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Sorghum: The New Must-have Gluten-free Ancient Grain

03/17/2015 06:32 EDT | Updated 05/17/2015 05:12 EDT
Dusty Pixel photography via Getty Images

Why is sorghum the new must-have ancient grain for your menu? In addition to being gluten-free, sorghum is a non-GMO, nutrient-dense whole grain with a variety of culinary applications. The whole grain is small and behaves similarly to seeds such as quinoa but with less fat. It also has a neutral colour, a chewy texture, and a slightly sweet flavour, making it suitable for a range of recipes.

Unless you have lived in the mid to southern USA or follow a gluten-free diet, you may not be familiar with sorghum's versatility. With the trend to eat healthier and the need for more nutritious gluten-free options, this "new" ancient grain looks set to take centre stage on the culinary scene. And by ancient, I mean a grain whose first recorded remains, dating back to 8000 BCE, were found in the Nabta Playa archaeological site in southern Egypt! It's thought that it arrived to the Americas in the 1700s. Today, having travelled the globe, sorghum is the fifth most consumed food worldwide behind rice, wheat, maize, and potatoes.

Sorghum and Your Health

When it comes to nutrition, sorghum measures up very well. Eating whole grains such as sorghum as part of a healthy, balanced diet has long been associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. One of the latest pieces of research to support this found that eating more whole grains may reduce the risk of death, especially from cardiovascular disease. The study concluded that replacing refined grains with whole grains, such as sorghum, is also likely to lower mortality.

An interesting attribute of sorghum's nutrition profile is its high level of antioxidants, including anthocyanin. These assist in combating oxidative stress and promote immune health. A strong immune system is a necessary piece for your body's defense against certain diseases such as cancer. Sorghum is also an excellent source of dietary fiber, which promotes digestive health. Dr. Nancy Turner, an Associate Professor at Texas A&M University, is currently researching a number of sorghum's digestive health properties, including its ability to increase satiety (the feeling of fullness) and its potential to reduce the risk of colon cancer. Stay tuned for further research findings about sorghum, as the grain becomes more recognized for its impact on human health.

Cooking, Popping and Baking

Traditionally, sorghum has been used in the gluten-free realm. Currently, both the whole grain and flour are gaining traction in a number of conventional dishes. I was first introduced to sorghum's culinary versatility by Iron Chef Marc Forgione in New Orleans last year. At that time, Chef Forgione showed us how sorghum can be cooked, popped, and ground into flour for baking, all methods he uses at his restaurants in New York.

How to use it

  • Sorghum is small but hearty and chewy, making it ideal for pilafs, risottos, and cold salads. When cooking it on the stove top as an alternative to couscous or rice, you generally use one cup of sorghum to three cups of water or stock. However, be sure to follow the directions on the package. If you have time in the evening or on the weekend, cook up a batch and split it between different dishes. For instance, you can use it in place of rice or pasta in soups and stews.

  • You can also pop sorghum in the same way as corn. For a fun alternative, why not serve popped sorghum at your next movie night!

  • Typically, sorghum flour has been used as a gluten-free substitute for wheat flour in breads and baked goods. It not only provides increased nutrition to these recipes but it has the ability to improve the texture of gluten-free flat breads, pizza crusts, pancakes, waffles, muffins, cookies, cakes, and risen breads. Enjoy experimenting with it!

Where to buy it

  • Depending on where you live, sorghum may be readily available both in retail and bulk packaging. I have found that it's available at most specialty grocery stores as well as some ordinary supermarkets.

  • Sorghum flour is sold at many bulk baking supply stores. If you need to buy the flour pre-packaged, check out a specialty food store such as Whole Foods.

Sorghum on Your Menu

Now you know the many ways sorghum can appear on the culinary stage, why not think about building it into your menu a couple of times a week? Here are some delicious recipes for inspiration!

Breakfast

Who doesn't love homemade waffles with maple syrup on the weekend? Try this gluten-free recipe for Sorghum Belgian Waffles made with sorghum flour and cornstarch. Top the waffles with fresh blueberries for an extra punch of antioxidants.

Lunch

Take advantage of the batch of sorghum you have already cooked and include it in this refreshing lunchtime recipe for Sorghum Tangy Pear Salad.

Supper

Do you have a pilaf in your recipe portfolio? Why not try this savoury Sorghum Pilaf with Brussels Sprouts and Bacon? You can serve it on its own or along with chicken or turkey.

Are you asking yourself, "How have I not been eating this gluten-free, non-gmo, whole grain?" Sorghum has been consumed in other parts of the world for thousands of years. Now, as sorghum moves closer to center stage on the culinary scene, get ready to taste more of this must-have grain on menus in Canada and the USA.

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