Sorghum

Sorghum is, generally speaking, something you only see in households in the upper Midwest. Sorghum, like sugar cane or wheat, is a grass. It produces heads the size of corn ears that contain small seeds, about the size of millet. Farmers once grew sorghum for cattle feed. The grain itself is nutritious, and the stalks can be stored and fermented into silage, i.e. edible compost that cows can live on during the winter.

Yet sorghum stalks have uses for humans too. Like sugar cane they can be broken up and boiled to extract their sap, which can then be reduced into syrup. Like cane juice, sorghum sap is composed primarily of sucrose, yet the boiling process creates a high enough proportion of invert sugar that it doesn’t crystallize easily.

These days sorghum is a minor crop in the US, though worldwide it’s still the fifth most abundant cereal crop. Being extremely hardy, it’s popular with subsistence farmers in Central America, Africa and Asia.

As for the syrup, it has a flavor you really need to grow up with to appreciate. I didn’t, and I find the stuff rather, um…pungent. Still, once upon a time it was the only syrup some Midwestern folks could afford. Not all that long ago it was common to find a jar or bowl of it on the kitchen table where it served as a general-purpose household sweetener.

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12 Responses to Sorghum

  1. Chris says:

    Sorghum is also a part of classic southern-Appalachian cooking. Real hill-country food, vis. November’s ‘Southern Living’ magazine. I’ve found it for sale in small stores in N. Georgia.

    • joepastry says:

      Interesting…I mostly remember seeing it in Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and places like that. This is very good to know. Thanks!

      - Joe

  2. Linda says:

    I too heard about sorghum when growing up in the South but mostly it was referred to as sorghum molasses. My cousin brought me a jar when she visited a couple of years ago. I always thought of it as a stronger molasses though not as strong as blackstrap.

    • joepastry says:

      I think that’s about right. A very different flavor to my mind, though. Kinda sour as I recall.

      Thanks!

      - Joe

  3. ellenbakes says:

    Yep, sorghum syrup is also a Southern thing–and, not just in Georgia. I’ve read that it was originally introduced to America by African slaves in the early 17th century.

  4. Rachel says:

    Sorghum syrup is also a VERY common ingredient in gluten-free beers, as a point of interest. Unfortunately, it has a very unique flavour as a fermented syrup, that many people don’t enjoy.

  5. Frankly says:

    I’m familiar with sorgum and it is something you do need to acquire a taste for, its flavors are stronger than molasses. The one place I really like it is in pecan pie. Not only do the dark notes add more interesting tastes but being less sweet it really allows the nuts to have a bigger impact.

  6. Brian Shaw says:

    Many years ago I saw some farmers making srghum syrup in a field near London KY. I stopped on the side of the road and watched, took pictures, and watched some more. The farmers didn’t seem to understand my fascination. I mentioned that to a “local” I was working with and mistakingly called it ‘sorghum molasses’… which immediately confirmed what they already knew: that I was a full-fledged Yankee.

    • joepastry says:

      Yeah the camera kinda gave it away I’m sure! ;)

      I’ve seen it made in Indiana. Really until this week I had no idea that it was also a Southern thang.

      Cheers,

      - Joe

  7. Angie says:

    Growing up in western Kentucky, we always had a jar of sorghum molasses in the house. We always mixed it with softened butter and spread it on biscuits as either dessert or an indulgent breakfast. I’m in Tennessee now, and can find it at the local grocery stores. I guess it’s an acquired taste, but one that I have certainly acquired.

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