What is Sorghum?

Sally C’s comment below references another general-purpose sweetner that was once common in the Midwest and southern states: sorghum syrup. But what exactly is it and where does it come from? Well, like wheat, sorghum is a grass that produces small seeds. About the size of millet, sorghum seeds are bunched together in a head at the end of the stalk that’s about the length of an ear of corn.

Sorghum isn’t as common as it once was of course. Farmers grew it mainly for cattle feed. The grain itself is nutritious, and the stalks can be stored and fermented into silage, a sort of 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 sorghum syrup. Like cane juice, sorghum sap is composed primarily of sucrose, yet the boiling process imparts a distinctly pungent flavor to the stuff, making it taste like, like…well, Sally do you want to chime in here?

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

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