Some of my boyhood memories include the visits to my maternal grandparents’ farm near Tilden, Nebraska. Once in awhile, my dad and I accompanied grandpa in his Chevy sedan. The hot, dusty afternoons were spent observing the neighbors’ fields of crops. Grandpa used farmer lingo when describing the farmland around us. I often heard, but didn’t quite understand words like “sileage”, “forage”, and “milo”. Sometimes he used the name “sorghum”.
One day I asked grandpa what those words meant. “Sileage” is a type of “forage”. “Forage” is a high moisture livestock feed. “Milo” was just another word for “red sorghum”. We stopped at one of the neighbor’s sorghum fields to have a look. There were thousands of tall plants that somewhat resembled corn plants, except that they had large seed heads at the tops.
I wondered if this plant was used to make sorghum molasses. Grandpa said a different crop was used to make the syrup that people eat. “Sweet sorghum” is a different variety that is mainly grown in the Old South.
When I saw that this month is National Sorghum Month, I remembered those hot Nebraska afternoons. Then, I decided to relearn some of the old lessons from grandpa and from school about this very common plant.
Sorghum is one of the essential, ancient cereal grains that is native to Southern Egypt. About 8,000 years ago, farmers in the Sudan and Ethiopia cultivated the crop. It eventually was adopted across much of Africa as an important human food. By around 1000 BCE traders had distributed it to India and to points East along the “Silk Road”. Sorghum arrived in the Americas in the 18th Century with the slave traders from Africa.
Grain sorghum, as human food, is used in much the same manner as is other grains. Sorghum can be substituted for conventional whole wheat flour in many types of baked breads and cakes. Grain sorghum has a pleasing texture and a slightly sweet flavor.
Because many people have a sensitivity to wheat gluten, sorghum is a good wheat substitute. Grain sorghum is gluten free. According to Clinical Nutrition, people with celiac disease, ADHD, autism, and irritable bowel syndrome can confidently eat it.
According to the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, scientists from the University of Missouri found chemical compounds in sorghum that might inhibit cancerous tumor growth. Dark varieties of grain sorghum contain “3-Deoxyanthoxyanins (3-DXA). The extracts may help slow the spread of human colon cancer cells.
Furthermore, the publication Phytotherapy Research cites a study from the University of Georgia, that certain varieties of sorghum bran might affect processes that are important in diabetes and insulin resistance. Scientists from around the world are also testing sorghum products to use as treatments for other health conditions.
Because of worries about genetically modified organisms or GMOs, most sorghum is raised from traditional hybrid plants. Since there are no biotechnology traits, sorghum is nontransgenic or non-GMO. GMO dissemination is rapidly changing, so keep updated on the status of sorghum if this is one of your concerns.
The substance that mom called sorghum molasses really isn’t molasses at all. Molasses is a byproduct from sugar refining. Sorghum syrup is the natural dark syrup made by cooking the squeezed juice from “sweet sorghum” stalks. Sorghum syrup is often used in recipes that call for molasses. This product is lighter in color and tastes sweeter than sugar molasses.
Grain sorghum products aren’t readily available in conventional supermarkets, so shoppers need to purchase the products at natural foods stores, cooperatives, and online. If you follow a gluten-free diet, you probably have sources for that type of grain for baked goods and pasta. If there are no retail stores that carry it in your area, a Web search will help you locate a supplier. The same goes for sorghum syrup. If you cannot find jars of it locally, there are places on the Internet that will sell you some.