Surprising Sorghum

This gluten-free grain is full of nutritional benefits—and it pops!

Does sorghum sound like something way down on ingredient lists? It’s really the world’s fifth most important cereal crop (after rice, wheat, corn and barley). The durable sorghum plant resists drought, heat and insects, so it grows where other crops can’t. Cooked like rice, made into porridge or baked into flatbreads, it’s a staple food for millions in Asia and Africa. It’s gaining increased culinary attention in the United States too, because it can be ground into flour and used as an alternative to wheat flour—yet it’s gluten-free.

If your grandparents hail from Dixie, they may recall a widely used sweetener made from sorghum that was called sorghum molasses (though it wasn’t really molasses). And baijiu, known as “China’s national drink,” is a clear liquor made partly from sorghum.


Sorghum is rich in nutrients and especially high in fiber and iron—a 3.5-ounce serving meets about one-fourth of an adult’s daily need for each. Such a serving also has more protein than corn (11 grams to 9 grams) or wheat (9.7 grams). Sorghum is clearly a great choice for those with celiac disease, but even gluten-tolerant eaters may wish to try it, as its slower digestion rate leads to longer-lasting energy. Compounds in the grain called 3-DXA have shown to help the body fight cancercell growth. And when University of Nebraska scientists fed sorghum to hamsters, it reduced the critters’ HDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels— researchers think it could have the same benefit for humans in a dietary supplement.


The earliest known record of this hardy crop comes from an archaeological dig in Africa that dates it to 8000 B.C. Sorghum seeds (then called “Guinea corn”) may have arrived in America in the 1700s on slave ships. Legend says the crop was introduced in the U.S. by Benjamin Franklin. Nigeria, India, Mexico and the U.S. are among the top producers worldwide, while the leading sorghum-producing states are Kansas and Texas. And unlike corn, sorghum hasn’t been touched by genetic engineers.


Most grocers sell whole-grain sorghum and sorghum flour. Store grains and flour in airtight containers in the pantry, where they’ll keep for months. Used for baking, sorghum flour may require an added binding agent— check the recipe. Soak the grain overnight and let it simmer a bit less than an hour, and it’s ready to sing in casseroles, soups and crunchy salads; try it in recipes that call for Israeli couscous or wheat berries. Or pop it like popcorn! Lightly salted or drizzled with honey, this crunchy treat can be a great introduction to a grain with a long history—and a promising future.

Categories: Bergen Health & Life, Health & Beauty Features, Homepage Features