It costs less too. But those are just a few of the reasons why ancient grain is a must-try.
I had drizzled sweet sorghum syrup into my muesli, baked gluten-free treats with sorghum flour, done sorghum hooch shots, but strangely, I'd never eaten the whole grain until a pitchman at a food trade show suggested it.
It's a trending grain, he said, that American farmers have mostly grown for animal feed. But with gluten-free diets on the rise, it's becoming more popular for human consumption. He handed me a taste of what looked like Israeli couscous, a round pasta made from wheat. I expected the sorghum to be tender-chewy like the pasta, but it was snappy-chewy, with a wholesome, nutty flavor. The peppercorn-size grains pleasantly surprised. When I reacted positively with "Mmm, yum," he went in for the kill: Sorghum is loaded with protein, antioxidants, and fiber; costs less than quinoa; and is grown domestically from South Dakota to South Texas, the "Sorghum Belt." Having read about the area's water constraints, I asked about sustainability. Sorghum is drought-tolerant, he responded. It's farmed in hot, dry areas and can thrive with minimal water. (During drought, sorghum survives by smartly rolling its leaves to minimize water loss and may go dormant rather than die.)
Excited about a new food discovery, I found the buff-colored, bead-size grains (the plant's actual seeds) at our natural foods store. Eaten like rice with other dishes, sorghum absorbed flavors well. So I began asking food friends how to handle it. Few were excited because the grains aren't as widely sold as the flour. Fellow cookbook author and teacher Molly Stevens, however, was game. She'd spotted whole-grain sorghum at her local markets but hadn't cooked with it much. We agreed to experiment with it for a cooking event that we were both participating in. Not quite sure how to best prepare the grain for 75 people, we each practiced cooking it and compared notes over email.
Roll out of bed to this protein-packed breakfast filled with whole grains:
Our key discovery was this: You can't overcook whole-grain sorghum. Molly gently simmered hers in water. I cooked mine like rice on the stove and in the Instant Pot (the pressure cooker didn't save much time). You can add water to the pot well into the cooking if you're short or about to burn the grains, like I had to one time. Sorghum—as we pleasantly discovered—is a resilient, no-fail ingredient.
To pair with an eclectic menu for 75 people, we imbued cooked sorghum with miso, butter, shallot, and mushroom. The umami-rich side dish was a hit with guests, and Molly was so pleased with it that she drafted the recipe for her forthcoming cookbook and shared it with me for this column. I tested the recipe a handful of times, refining and polishing some minor technical steps. I tried swapping a few ingredients, but the result didn't taste as good as her original.
The sublime flavors reflect the ingredients and techniques as much as the collaboration between two curious cooks bent on better understanding a delicious and healthy ancient grain.
Try It: Sorghum with Mushroom and Miso
Be sure to save a few tablespoons of the leftover sorghum cooking liquid, which helps ensure a creamy final product.
View the recipe: Sorhum with Mushroom and Miso
What is Whole-Grain Sorghum?
And what else can you do with it? Plus, where can you buy it?
Sorghum is a grass that looks like corn, but instead of developing ears, sorghum produces fluffy seed heads. There are many sorghum varieties, and certain kinds are for cooking. Whole-grain sorghum (the plant's seeds) has more fiber than pearled, but it takes longer to cook. Regardless of type, sorghum grains are a worthy sub for pearled barley, wheat berries, or Israeli couscous.
Another Way to Cook It
You can pop sorghum with oil in a covered pan on the stove, but it also can be done fast and oil-free in the microwave: Put about 2 tablespoons of whole-grain sorghum in a small lunch-size brown paper bag. Fold the top edge over 4 or 5 times then place it, folded edge down, in the microwave. Cook on HIGH for 1 minute and 30 seconds, until the popping noise is barely audible. Let stand 1 to 2 minutes before opening the bag. Check for unpopped grains before eating.
Where to Buy It
Bob's Red Mill is Nguyen's go-to brand of whole-grain sorghum; it's available at well-stocked supermarkets or on Amazon. Hodgson Mill sells pearled sorghum, which cooks up to be more tender (but isn't a whole grain).