Commercial sorghum is the cultivation and commercial exploitation of
species of grasses within the genus
Sorghum (often S. bicolor). These
plants are used for grain, fibre and fodder. The plants are cultivated
in warmer climates worldwide. Commercial
Sorghum species are native to
tropical and subtropical regions of
Africa and Asia.
Other names include durra, Egyptian millet, feterita, Guinea corn,
jwari ज्वारी (Marathi), jowar, juwar, milo, shallu, Sudan
grass, cholam (Tamil), jola (Kannada), jonnalu (Telugu), gaoliang
(zh:高粱), great millet, kafir corn, dura, dari, mtama, and solam.
Sorghum has been, for centuries, one of the most important staple
foods for millions of poor rural people in the semiarid tropics of
Asia and Africa. For some impoverished regions of the world, sorghum
remains a principal source of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals.
Sorghum grows in harsh environments where other crops do not grow
well, just like other staple foods, such as cassava, that are common
in impoverished regions of the world. It is usually grown without
application of any fertilizers or other inputs by a multitude of
small-holder farmers in many countries.
Grain sorghum is the third most important cereal crop grown in the
United States and the fifth most important cereal crop grown in the
world. In 2010,
Nigeria was the world's largest producer of grain
sorghum, followed by the
United States and India. In developed
countries, and increasingly in developing countries such as India, the
predominant use of sorghum is as fodder for poultry and cattle.
Leading exporters in 2010 were the United States,
Mexico was the largest importer of sorghum.
An international effort is under way to improve sorghum farming. The
International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-
(ICRISAT) has improved sorghum using traditional genetic improvement
and integrated genetic and natural resources management practices. New
varieties of sorghum from
ICRISAT has now resulted in
7 tons per hectare. Some 194 improved cultivars are now planted
worldwide. In India, increases in sorghum productivity resulting from
improved cultivars have freed up six million hectares of land,
enabling farmers to diversify into high-income cash crops and boost
Sorghum is used primarily as poultry feed, and
secondarily as cattle feed and in brewing applications.
2 Cultivation and uses
2.1 Use as fodder
2.2 Production trends
2.3 Culinary use
2.4 Alcoholic beverages
2.5 Other uses
2.7 Growing grain sorghum
3 Nutritional profile
3.1 Comparison of sorghum to other major staple foods
4 See also
6 External links
Making of sorghum molasses in rural
The last wild relatives of commercial sorghum are currently confined
Africa south of the Sahara — although Zohary and Hopf add
Sudan — indicating its domestication took place
there. However, note Zohary and Hopf, "the archaeological exploration
Africa is yet in its early stages, and we still lack
critical information for determining where and when sorghum could have
been taken into cultivation." Although rich finds of S. bicolor
have been recovered from
Qasr Ibrim in Egyptian Nubia, the wild
examples have been dated to circa 800–600 BCE, and the domesticated
ones no earlier than CE 100. The earliest archeological evidence comes
from sites dated to the second millennium BC in
where S. bicolor is not native. These incongruous finds have been
interpreted, according again to Zohary and Hopf,
as indicating: (i) an even earlier domestication in Africa, and (ii)
an early migration of domestic sorghum, from East
Africa into the
Indian subcontinent. This interpretation got further support because
several other African grain crops, namely: pearl millet Pennisetum
glaucum (L.) R. Br., cow pea Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp., and
hyacinth bean Lablab purpureus (L.) Sweet show similar patterns. Their
wild progenitors are restricted to Africa.
Most cultivated varieties of sorghum can be traced back to Africa,
where they grow on savanna lands. During the Muslim Agricultural
Revolution, sorghum was planted extensively in parts of the Middle
Africa and Europe. The name "sorghum" comes from
Italian "sorgo", in turn from Latin "Syricum (granum)" meaning "grain
Despite the antiquity of sorghum, it arrived late to the Near East. It
was unknown in the Mediterranean area into Roman times. Tenth century
records indicate it was widely grown in Iraq, and became the principal
Kirman in Persia. In addition to the eastern parts of the
Muslim world, the crop was also grown in
Egypt and later in Islamic
Spain. From Islamic Spain, it was introduced to Christian Spain and
then France (by the 12th century). In the Muslim world, sorghum was
grown usually in areas where the soil was poor or the weather too hot
and dry to grow other crops.
Sorghum is well adapted to growth in hot, arid or semiarid areas. The
many subspecies are divided into four groups — grain sorghums (such
as milo), grass sorghums (for pasture and hay), sweet sorghums
(formerly called "Guinea corn", used to produce sorghum syrups), and
broom corn (for brooms and brushes). The name "sweet sorghum" is used
to identify varieties of S. bicolor that are sweet and juicy.
Cultivation and uses
Bag of Somali commercial sorghum (massaggo).
Sorghum is used for food, fodder, and the production of alcoholic
beverages. It is drought tolerant and heat tolerant, and is especially
important in arid regions. It is an important food crop in Africa,
Central America, and South Asia, and is the "fifth most important
cereal crop grown in the world".
Use as fodder
FAO reports that 440,000 square kilometres were devoted worldwide
to sorghum production in 2004. In the US, sorghum grain is used
primarily as a maize (corn) substitute for livestock feed because
their nutritional values are very similar. Some hybrids commonly grown
for feed have been developed to deter birds, and therefore contain a
high concentration of tannins and phenolic compounds, which causes the
need for additional processing to allow the grain to be digested by
FAO reported the
United States of America
United States of America was the top producer of
sorghum in 2009, with a harvest of 9.7 million tonnes. The next four
major producers of sorghum, in decreasing quantities, were India,
Sudan and Ethiopia. The other major sorghum producing regions
in the world, by harvested quantities, were: Australia, Brazil, China,
Burkina Faso, Argentina, Mali, Cameroon, Egypt, Niger, Tanzania, Chad,
Uganda, Mozambique, Venezuela, and Ghana.
In the future, use of sorghum may increase in Tanzania, as farmers
replace maize with the drought-resistant crop in areas where rainfall
declines due to climate change. Following lobbying by the ICRISAT-led
Hope Project, the government recently included improved varieties of
sorghum in its seed subsidy programme and agreed to provide a
fertiliser subsidy programme for sorghum for the first time. This
means that the government will buy seed from seed companies and sell
it to farmers at almost half the market price. Tanzania's farmers have
reported that improved sorghum varieties grow quickly, demand less
labour and are more resistant to pests and diseases.
The world harvested 55.6 million tonnes of sorghum in 2010. The world
average annual yield for the 2010 sorghum crop was 1.37 tonnes per
hectare. The most productive farms of sorghum were in Jordan, where
the national average annual yield was 12.7 tonnes per hectare. The
national annual average yield in world's largest producing country,
the USA, was 4.5 tonnes per hectare.
The allocation of farm area to sorghum crops has been dropping, while
the yields per hectare have been increasing. The biggest sorghum crop
the world produced in the last 40 years was in 1985, with 77.6 million
tonnes harvested that year.
In arid, less developed regions of the world, sorghum is an important
food crop, especially for subsistence farmers. It is used to make such
foods as couscous, sorghum flour, porridge and molasses.
Bhakri (jolada rotti in northern Karnataka), a variety of unleavened
bread usually made from sorghum, is the staple diet in many parts of
India, such as
Maharashtra state and northern
Karnataka state. In
Karnataka and the
Rayalaseema area of Andhra Pradesh, roti
(jonna rotte) made with sorghum is the staple food.
Popcorn (for size comparison) left, and popped sorghum seeds, right
In South Africa, sorghum meal is often eaten as a stiff porridge much
like pap. It is called mabele in Northern Sotho and "brown porridge"
in English. The porridge can be served with maswi - soured milk - or
merogo - a mixture of boiled greens (much like collard greens or
In Ethiopia, sorghum is fermented to make injera flatbread, and in
Sudan it is fermented to make kisra. In India, dosa is sometimes
made with a sorghum-grain mixture, but rice is more commonly used in
place of sorghum.
In the cuisine of the Southern United States, sorghum syrup was used
as a sweet condiment, much as maple syrup was used in the North,
usually for biscuits, corn bread, pancakes, hot cereals or baked
beans. It is uncommon today.
In Arab cuisine, the unmilled grain is often cooked to make couscous,
porridges, soups, and cakes. Many poor use it, along with other flours
or starches, to make bread. The seeds and stalks are fed to cattle and
poultry. Some varieties have been used for thatch, fencing, baskets,
brushes and brooms, and stalks have been used as fuel. Medieval
Islamic texts list medical uses for the plant.
Sorghum seeds can be popped in the same manner as popcorn (i.e., with
oil or hot air, etc.), although the popped kernels are smaller than
popcorn (see photo on the right).
Sorghum sometimes is used for making tortillas (e.g., in Central
America). In El Salvador, they sometimes use sorghum (maicillo) to
make tortillas when there is not enough corn.
Since 2000, sorghum has come into increasing use in homemade and
commercial breads and cereals made specifically for the gluten-free
In China, sorghum is the most important ingredient for the production
of distilled beverages, such as maotai and kaoliang wine, as seen in
the 1987 film Red Sorghum.
In southern Africa, sorghum is used to produce beer, including the
local version of Guinness. In recent years, sorghum has been used as a
substitute for other grain in gluten-free beer. Although the African
versions are not "gluten-free", as malt extract is also used, truly
gluten-free beer using such substitutes as sorghum or buckwheat are
Sorghum is used in the same way as barley to produce a
"malt" that can form the basis of a mash that will brew a beer without
gliadin or hordein (together "gluten") and therefore can be suitable
for coeliacs or others sensitive to certain glycoproteins.
The back of
Lakefront Brewery, Inc.
Lakefront Brewery, Inc. (and Brewers' Point Apartments) in
Milwaukee, makers of "New Grist" beer brewed with sorghum and rice.
In November 2006, Lakefront Brewery of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, launched
its "New Grist" gluten-free beer, brewed with sorghum and rice. It is
one of its most successful lines. It is aimed at those with coeliac
disease, although its low-carb content also makes it popular with
In December 2006,
Anheuser-Busch of St. Louis, Missouri, introduced
their new "Redbridge" beer. This beer is gluten-free and is produced
with sorghum as the main ingredient. Redbridge was the first
sorghum-based beer to be nationally distributed in the United States.
African sorghum beer is a brownish-pink beverage with a fruity, sour
taste. Its alcohol content can vary between 1% and 8%. African sorghum
beer is high in protein, which contributes to foam stability, giving
it a milk-like head. Because this beer is not filtered, its appearance
is cloudy and yeasty, and may also contain bits of grain. This beer is
said to be very thirst-quenching, even if it is traditionally consumed
at room temperature.
African sorghum beer is a popular drink primarily amongst the black
community for historical reasons. African sorghum beer is said to be a
traditional drink of the
Zulu people of Southern Africa. It also
became popular amongst the black community in South Africa, in part
because the only exception to the prohibition, which was lifted in
1962 and only applied to black people, was sorghum beer.
Sorghum beer is also associated with the development of the
segregationist "Durban System" in South
Africa in the early 20th
Century. The turn of the 20th Century saw growing segregationist
tendencies amongst the white populations of South African towns.
Fearful of the alleged diseases of black residents, the white
populations of these towns sought to prevent black Africans from
gaining permanent residence in urban areas, and separate them from the
white communities. Within this context, two municipalities, Durban and
Pietermaritzburg, devised a system by which black Africans in their
locality would be housed in 'native locations' outside the main towns,
with their segregated accommodation paid for from revenues from the
municipal monopoly over sorghum beer. This solved the problem of white
rate-payers having to foot the cost of segregation, and ensured the
whole scheme paid for itself. After the passage of the 1923 Natives
(Urban Areas) Act, all municipalities in South
Africa were given the
powers to enforce racial segregation, and the Durban System was
extended throughout the union, ensuring that segregation was paid for
from African rents and beerhall monopolies.
Sorghum beer is called bjala in northern Sotho and is traditionally
made to mark the unveiling of a loved-one's tombstone. The task of
making the beer falls traditionally to women. The process is begun
several days before the party, when the women of the community gather
together to bring the sorghum and water to a boil in huge cast iron
pots over open fires. After the mix has fermented for several days, it
is strained - a somewhat labor-intensive task.
Sorghum beer is known
by many different names in various countries across Africa, including
Umqombothi (South Africa) burukuto (Nigeria), pombe (East Africa) and
bil-bil (Cameroon). African sorghum beer brewed using grain sorghum
undergoes lactic acid fermentation, as well as alcoholic fermentation.
The steps in brewing African sorghum beer are: malting, mashing,
souring and alcoholic fermentation. All steps, with the exception of
the souring, can be compared to traditional beer brewing.
The souring of African sorghum beer by lactic acid fermentation is
responsible for the distinct sour taste. Souring may be initiated
using yogurt, sour dough starter cultures, or by spontaneous
fermentation. The natural microflora of the sorghum grain maybe also
be the source of lactic acid bacteria; a handful of raw grain sorghum
or malted sorghum may be mixed in with the wort to start the lactic
acid fermentation. Although many lactic acid bacteria strains may be
Lactobacillus spp. is responsible for the lactic acid
fermentation in African sorghum beer.
Commercial African sorghum beer is packaged in a microbiologically
active state. The lactic acid fermentation and/or alcoholic
fermentation may still be active. For this reason, special plastic or
carton containers with vents are used to allow gas to escape. Spoilage
is a big safety concern when it comes to African sorghum beer.
Packaging does not occur in sterile conditions and many microorganisms
may contaminate the beer. Also, using wild lactic acid bacteria
increases the chances of spoilage organisms being present. However,
the microbiologically active characteristic of the beer also increases
the safety of the product by creating competition between
organisms. Although aflatoxins from mould were found on sorghum
grain, they were not found in industrially produced African sorghum
Sorghum straw (stem fibres) can also be made into excellent wallboard
for house building, as well as biodegradable packaging. Since it does
not accumulate static electricity, it is also used in packaging
materials for sensitive electronic equipment.
Little research has been done to improve sorghum cultivars[citation
needed] because the vast majority of sorghum production is done by
subsistence farmers. The crop is therefore mostly
limited by insects, disease and weeds, rather than by the plant's
inherent ability. To improve the plant's viability in
sustaining populations in drought-prone areas, a larger capital
investment would be necessary to control plant pests and ensure
optimum planting and harvesting practices.
In November 2005, however, the US Congress passed a Renewable Fuels
Standard as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, with the goal of
producing 30 billion litres (8 billion gallons) of renewable fuel
(ethanol) annually by 2012. Currently, 12% of grain sorghum production
in the US is used to make ethanol.
An AP article  claims that sorghum-sap-based ethanol has four
times the energy yield as corn-based ethanol, but is on par with
Main article: List of sorghum diseases
Growing grain sorghum
Sorghum Producers — 2008
UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO)
Sorghum requires an average temperature of at least 25 °C to
produce maximum grain yields in a given year. Maximum photosynthesis
is achieved at daytime temperatures of at least 30 °C. Night
time temperatures below 13 °C for more than a few days can
severely reduce the plants' potential grain production.
be planted until soil temperatures have reached 17 °C. The long
growing season, usually 90–120 days, causes yields to be severely
decreased if plants are not in the ground early enough.
Grain sorghum is usually planted with a commercial corn seeder at a
depth of 2–5 cm, depending on the density of the soil
(shallower in heavier soil). The goal in planting, when working with
fertile soil, is 50,000 to 300,000 plants per hectare. Therefore, with
an average emergence rate of 75%, sorghum should be planted at a rate
of 2–12 kg of seed per hectare.
Yields have been found to be boosted by 10–15% when optimum use of
moisture and sunlight are available, by planting in 25 cm rows
instead of the conventional 1-meter rows.
Sorghum, in general, is a very competitive crop, and does well in
competition with weeds in narrow rows.
Sorghum produces a chemical
compound called sorgoleone, which the plant uses to combat weeds. The
chemical is so effective in preventing the growth of weeds it sometime
prohibits the growth of other crops harvested on the same field. To
address this problem, researchers at the Agricultural Research Service
found two gene sequences believed to be responsible for the enzymes
that secrete the chemical compound sorogoleone. The discovery of
these gene sequences will help researchers one day in developing
sorghum varieties that cause less soil toxicity and potentially target
gene sequences in other crops to increase their natural pesticide
capabilities, as well.
Insect and diseases are not prevalent in sorghum crops. Birds,
however, are a major source of yield loss. Hybrids with higher tannin
content and growing the crop in large field blocks are solutions used
to combat the birds. The crop may also be attacked by corn earworms,
aphids, and some
Lepidoptera larvae, including turnip moths.
It is a very high nitrogen-feeding crop. An average hectare producing
6.3 tonnes of grain yield requires 110 kg of nitrogen, but
relatively small amounts of phosphorus and potassium (15 kg of
Sorghum’s growth habit is similar to that of maize, but with more
side shoots and a more extensively branched root system. The root
system is very fibrous, and can extend to a depth of up to 1.2 m. The
plant finds 75% of its water in the top metre of soil, and because of
this, in dry areas, the plant’s production can be severely affected
by the water holding capacity of the soil. The plants require up to
70–100 mm of moisture every 10 days in early stages of growth,
and as sorghum progresses through growth stages and the roots
penetrate more deeply into the soil to tap into hidden water reserves,
the plant needs progressively less water. By the time the seed heads
are filling, optimum water conditions are down to about 50 mm
every 10 days. Compacted soil or shallow topsoil can limit the plant's
ability to deal with drought by limiting its root system. Since these
plants have evolved to grow in hot, dry areas, it is essential to keep
the soil from compacting and to grow on land with ample cultivated
Wild species of sorghum tend to grow to a height of 1.5–2 m;
however, due to problems this height created when the grain was being
harvested, in recent years, cultivars with genes for dwarfism have
been selected, resulting in sorghum that grows to between 60 and
120 cm tall.
Sorghum's yields are not affected by short periods of drought as
severely as other crops such as maize, because it develops its seed
heads over longer periods of time, and short periods of water stress
do not usually have the ability to prevent kernel development. Even in
a long drought severe enough to hamper sorghum production, it will
still usually produce some seed on smaller and fewer seed heads.
Rarely will one find a kernelless season for sorghum, even under the
most adverse water conditions. Sorghum's ability to thrive with less
water than maize may be due to its ability to hold water in its
foliage better than maize.
Sorghum has a waxy coating on its leaves
and stems which helps to keep water in the plant, even in intense
Sorghum is about 70% starch, so is a good energy source. Its starch
consists of 70 to 80% amylopectin, a branched-chain polymer of
glucose, and 20 to 30% amylose, a straight-chain polymer.
The digestibility of the sorghum starch is relatively poor in its
unprocessed form, varying between 33 and 48%. Processing of the grain
by methods such as steaming, pressure cooking, flaking, puffing or
micronization of the starch increases the digestibility of sorghum
starch. This has been attributed to a release of starch granules from
the protein matrix, rendering them more susceptible to enzymatic
On cooking, the gelatinized starch of sorghum tends to return from the
soluble, dispersed and amorphous state to an insoluble crystalline
state. This phenomenon is known as retrogradation; it is enhanced with
low temperatures and high concentrations of starch. Amylose, the
linear component of the starch, is more susceptible to retrogradation.
Certain sorghum varieties contain antinutritional factors such as
tannins. The presence of tannins is claimed to contribute to the poor
digestibility of sorghum starch. Processing in humid thermal
environments aids in lowering the antinutritional factors.
Sorghum starch does not contain gluten. This makes it a possible grain
for those who are gluten sensitive.
After starch, proteins are the main constituent of sorghum. The
essential amino acid profile of sorghum protein is claimed to depend
on the sorghum variety, soil and growing conditions. A wide variation
has been reported. For example, lysine content in sorghum has been
reported to vary from 71 to 212 mg per gram of nitrogen. Some
studies on sorghum's amino acid composition suggest albumin and
globulin fractions contained high amounts of lysine and tryptophan and
in general were well-balanced in their essential amino acid
composition. On the other hand, some studies claim sorghum's prolamin
fraction was extremely poor in lysine, arginine, histidine and
tryptophan and contained high amounts of proline, glutamic acid and
leucine. The digestibility of sorghum protein has also been found to
vary between different varieties and source of sorghum, ranging from
30 to 70%.
A World Health Organization report suggests the inherent capacity of
the existing sorghum varieties commonly consumed in poor countries was
not adequate to meet the growth requirements of infants and young
children. The report also claimed sorghum alone may not be able to
meet the healthy maintenance requirements in adults. A balanced diet
would supplement sorghum with other food staples.
Sorghum's nutritional profile includes several minerals. This mineral
matter is unevenly distributed and is more concentrated in the germ
and the seed coat. In milled sorghum flours, minerals such as
phosphorus, iron, zinc and copper decreased with lower extraction
rates. Similarly, pearling the grain to remove the fibrous seed coat
resulted in considerable reductions in the mineral contents of
sorghum. The presence of antinutrition factors such as tannins in
sorghum reduces its mineral availability as food. It is important to
process and prepare sorghum properly to improve its nutrition value.
Sorghum is a good source of B-complex vitamins. Some varieties of
sorghum contain β-carotene which can be converted to vitamin A by the
human body; given the photosensitive nature of carotenes and
variability due to environmental factors, scientists claim sorghum is
likely to be of little importance as a dietary source of vitamin A
precursor. Some fat-soluble vitamins, namely D, E and K, have also
been found in sorghum grain in detectable, but insufficient,
Sorghum as it is generally consumed is not a source of
Comparison of sorghum to other major staple foods
The following table shows the nutrient content of sorghum and compares
it to major staple foods in a raw form. Raw forms of these staples,
however, are not edible and cannot be digested. These must be prepared
and cooked as appropriate for human consumption. In processed and
cooked form, the relative nutritional and antinutritional contents of
each of these grains is remarkably different from that of the raw
forms reported in this table. The nutrition value for each staple food
in cooked form depends on the cooking method (for example: boiling,
baking, steaming, frying, etc.).
Nutrient content of major staple foods per 100 g portion
Maize / Corn[A]
Vitamin C (mg)
Niacin (B3) (mg)
Pantothenic acid (B5) (mg)
Vitamin B6 (mg)
Folate Total (B9) (μg)
Vitamin A (IU)
Vitamin E, alpha-tocopherol (mg)
Vitamin K1 (μg)
Saturated fatty acids (g)
Monounsaturated fatty acids (g)
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (g)
A yellow corn
B raw unenriched long-grain white rice
C hard red winter wheat
D raw potato with flesh and skin
E raw cassava
F raw green soybeans
G raw sweet potato
H raw sorghum
Y raw yam
Z raw plantains
I raw long-grain brown rice
Baijiu alcoholic beverage distilled from sorghum
Push–pull technology pest control strategy for maize and sorghum
List of antioxidants in food
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ICRISAT Tanzania's government signs off on sorghum
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Retrieved August 10, 2016.
FAO Report (1995) "
Sorghum and millets in human nutrition"
FAO "Compendium on post-harvest operations" — Contains discussion on
origin, processing and uses of sorghum
Alternative Field Crops
Sorghum Producers and Processors Association
Sorghum Growth Stages
Sequencing of the
Sorghum Ethanol Association
Examples of projects using sweet sorghum as an input feedstock for the
production of renewable energy
Lists of countries by agricultural output rankings
List of international rankings
List of top international rankings by country
Lists by country
Cereals and pseudocereals
Neolithic founder crops
History of agriculture
Tell Abu Hureyra