What is Sorghum? Gleuten Free & Recipes: Here's An Old World Style Sorghum Mill At SDC

Categories: DIY

Gluten-free; ancient grain; regionally grown; non-GMO; trendy; whole grain. Connect all these descriptor dots, and what food ingredient do they describe? It's sorghum.

Lots of people have never heard of it. If you are from the South, or if you are over a certain age, chances are better that you at least know the syrup known as sorghum, or "sorghum molasses." (I can check both the "Southern" and "of a certain age" boxes. My mom served sorghum molasses over buttered biscuits.)

At the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting that concluded last week in New Orleans, the Sorgham Checkoff program presented a morning of sorghum information, (including quite tasty gluten-free cookies, recipe below).

Ninety-five percent of the U.S. crop is fed to animals and turned into biofuel; only 5 percent is consumed by people, though that number is slowly changing. The grain is grown worldwide. In other countries, those percentages are reversed.

Sorgham originated in Africa, where it has grown for 10,000 years and is a staple crop of 300 million food-insecure people who live in the margins of deserts. It is believed that it came to this country on slave ships.

A story last year by National Public Radio explored the fact that sorghum needs less water than other crops, such as corn, which has largely supplanted sorghum in areas that used to grow the old crop, also known as milo. Due to global warming, drought-tolerant sorghum may have the potential to grow more food in a hotter, drier climate.

If you've had the fermented African bread, injera, in an Ethiopian restaurant, you've eaten sorghum, as you have if you've been in an Indian restaurant and ate roti or chapatti, both unfermented breads made with it. The Japanese make a variety of snack foods from extruded sorghum, and it's found in beer and alcoholic drinks worldwide. (Gluten-free beer made with sorghum is a thing, too.)

As far as nutrition, sorghum is a whole grain naturally high in fiber, iron and protein. It's also loaded with antioxidants and is rich in B vitamins.

The IFT event concluded with a three-course lunch and cooking demonstrations by New York restaurateur and Iron Chef Marc Forgione, who joked that he "battled sorghum."

"I'll be a hundred percent honest; I didn't know what sorghum was" when approached to create dishes with it, Forgione said. "But I had a lot of fun playing with it the last two months."

Forgione popped sorghum grains, which yields a tiny popcorn-like ball, used as a garnish on an appetizer of scallop ceviche. The dish also had "crispy sorghum," which was cooked pearled sorghum, cooled and fried in olive oil until crisp.

For the main course, he made a green garlic air bread, blending sorghum flour, eggs, xantham gum and green garlic into a thick liquid dough, which he poured into a whipped cream canister. He foamed the batter and put it into paper cups, which were then microwaved. What fell out of the cup looked and felt like a dull green sponge.

This he pulled into chunks served with an aged steak with escargot, escargot butter and escarole. The air bread soaked up the sauce.

And for dessert, there was the good old sorghum syrup, which is pressed from the stems of the plant. Forgione made it into a thin strawberry sauce, which he put across a base of panna cotta, topped with sugared fresh berries and limoncello granite.

An Associated Press story earlier this month tracked a shortage of sorghum syrup due to its trendiness. The reporter interviewed Forgione and several Southern chefs who are exploring both the syrup and grain.

Edward Lee, chef of two Louisville, KY restaurants and author of "Smoke and Pickles," told the reporter the syrup has "a unique flavor. And it adds a lot of depth to what you're cooking, more so than honey."

Like tofu, sorghum has a mild taste and takes on the flavors of other ingredients used in the dish. It can be substituted for whole wheat flour.

Look for sorghum flour on supermarket shelves with the other grain and flour products produced by Bob's Red Mill, or look for it online.  Nexe page for recipes:

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