Sorghum, like corn, used in a multitude of food products

October 08, 2012|By JEFF SEMLER |
  • Jeff Semler, University of Maryland Extension educator for Washington County
Submitted photo

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about one of the major crops, corn, and before the ink was dry on the early edition, I received several calls and emails asking what was the crop growing at Antietam National Battlefield that looked sort of like corn but wasn’t.

The answer to that question is Milo or Sorghum.

Sorghum, a grain, forage or sugar crop, is among the most efficient crops in conversion of solar energy and use of water. Sorghum is known as a high-energy, drought tolerant crop. Because of its wide uses and adaptation “sorghum is one of the really indispensable crops” required for the survival of humankind, according to Jack Harlan, the late agronomist.

According to the National Sorghum Producers, sorghum grain is used primarily for livestock feed and in a growing number of ethanol plants. Sorghum produces the same amount of ethanol per bushel as comparable feedstocks and uses one-third less water.

In the livestock market, sorghum is used in the poultry, beef and pork industries. Stems and foliage are used for green chop, hay, silage and pasture. A significant amount of U.S. sorghum is also exported to international markets, where it is used for animal feed and ethanol.

Because sorghum uses less water and is more drought tolerant than some crops such as corn, sorghum has enjoyed a resurgence. Many livestock producers are again growing grain sorghum or forage sorghum to feed their dairy or beef cows. When cracked or ground, it makes as excellent feed and ensiled an excellent forage crop.

According to the NSP, sorghum has recently appeared in food products in the U.S., because of use in gluten-free food products. Sorghum is an excellent substitute for wheat for those who cannot tolerate gluten. Sorghum is used to make leavened and unleavened breads. In Sahelian Africa, it is primarily used in couscous. It can be steamed or popped and is consumed as a fresh vegetable in some areas of the world.

Syrup is made from sweet sorghum.

Sorghum molasses was a favorite sweetener, particularly in the South, during the 1800s and early 1900s. Around the end of World War I, refined sugar products became more readily available and less expensive, thus causing a decline in the use of sorghum as a sweetener.

To make the syrup, the cane is pressed to extract the juice, then boiled down and evaporated to create a rich, golden syrup. This time of year, you’re likely to find molasses-making demonstrations and freshly bottled syrup in many areas of the South. Sorghum is still made, not only to preserve the tradition, but also because it is such a great favorite of Southerners. It’s used pure or cooked to top biscuits and can be added to any recipe calling for molasses.

It also has higher nutritional value than many of the other sweeteners. According to “Nourishing Traditions.” by Sally Fallon, “Sorghum syrup contains B vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium and phosphorous. It can be used in place of maple syrup.”

Many of you have probably eaten foods that contain sorghum molasses, especially if you have eaten gingersnap cookies. Traditional recipes call for this type of molasses. So now you know more about this curious crop than you ever wanted to know.

So enjoy this beautiful fall harvest season and have a gingersnap and cup of apple cider.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by email at

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