(Sorghum bicolor, formerly vulgare – Family Gramineae)
Sorghum is another grain native to Africa; and, although not a millet, it is sometimes erroneously referred to as such. Many distinct varieties of sorghum have resulted from intensive selection by native peoples for thousands of years. It was probably first cultivated in Ethiopia between 4000 and 3000 BCE, spreading then to the Near East, India, and China and, finally, to the New World. Sorghum is now grown in the US, but only for cattle feed.
The cultivated sorghums are generally grouped into four main types, based on their primary use: grain sorghums, sweet sorghums (sorgo), sudan grass (S. sudanense), and broomcorn or Kaffir corn (S. vulgare). Its appearance is that of a typical grass with long, flat leaves and large, feathery seed heads. The main cultivated varieties vary considerably in the colour of the seeds and in the size of the plant. The tallest may reach heights of twenty feet; but dwarf varieties are also available, being low enough to be machine harvested. It has traditionally been a grain of hot regions which receive too little rainfall for most other crops to grow. It is the major food of many African and Asian peoples, who often grind the grains into flour for flat breads. The white grains are used for food and most highly esteemed in India, while the red kinds are used in making beer. The flavour of the better sorghums is robust, resembling that of buckwheat. The flour lacks gluten so is more suited to making porridge than bread.
The saccaratum group of cultivars are not grown for grain, but for the sap in their thick stems and the source of sorghum syrup. The sweet sorghums are sometimes called sorgo or Chinese sugar cane as the processing methods are similar as for making sugar from the cane. In its usual form, sorghum syrup contains only one-third sucrose, with the rest of the sugar being dextrose and fructose. With this mixture, it is impossible for the sugar to crystallize. Sorghum syrup is a sticky, dark brown product which has only been partly refined and which has the same flavour as sugar cane molasses. The dextrin can cause it to set solid, however; and in China, a technique of evaporation is used to turn it into dried strips. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, sorghum syrup was the cheap alternative to maple syrup, and production then was as much as 20 million gallons or more annually. Although still produced, sorghum syrup is not made to the extent that it once was.