Using Sorghum in Gluten-Free Cooking

This ancient grain is a popular ingredient in gluten-free mixes

close up of sorghum seeds on marble surface

 Stocksy / Cameron Whitman

Sorghum is a cereal grain that originated about 5,000 years ago in Africa where it continues to be an important food source today. It's sometimes called milo, and in India, it is known as jowar. Today, the United States is the largest producer of sorghum where it's primarily used for animal feed. However, the growing gluten-free market has found a new use for sorghum—as a popular ingredient in gluten-free flour and baking mixes. The different varieties of sorghum come in many colors, including red, purple, and brown, but the type of sorghum mostly used in gluten-free mixes is cream-colored, usually milled to a soft, fine flour.

Sorghum also can be cooked and enjoyed in the same way you would cook quinoa and rice and incorporated into dishes to add interesting texture and flavor. Sorghum also is nutritious and good for the environment as it uses less water to grow than other crops.

what to know about sorghum
Illustration: Michela Buttignol. © The Spruce, 2019 

Cooking With Sorghum

There are two ways to incorporate this gluten-free grain into your diet—cooking and eating it whole, as you would rice or barley, or as part of a gluten-free blend for baked goods. Sorghum can be cooked in a slow cooker, rice cooker, on the stovetop, or in the oven. It also can be popped like popcorn. Whole sorghum can be found in the health food section of the grocery store and online.

If you are looking to bake with sorghum flour, you will need to combine it with other ingredients. A variety of gluten-free flour mix brands contain sorghum flour blended with other gluten-free flours, starches, and leavening agents because when used alone, sorghum produces dry, gritty baked goods. When mixed with tapioca starch, for example, sorghum baked goods have better volume and texture.

Adding slightly more oil or fat and eggs to recipes prepared with sorghum blends can improve moisture content and texture. Apple-cider vinegar or ascorbic acid also can improve the volume of doughs made with sorghum flour blends.

Recipes Using Sorghum

You can simply cook sorghum to serve as a side dish (it is perfect to cook in the crockpot as it retains its texture and shape). Season as you would quinoa for a healthy alternative to other grains. You also can incorporate it into a hearty soup such as crockpot chicken and sorghum soup—chock full of vegetables and seasoned with garlic and onion, this soup is nutritious and delicious.

As sorghum flour is not best when used alone, you first need to combine it with other ingredients to achieve success when baking gluten-free. Instead of buying it pre-made, make your own gluten-free flour blend to use in your favorite baked good recipe. This mixture includes sorghum flour, brown, white, and sweet rice flours, potato starch, tapioca, amaranth, and quinoa flours and is perfect when making gluten-free pizza crust.

Health Benefits of Sorghum

Like many other ancient grains, sorghum is packed with healthy nutrients and offers several health benefits. This grain is a good source of protein, iron, and fiber, making it beneficial to our bones, immune system, and digestion. The protein, along with complex carbohydrates, and B-complex vitamins, make this a high-energy grain, helping you feel fuller longer and providing the fuel you need throughout the day.

Sorghum also is a good source of vitamin B6, niacin, magnesium, and phosphorous, and certain types of sorghum are high in antioxidants.

Other Sorghum Products

In addition to the whole grain and the flour, sorghum is found in other forms as well. A popular sweetener in the South, sorghum syrup, also called sorghum molasses, is used as a topping for pancakes, biscuits, cornbread, and desserts and can be found where natural sweeteners are sold.

Africa has a rich tradition of brewing fermented drinks, including beer made from sorghum. Gluten-free beers introduced to the gluten-free market recently, such as Red Bridge, Bard's Beer, and New Grist from Lakefront Brewery, also are made with sorghum, which brewers have found to have similar fermentable sugars to barley.