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Ask 100 people if they have ever eaten sorghum and in the English-speaking world 99 will tell you that they have never heard of it. But it’s been one of America’s major exports for a century, and has the nutritional power of quinoa.

If you were drive across Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana in the United States, you would see endless fields of the grain Americans call corn, and much of the rest of the English-speaking world calls maize. If you were to drive a similar distance across South Texas, you would see endless fields of green plants with a red head of grain that Americans call maize, and most of the rest of the English-speaking world calls sorghum.

Sorghum is the super-food you probably have never heard of. About 150 years ago settlers in Texas quickly learned that their summers were far too warm for wheat and corn to survive. They started growing a plant called sorghum. This is the same lanky plant that is used to make sorghum syrup, but in the parts of the USA where sorghum is the principal crop, typically any place with good agricultural land where summer temperatures regularly exceed 100 degrees F (38 degrees C), it has been bred for a shorter stalk that is more easily mechanically harvested with a bushier red head of grain. In other parts of the world, this super food plant Sorghum bicolor more commonly has a beige seed with a reddish tint.

Before the first Iraq War, Texas exported millions of tons of sorghum to Iraq. American production of the grain is now mostly used for animal feeds. In similarly hot regions in Australia, India, Africa, and South America, sorghum is grown as grain for human consumption. It's the fifth-most widely cultivated food grain in the world. Adding to the linguistic confusion, the grain is also known as  great millet, durra, jowari, or milo. And while Americans are talented at growing sorghum, African and Asian cultures are much more skilled at turning it into tasty food.

What makes sorghum a super-food?

The primary characteristic of sorghum that makes it a super-food that it will continue to produce even in extreme heat. Summer temperatures of up to 117 degrees F (48 degrees C), don't kill it. Drought makes it more nutritious. And very few bugs attack it, especially in drought and heat.

Sorghum isn't just a crop that will survive global warming:

  • Sorghum is gluten-free.
  • Sorghum lowers LDL cholesterol without affecting HDL cholesterol.
  • American sorghum is a potent source of antioxidants due to its red pigment.
  • Combined with another hot-weather plant food, okra, sorghum provides vitamin A in amounts that prevent blindness in otherwise malnourished children.
  • Sorghum contains both omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids in amounts sufficient to make a difference in your health. You shouldn't use sorghum as your only source of omega-3's, but a bowl of sorghum provides about as much omega-3 as a small fish oil capsule.
  • Sorghum contains 40 amino acids, and the amino acid in which it is most deficient, methionine, is easily obtained from legumes.
  • Sorghum is a good source of thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin.
  • Sorghum contains tannins that block the absorption of the ferric form of iron that generates free radicals and stimulates bacterial growth, but permit the absorption of the ferrous form of iron that is needed for making hemoglobin. Two servings of sorghum per day provide all the iron your body needs in a safer form than red meat.
  • Sorghum contains chemicals that prevent the formation of advanced glycation products, the "caramel" formed by a reaction of glucose with hemoglobin. Indirectly it may reduce insulin resistance and help lower blood sugar levels in diabetes. It also contains chemicals that inhibit the enzymes that digest carbohydrates into simple sugars in your mouth and small intestine, leaving more starch to feed the friendly bacteria in your colon.
Continue reading after recommendations

  • Kim M, Kim E, Kwak HS, Jeong Y. The ingredients in Saengshik, a formulated health food, inhibited the activity of α-amylase and α-glucosidase as anti-diabetic function. Nutr Res Pract. 2014 Oct. 8(5):602-6. doi: 10.4162/nrp.2014.8.5.602. PMID: 25324943.
  • Muhihi A, Gimbi D, Njelekela M, Shemaghembe E, Mwambene K, Chiwanga F, Malik VS, Wedick NM, Spiegelman D, Hu FB, Willett WC. Consumption and acceptability of whole grain staples for lowering markers of diabetes risk among overweight and obese Tanzanian adults. Global Health. 2013 Jun 23. 9(1):26. doi: 10.1186/1744-8603-9-26. PMID: 23800295.
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