EXPEDITIONS: The modest grain that brings a flavorful twist to South Asian food.

Even though the United States is a major producer of sorghum, most of it is used as animal feed. The seeds may also be safely consumed by humans. In fact, sorghum is one of the major sources of food for huge populations in Africa and India’s semi-arid tropical regions.

India has a major agricultural sector and is dependent on sorghum, also called jowar as a source of income. It is said to be the backbone of the Indian economy. Farmers also prefer for it as a dietary staple when they work on the land, especially in the South Indian state, Karnataka. They believe it keeps the body cool by restricting the temperature inside and helping their agility when working outdoors. It sustains and uplifts the body so that they can exert themselves in the fields for longer periods.

Maharashtra has the highest amount of sorghum production and consumption followed by Karnataka among all the states of India. It makes sense that it would be used to make roti, porridges, and baked bread, considering its high nutritional value as well as taste. According to Indian researchers, 70 percent of India’s sorghum is consumed as roti, an unleavened flatbread that is devoured with vegetable curry (dry/wet), meat curry (dry/wet), and sometimes rolled in bi-products of milk like ghee, butter, or cheese.

Sorghum bread is a great gluten-free option for people who have dietary restrictions on their food choices. It also tastes great, making it a good choice for those with no limitations on what they put in their bodies! 

Sorghum can be easily transformed into plenty of food products by processing into starch, flour, grits, flakes, and malted foods, beverages, and beer. The flavor of sorghum varies depending on whether it has been milled or not. It tastes nutty when it is unprocessed. What’s more, milling takes away some of the nutrients, so the flour doesn’t have as much nutritional value. 

Did You Know?

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 East, North Africa and Europe. The name "sorghum" comes from Italian "sorgo", in turn from Latin "Syricum (granum)" meaning "grain of Syria".

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 food of 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. (Wikipedia)

People from all over south India enjoy eating sorghum every day, if not twice a day, even though the preparation of sorghum bread is laborious and cumbersome. In the past, consuming the grains was constrained by the mechanical efforts needed to produce the final edible product. 

Millennials have been quick to adopt Sorghum, adding a new generation of Indians who rely on the grain for both its nutritional value and its taste. It also remains a major crop in India and plays a significant role in keeping the country’s economy afloat. Any trip to South India would not be complete without a sampling of the numerous ways local cooks get the most out of a modest grain that packs a super punch.


A half cup contains –

  • Calories: 316
  • Protein: 10 grams
  • Fat: 3 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 69 grams
  • Fiber: 6 grams
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine): 26% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 7% of the DV
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): 7% of the DV
  • Vitamin B6: 25% of the DV
  • Copper: 30%of the DV
  • Iron: 18% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 37% of the DV
  • Phosphorus: 22% of the DV
  • Potassium: 7% of the DV
  • Zinc: 14% of the DV

WORDS: Sharath Prasad.

Image Source: USDA

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