When I started at the Sorghum Checkoff, one of the first things told to me was that “food-grade sorghum” is a misnomer because all sorghum is technically edible. While this is true, there are a few distinguishing factors of food grade that help it to stand out.
First of all, there are specific standards that sorghum used in some food production meet, such as certified gluten-free. Additionally, while food grade was traditionally thought of as cream and white colored sorghum, many companies are seeking a variety of colors due to their health benefits. Lastly, sorghum used in food production has certain health benefits that are sought out by food companies and consumers.
Depending on the requirements of the end user of grain sorghum, there are a variety of standards that the grain must meet. For example, if the grain is to be certified as gluten-free, there must be no cross contamination of the sorghum with gluten-containing grains, such as wheat, barley and rye. As school foodservice becomes more of a future market for the sorghum industry, the ability of sorghum to claim that it is free from the top 9 allergens is becoming more of an asset. Beyond the food safety standards, consumers look for a variety of certifications that sorghum products often use as marketing, such as USDA Organic and non-GMO.
While white and cream varieties of sorghum are often included in food products, more colors are now being used, such as red and black. The darker colors offer more of a nutty flavor, with slight bitter notes, which is used by chefs to add additional interest to dishes. The darker colored sorghum is also used for its high antioxidant levels. In addition to the health promoting properties, antioxidants can serve as a natural shelf-life extender, which decreases the need for synthetic preservatives. Research is still evolving about the many benefits of various colors of sorghum, but one exciting area is the use of sorghum as a natural food colorant to replace imitation food dyes.
Consumers are more concerned than ever about their health and diet. Luckily, sorghum is a star ingredient in healthful diets. A serving of cooked whole grain sorghum is an excellent source of 12 essential nutrients, including protein, zinc, selenium and copper, which may contribute to a healthy immune system. Additionally, cooked whole grain sorghum is a source of tryptophan, an amino acid that research has shown may be an effective approach to decrease anxiety and increase positive mood in healthy individuals. Who wouldn’t love eating their way to a calmer, more positive self? Lastly, sorghum is a natural source of antioxidants, which may help to lower your risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and some neurological diseases.
It is an exciting time to be in the world of sorghum as the landscape of food applications broadens. Sorghum is staking its claim in the consumer food world and the opportunities are endless.
This story originally appeared in the Fall 2023 Issue of Sorghum Grower magazine.