Ever heard of sorghum? While this ingredient may be new to you, but it’s actually as old as time. Sorghum has been grown for some 8,000 years, is now one of the top five cereal crops in the world, and has been a nutritional powerhouse long before science told us so. It’s similar to wheat, but with two major differences: the seed has no hull, and it’s gluten free.
In the United States, sorghum is grown primarily in the Midwest, with Kansas and Texas being the two top-producing states, respectively, according to the United Sorghum Checkoff Program. Aside from the healthfulness of sorghum (more on that below), the crop itself is good for the environment. Its high tolerance for heat and drought makes it an especially efficient crop, and sorghum also improves air quality by removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil.
Health benefits of sorghum
It used to be that sorghum was primarily used for livestock feed and ethanol production. Much has changed—today, the grain’s many nutritional benefits and its deliciously nutty flavor are being embraced by home cooks, chefs, and snack food brands. “People are paying much closer attention to the importance of eating wholesome ingredients for health, so there is no wonder [sorghum] is gaining popularity in the public,” says registered dietitian Valerie Agyeman, who specializes in women’s health and serves as the founder of Flourish Heights. “We are all on the lookout for ways to diversify the grains in our eating routines, and sorghum is a great option.”
Sorghum is packed with nutrients like B vitamins, which help with energy production, and magnesium, which can ease PMS symptoms and promote better sleep and mood, says Agyeman. It’s also rich in antioxidants that help to fight free radicals that lead to oxidative stress and inflammation, Agyeman adds. One half-cup serving contains 6 grams of satiating fiber and 10 grams of protein—as much as the same size serving of quinoa.
One more reason behind sorghum’s recent resurgence is that it’s a healthy whole-grain alternative for people who are intolerant of gluten and corn (FYI: about 18 million American have a gluten sensitivity, according to research by Beyond Celiac). Agyeman adds that if you do have an intolerance or allergy, it’s best to double-check the label to ensure any sorghum product you’re consuming was made in a certified-gluten-free facility.
Because sorghum is a whole grain, it is also a good source of prebiotic fiber that supports your microbiome, says Steven Gundry, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon and author of the recent book The Energy Paradox: What to Do When Your Get-Up-and-Go Has Got Up and Gone. But that’s not all: sorghum is one of the few grains known to not contain lectins—a type of protein found in many grains, legumes, and beans, among other foods, that can lead to inflammation and leaky gut—because it does not have a hull, says Dr. Gundry.
How to eat sorghum
Sorghum is great for you, yes, but it’s also a tasty and highly versatile ingredient. Here are just a few of the delicious ways you can incorporate the grain into your meals.
Making a recipe that calls for couscous, oatmeal, quinoa, or rice? You can easily sub in sorghum instead to enjoy all its health benefits. The versatile grain presents in many different varieties and colors, too, ranging from white and yellow to purple and black, says Agyeman, who cooks sorghum like rice for dishes such as lemon chicken pilaf.
In kernel form, sorghum can be “popped” like popcorn—it has a slightly nuttier flavor and smaller pop but the same satisfying crunch. You can pop it yourself using an air popper (buy the kernels on Amazon) but snack companies like Chasin’ Dreams Farm and Nature Nate’s both sell pre-popped sorghum that are just as tasty. Swap in popped sorghum for popcorn as a healthy snack or use it to top dishes like salads or even waffles (as Millers All Day in Charleston, S.C. does) for added crunch.
As a gluten-free flour for baking
Just like wheat, sorghum can be ground into flour. In her recent cookbook, Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution, author and baker Roxana Jullapat called the crop “the grain of the future.” Don’t go swapping in sorghum for all-purpose flour cup-for-cup in any baking recipe, though. Because sorghum doesn’t contain gluten, you’ll need to add a binder (such as agar agar or cornstarch) to ensure your baked good holds together.
Sorghum also serves as a delicious base for chips. A brand called Pop Bitties makes air-popped, gluten-free crisps made from sorghum grown in Kansas—as well as brown rice, quinoa, and chia seeds—in flavors like hickory BBQ (a perfect summer grilling side) and maple sea salt.
You may have seen sorghum as a syrup on store shelves. That product comes from the plant variety sweet sorghum, which is harvested for its stalks rather than the grain and crushed like sugarcane to produce a syrup. While it isn’t as common as a pantry sweetener anymore, it is commonly used to produce whiskey and rum, according to the Sorghum Checkoff.
Thanks to all the ways to consume this versatile ingredient and reap its health benefits, sorghum is worth adding to your list of ingredients to try. “With an increasing consumer demand for sustainable and better-for-you products,” says Pop Bitties founder Mark Andrus, “I think we’ll start seeing sorghum used more and more.”
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