains to make a fluffy yet toothsome side dish. First, rinse the grains thoroughly until the water runs clear, then combine every cup of sorghum with three cups of water and a pinch of salt in a roomy saucepan.
Bring to a slow boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 50 to 60 minutes, or in a pressure cooker set at High for 15 minutes. Once al dente, strain the cooked grains to remove any excess liquid. Fluff with a fork and serve as is, add more seasonings, or use in recipes as desired.
Whole sorghum can be popped just like popcorn kernels. This has the added benefit of being easier on sensitive teeth since there are no hard hulls that might irritate the gums.
You can pop sorghum on the stove in a large, deep pot with a splash of olive oil set over medium heat. Add no more than ¼ cup of whole sorghum at a time and cover. Shake the pan until almost all the grains have burst into fluffy, popped kernels.
You can also do this in the microwave in a brown paper bag. Tape the bag closes and microwave at full power for 2 to 4 minutes, until the popping sounds slow down. Season with salt and any of your other favorite popcorn toppings.
A popped sorghum treat: Popped too much sorghum for snack time? Don’t worry, it’s perfect for using to make Popped Root Beer Crispy Treats! Plain old marshmallow treats can’t hold a candle to these complex flavors that are all grown up.
Sorghum flour is becoming increasingly popular and available in many grocery stores, especially those that emphasize whole foods options. You’ll find it in the baking aisle right alongside the other gluten-free flours, or in a devoted gluten-free aisle if there is one.
Sorghum flour also a common component in ready-made gluten-free flour mixes, so you may already be eating sorghum-based baked goods without even realizing it.
Mild in flavor, with a light color and smooth texture, sorghum flour is an excellent substitute for all-purpose wheat flour in baking, at a ratio of 1:1.
You’ll need to add additional plant-based binders like ground flaxseeds, aquafaba, or chia seeds, however, to make up for the lack of gluten. It’s best for making cakes, cookies, breads, pancakes, and muffins, both sweet and savory.
Sorghum Nutrition Notes
Like all unrefined whole grains, sorghum offers a bounty of nutritional benefits. It’s particularly rich in soluble fiber and antioxidants, which help promote gut health.Sorghum is an excellent source of magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, and vitamin B3. Here’s the complete nutritional profile of sorghum grain.
Sorghum Grain Recipes
Bowls: Move over, rice bowl! Use sorghum as a bed of grains in place of rice for your favorite bowls, stir-fries, curries, stews, and so forth. Get started with Moroccan Chickpea Sorghum Bowl for a foolproof bowl-in-one.
Breakfast bowls: Start your day with a creamy Sorghum Berry Breakfast Porridge, made with coconut oil, chia seeds, and sliced almonds to keep you full and focused all morning. This can be served hot in the winter or made in advance and enjoyed cold in the summer.
Soups: If you like minestrone, you’re going to love Sorghum Vegetable Soup. It has all the rich Italian flavor you crave, without the processed pasta for easier digestion and better nutrition.
Grain salads: Steal the show at your next picnic or potluck when you bring Sorghum Chickpea Salad. This hearty chilled medley is modeled after Middle Eastern tabbouleh, bursting with fresh herbs and a zesty lemon vinaigrette. You can easily swap in sorghum in farro salad recipes.
Perfect pilafs: Pair cooked sorghum with your favorite vegetable for simple pilafs like Garlic Green Beans with Sorghum and Walnuts.
Sorghum flour recipes
GF Cakes: Sorghum flour works together with maca powder to create a nutty, malted flavor in these adorable little Malted Chocolate Chip Mini Bundt Cakes (see image above). It’s an everyday sort of treat that would be right at home on the dessert plate or breakfast plate, depending on your mood. And this GF and vegan Carrot Cake is OMG.
Gluten-free breads: Going gluten-free shouldn’t mean giving up on enjoying great bread. Bake up a loaf of Simple Sorghum Sourdough and it won’t seem like a struggle to give up wheat anymore. This Gluten-Free Vegan Irish Soda Bread blends sorghum flour with other GF flours.
Savory pancakes: A simple, tasty pancake known as jowar is popular in some Indian cuisines. Here’s a recipe for Savory Jowar Pancakes.
Sorghum molasses and syrup recipes
BBQ sauce: Choose sorghum instead of ordinary molasses in recipes like our Sweet and Savory Molasses Barbecue Sauce for a less assertive, yet still pleasantly bold flavor.
Sweet baked goods: If it’s by Fran Costigan, you know it’s got to be good. Sorghum molasses adds depth of flavor to her Dark Moist Spice Cake.
Breads: Swap in sorghum syrup or molasses in any recipe calling for blackstrap molasses, like this Overnight Pumpernickel Bread.
Candy: Revisit the past with this vintage recipe for Peanut Candy with Sorghum. It takes only four ingredients and a few minutes to throw together.
Contributed by Hannah Kaminsky: Hannah has developed an international following for her delicious recipes and mouthwatering food photography at the award-winning blog BitterSweet. Passionate about big flavors and simple techniques, she’s the author of Vegan Desserts, Vegan à la Mode, Easy as Vegan Pie, Real Food, Really Fast, Sweet Vegan Treats, The Student Vegan Cookbook, Super Vegan Scoops, and The Everyday Vegan Cheat Sheet Pan. Visit Hannah at BittersweetBlog.com.