Introducing sorghum

Climate and weight friendly grain

Sorghum is the fifth most important cereal crop in the world after wheat, rice, corn and barley. And it’s easy to understand why – sorghum is highly drought and heat tolerant plus lab tests have found it has higher antioxidant activity than other cereals and fruit.

Typically a stock feed, with the majority of Australia’s harvest used as feed grains to the beef, dairy, pig, poultry or pet food industry, sorghum is not used widely as a food for human consumption in Australia. Sorghum is highly drought and heat tolerant, with about 60% of Australia’s crop grown in the hot regions of Queensland and Northern NSW. Able to grow without much water, sorghum is generally very economical and also a good rotation crop. With constant reminders of climate change a concern amoungst scientists, politicians and everyday Australian’s, sorghum could be utilised as a sustainable crop for human consumption.

Food chemist and researcher Stuart Johnson from Curtin University is working with food manufacturers Sanitarium and George Weston Foods who are already using sorgham in some products like breads and breakfast cereals, to help boost the use of this former stock-feed grain in the Australian food industry. This idea is not new in some parts of the world, where sorghum is relied upon as a staple food crop in Africa, Central America, and South Asia. Foods prepared with sorghum include popcorn, porridge, flour for baked goods and it is even brewed into beer. As sorghum is naturally gluten free, it is a great alternative to gluten-containing grains like wheat, barley and rye for those people with coeliac disease.

Although more research needs to be done, lab studies have found that wholegrain sorghum has a higher antioxidant activity compared to other cereals and fruits. It has a lower protein content than other cereals, but is a good source of B vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin b6, biotin and niacin; important for many vital body processes including energy metabolism. Also relatively high in potassium and phosphorus, like most other wholegrains sorghum is also high in dietary fibre.

Coloured varieties of sorghum (red, brown and black) are particularly rich sources of various phytochemicals, and animal studies have shown encouraging results for the use of this grain to help in the fight against type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers via its antioxidant properties, and obesity by suppressing appetite.

According to some, sorghum has huge potential, given its agronomic properties in favour of climate change and cost effectiveness, in addition to the emerging science behind its promising benefits in human health and disease. Whilst currently limited to health food shops and a small range of supermarket product lines, stay tuned as prospective clinical research trials are expected to give support to sorghum becoming more widespread in our food supply to aid in the battle against chronic disease.

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