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Sorghum – the new whole grain on the block

Anita Stefoska-Needham, APD and PhD Candidate at University of Wollongong provides an introduction to this traditional grain that is becoming the new star in whole grains.

Sorghum is a naturally gluten free cereal crop that is grown locally and represents a novel high value food ingredient in the manufacture of new grain products for the Australian food sector. Being highly drought adaptable, Sorghum is ideally suited to the Australian climate, with the added value of being relatively cheap to grow. To date sorghum’s unique nutritional and agronomic benefits have not been fully exploited in Australia, largely due to its reputation as a livestock feed, however, Sorghum may provide similar nutritional benefits as other whole grains. With growing consumer interests in healthy eating and wellbeing and increasing commercial investment in cereal grain product development, this lesser-recognised whole grain is drawing more attention from researchers, the food industry and gradually from consumers.

The nutritional composition of sorghum grain is similar to other cereals such as wheat. Sorghum grain contains starches, dietary fibre including resistant starch, protein, lipids and a vast array of anti-oxidant rich phytochemicals. These grain components may have functional properties that are beneficial for health. Due to its lower starch digestibility, it has been suggested that Sorghum may be a valuable lower-energy grain alternative, presenting an exciting new opportunity for developing products targeted at weight management.

Like most cereals, sorghum is a source of B-complex vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, biotin, and niacin. The mineral composition in sorghum is similar to millet and is predominantly composed of potassium and phosphorus, with low levels of calcium. Sorghum-based foods are also a good source of both iron and zinc.

Despite its reputation as a livestock feed, Sorghum has been included in the human diet for thousands of years and today is used in a variety of traditional foods world-wide including breads, porridges, steamed products, boiled products, beverages and snack foods (popped sorghum). In more recent years, sorghum has been increasingly utilised as a key ingredient in novel non-traditional food products and beverages, mainly as whole grain and flour, due to its light colour (some cultivars), neutral flavour and pleasing texture. In the US, sorghum is widely used as a key ingredient in ready-made foods such as cookies, breakfast cereals, bagels, and bars; baking mixes for bread, brownies, cakes, and pancakes; gluten-free bread; and gluten-free beer.

Sorghum is a traditional grain that is ideal for the modern Australian diet. It is a locally grown, gluten-free, whole grain which is versatile to use in different food applications and presents an exciting innovation opportunity in developing health promoting, commercially viable food.

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