“What can I tell the customers about Sorghum?” asked a staff member at the delightful Kakulas Sister’s Emporium in Fremantle.This question followed on from my question. I am very chatty slash nosy and I always ask people what they plan to do with interesting purchases. The lady ahead of me in the queue, of East African origin, henna tattoos on her hands left over from celebrating Eid, handed over a bag of sorghum flour to be weighed. “What are you going to do with that?”
“I am going to make it in to a dough, not too tender and not to tough, and bake it in to a bread and eat with a spiced sauce and okra,” the sorghum purchaser told me.
I guessed she was talking about the large, cloth-ike honey-combed flat bread used as a plate for curries and vegetables in East Africa known as Injera. It must be left to ferment as there is no gluten in sorghum which is one of the chief reasons it has started to attract the attention of the gluten-intolerant and allergic consumers outside Africa.
“What can I tell my customers about sorghum?” asked the staff member who weighed my stock of legumes and spices at Kakulas Sister in Fremantle. I began to launch in to the reasons sorghum is of such interest to my colleagues in Public Health and Agri-Food Security at Curtin University in medium-density detail, but taking note of the queue of customers behind me I said she should wait a couple of days and I would be able to give her some ideas, aka this post.
So, let’s look at the benefits the foodie and health-conscious shopping public of Fremantle could be getting from a purchase of sorghum, either flour or flakes or whole grains:
- low in fat
- a good source of dietary fibre
- low in sodium
- high in potassium
- contains B-group vitamins
- contains zinc, magnesium, selenium and some calcium and iron
- contains antioxidants which protect against cardio-vascular disease and oxidative stress
However, despite this promising list, starchy sorghum is not the easiest thing for humans to digest. All starch has to be gelatinaised before humans can make use of it (more details in the Crackling Resistant Starch article). That means water is absorbed, usually under cooking conditions, the starch granuales burst and make the carbohydrate available in the human digestive system. On the plus side, this quality gives sorghum a low GI value which is good news for combating metabolic syndrome conditions such as type two diabetes.
What sorghum does have going for it is its hardiness: It is drought and high temperature resistant. This means it grows well in semi arid and hot conditions, like the ones prevalent in Australia and the ones which are likely to intensify under global warming. There is much work being carried out in Western Australian universities to find ways of making sorghum more easily digestible and acceptable to consumers and farmers, including a project using Extrusion Techniques to develop a healthy alternative to the ubiquitous Twistie-style snacks on the market.**
If you are not a traditional user of sorghum and do not know the secrets of Injera, (recipe here) you are may care to add some flakes to your granola recipe and you may be already enjoying them as part of this product from Sanitarium, Weet-Bix Multigrain with 11% sorghum.
Sorghum’s Gluten-Free tag makes it a popular choice for experimenters who cut it with other flours in gluten-free baking projects. Still providing a great source of dietary fibre and giving out some of its nutrients, sorghum flour will alter the structure of the finished product considerably and customers should be up for some recipe tweaking.
There are many tweakers who have been kind enough to share their recipes on the internet:
This tip from American producer Purcell Mountain Farms suggests texture can be improved by adding one tablespoon of corn starch/flour to every cup of sorghum flour to improve smoothness and moisture retention. An extra egg white in cakes and biscuits will also improve the smoothness and crumb.
The Nebraska Grain Sorghum Board has invested in producing a whole booklet of recipes, I am guessing because it has invested so much in filling large sections of the American Mid-West with sorghum crop. From what I can gather it is aimed at the fairly experienced home baker, gluten happy or gluten free, keen to diversify their grain sources. There are recipes for Sugar cookies and Snickerdoodles, presumably to lure the non-health conscious in to the fold
The Whole Grains Council made Sorghum it’s pin-up grain for the month of June. They suggest using sorghum flour to supplement or substitute wheat flour in baked goods chiefly for it’s lower GI value and the feeling of fullness it gives. They also give recipes for Sorghum Pancakes and invite readers to make their own Sorghum Egg Noodles.
Add it to a gluten free bread mix as in this recipe from King Arthur flour, generally comprising about a quarter of the total flour content.
Or you could forget food altogether and use it as as a backdrop to a Belizean Martial Artist’s photoshoot. Your call.
*Taken from the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council, reviews nutrition science on grain-based foods and legumes with the aim of developing and education resource to health promotion and health-care professionals.
**If anyone in the Perth, Western Australia area would like to volunteer to participate in sensory evaluation tests of this proto type then please leave your details in the comments box below.