Susan Porter of Amarillo, Texas, unknowingly struggled with gluten intolerance for 10 years before she was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2002. After her diagnosis, Porter said she knew she would have to greatly modify her lifestyle to combat her illness.
“I didn’t cook much before my diagnosis, but I learned I would have to start cooking from scratch,” Porter said. “I tried some of the store-bought breads, but didn’t like them much. I pretty much eliminated bread and crackers from my diet. I had never considered sorghum until recently.”
Sorghum is the fifth most important cereal grain in the world and is consumed by more than 9 million people across the globe as a primary cereal grain. It is considered an ancient grain, which originated in Africa thousands of years ago. Not only is it gluten-free, but sorghum offers a more diverse nutritional profile than many other gluten free grains.
Gluten-free and good for you
Carol Fenster, author of 101 Gluten-Free Recipes, said she prefers to use sorghum in many of her recipes primarily because it is higher in fiber and protein than more commonly used brown and white rice flours.
“Sorghum flour has several advantages over other ancient grains because it is light in color and has a milder flavor, somewhat similar to wheat,” Fenster said.
Fenster noted that one brand of sorghum flour had 16 grams of protein per serving versus 12 grams for brown rice flour and only 8 grams in white rice flour. Sorghum also contains 12 grams of fiber per serving compared to only 4 grams in brown and white rice flour.
Nancy Turner, a professor in the Nutrition and Food Science Department at Texas A&M University, has worked extensively with sorghum in determining its value in fighting cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
“Dietary fiber is important in suppressing many diseases and whole grain sorghum contains more dietary fiber than most rice flours,” Turner said. “We understand now that whole grain sorghum contains some complex phytochemicals, which are believed to have positive effects on some of these diseases.”
Turner said in addition, these phytochemicals in sorghum have antioxidant activity, which may help fight the onset of cardiovascular disease by protecting lipids from oxidation. While these nutrients can’t prevent some of the issues brought on by the diseases, they can reduce the severity of them.
Recent observations at Texas A&M suggest that some of the polyphenolic compounds in certain varieties of sorghum may reduce starch digestibility. This means that someone who is diabetic, or close to being diabetic, may benefit from a reduced rate of starch absorption and a lower rise in blood glucose as a result of including sorghum in the diet. This characteristic would be beneficial for everyone.
“While sorghum offers many beneficial nutrients, it is important to keep in mind that diversity is important in a gluten-free diet,” Turner said. “Sorghum can fit quite well into the diet of someone with a gluten intolerance and is quite easy to cook with, as well.”
Sorghum in the kitchen
One of the most appealing characteristics of sorghum flour is its mild flavor and light color. Because no single gluten-free flour has all the characteristics of wheat flour, blends are highly recommended. Fenster recommends a blend she developed, which includes sorghum flour, corn or potato starch, and tapioca flour. Fenster said potato starch lightens the crumb of baked goods and the tapioca flour promotes browning of the crust.
When beginning to incorporate sorghum into a diet, Fenster said a sorghum blend works well when mixed into favorite recipes for muffins, cakes, breads and cookies. Baked goods will be slightly darker in color than those made with rice flour, but much more beneficial in terms of nutrition.
Sorghum can also be cooked in the whole grain form similar to rice or barley. Whole grain sorghum takes longer to cook than some grains, which often discourages people with limited time from using it. However, Fenster recommends soaking whole grain sorghum overnight and cooking it in a slow cooker during the day. This allows people who work to have sorghum ready for dinner when they come home.
“I store cooked whole grain sorghum in my refrigerator for a quick meal anytime,” Fenster said. “Warmed up with honey and cinnamon it makes a wonderful breakfast or add sorghum to soups and stews just like pearled barley.”
After being given a few samples of sorghum, Susan Porter has been experimenting with whole grain sorghum and the sorghum flour blend. Porter said the blend was not hard to make once she received sorghum flour because she had the other ingredients in her kitchen.
“I used some of my favorite ingredients to make muffins and they turned out very good,” Porter said. “I have enough of the sorghum blend to try a few more recipes and look forward to experimenting more with sorghum.”
Products containing sorghum
One of the most convenient aspects of sorghum is the value it offers. Because of high production, the cost of most sorghum flour is less than that of other gluten-free products. Some gluten-free products using sorghum include Canyon Bakehouse and Rudi’s, who use sorghum in their bread and tortillas. For more information regarding sorghum flour suppliers visit SorghumCheckoff.com.
Sorghum Flour Suppliers
Nu Life Market – nulifemarket.com
Twin Valley Mills – twinvalleymills.com
Bob’s Red Mill – bobsredmill.com
Sorghum’s light color and mild flavor make it perfect for these breakfast muffins. Use this easy recipe as the basis for other flavor combinations, too; perhaps replacing the lemon zest and blueberries with orange zest and dried cranberries – or with a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and raisins.
Carol’s Sorghum Blend
1 1/2 cups sorghum flour
1 1/2 cups potato starch or cornstarch
1 cup tapioca flour
Sorghum Blueberry-Lemon Muffins
Courtesy of Carol Fenster, author of Gluten-Free 101 (Savory Palate, 2010)
Makes 12 Muffins
2 1/3 cups sorghum flour blend
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk of choice, at room temperature
1/3 cup canola oil
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Add-Ins and Topping
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon sugar for sprinkling on muffins
- Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Generously grease a standard 12-cup non-stick muffin pan.
- Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the wet ingredients thoroughly until smooth.
- Make a well in the dry ingredients and add wet ingredients. Combine with a spatula until just moistened and then gently stir in the blueberries. Divide the batter evenly in the pan and sprinkle each muffin with a little sugar.
- Bake until the muffin tops are lightly browned, approximately 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.