Q: How healthful is sorghum? I see it in more supermarket products lately.
A: This cereal grain, which grows tall like corn, has a lot going for it. It’s highly resistant to drought and efficient to grow, so it has been a staple food in Africa and other parts of the world for centuries, where it’s made into porridges, flatbreads, and fermented beverages. In the U.S., sorghum has primarily been used to feed livestock and, increasingly, for ethanol. People in the South may know it as a sweetener (sorghum syrup or “sorghum molasses”).
But sorghum’s appeal as a food grain is growing here. It is now found in over 400 retail foods—from breads and cereals to cookies and snacks—more than twice as many as two years ago.
Like other so-called ancient grains, sorghum is a source of protein, iron, magnesium, B vitamins, and other nutrients, plus fiber and various phytochemicals. A 1/3-cup serving, uncooked, has about 7 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber, according to the USDA Nutrient Database.
Depending on the variety, the kernels range in color from white (most common) to purple, with the more deeply colored ones being richer in phenolic compounds that have antioxidant properties (though they are also more bitter). Sorghum is gluten-free, so it is safe for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, as was confirmed by a 2013 paper in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Prepare sorghum kernels as you would other whole grains, such as barley, farro, and wheat berries. They are similar in size, shape, and chewiness to Israeli couscous and are good mixed with vegetables and beans and in soups and stews. You can even pop the kernels like popcorn to make a healthful snack. Also available is sorghum flour, often blended with other gluten-free grains, which can be used to make pancakes and baked goods. Some recipes call for combining the flour with gums or starches as “binders” to compensate for the lack of gluten.
Bottom line: Sorghum is a healthy and environmentally sustainable choice. For the most nutrients and fiber, look for whole-grain (not pearled) sorghum and whole-grain (not refined) sorghum flour. For cooking tips and recipes, go to simplysorghum.com.
Also see Ancient Grains: A Guide.