Americans have been missing out on a tasty and hearty grain. While
sorghum has been part of the human diet in Africa and India for centuries,
in the United States, the sorghum crop has been used mainly to feed
But this grain, also known as milo, is getting an image boost. Forget
the syrup that many of us associate with sorghum; the grain could soon
be making its way into staple foods like breads, waffles, and noodles.
With its gluten-free status and exciting health attributes, food-grade
sorghumrecognized by its tan plant color and white berriesis
also being investigated for use in cookies, granola cereals, snack bars,
and even a light beer.
ARS chemist Scott R. Bean is
looking for new uses for the versatile grain. Bean hopes to understand
how sorghum's starch, lipids, and especially proteins affect end-use
qualities like taste and texture.
What makes sorghum attractive to many consumers, though, is what it's
"Because it lacks glutencertain proteins present in wheat
and two closely related cereals, rye and barleysorghum is considered
safe for the 1 to 2 million people in the United States diagnosed with
celiac disease, a condition marked by an intolerance to gluten,"
But gluten proteins are what give dough made from wheat flour its visco-elasticity,
a necessary quality in making breads and other baked products.
"Sorghum proteins are different from most other grain proteins.
They're very tough and strong," says Bean. "This makes them
more difficult to handle and analyze."
In addition to determining the function of sorghum proteins, Bean and
collaborators from Ireland and Germany are baking their way towards
good-tasting, finely textured sorghum bread. In a recent study, the
researchers used nine food-grade varieties to produce loaves of wheat-free,
By analyzing bread-crumb structure and texture, the scientists rated
the loaves, noting significant differences among them. The winning hybrids
yielded breads with a fine crumb structure and a high overall number
"Seeing differences among the hybrids is good news," says
Bean. "It means there's a real possibility that sorghum can be
improved for end-useslike breads."
Currently Bean is working with his colleagues at ARS's Hard Winter
Wheat Quality Laboratory in Manhattan, Kansas, to produce a visco-elastic
dough from sorghum flourthe next step in making a high-quality,
They are also developing recipes for other baked goods made with the
"We hope to create a quick and tasty breakfast food for those
with gluten intolerance, especially children," he says.
Besides being gluten-free, sorghum is also attracting attention for
its ability to quench free radicals. Some varieties contain high levels
of cancer-fighting phenols and tannins and even exceed blueberriesaccording
to some assaysin antioxidant potential. High in insoluble fiber
too, specialty sorghum brans could become unrivaled sources of antioxidants
in foods.By Erin
K. Peabody, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
This research is part of Quality and Utilization of Agricultural
Products, an ARS National Program (#306) described on the World Wide
Web at www.nps.ars.usda.gov.
Scott R. Bean is with the
USDA-ARS Grain Marketing and Production
Research Center, 1515 College Ave., Manhattan, KS 66502; phone (785)
776-2725, fax (785) 537-5534.
"Move Over, Bossie! Sorghum's Not Just for Cows Anymore"
was published in the June
2004 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.