Native to Africa, sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) is a species of the grass family Poaceae. It is a highly versatile and nutritious grain, with a variety of uses from food and animal feed to ethanol and biofuel. Sorghum is a staple of many African and Asian diets – representing the fifth most produced cereal crop in the world after wheat, rice, maize, and barley.

Appearance and use
Sorghum kernels are small and round, varying in color from white and yellow to deep reds, browns, and purples. The plant can grow up to four meters tall, with the grain contained in panicles (like oats) rather than ears (like wheat).
The grain is rich in nutrients, fiber, and starch, making it a good source of energy. It contains a range of micronutrients, including iron, vitamins B1 and B6, and magnesium. Sorghum is also naturally gluten-free, making it an increasingly popular ingredient in both coeliac-friendly and plant-based products such as food and beer.
Sorghum has to be steamed, boiled, puffed, rolled, or ground to make the grains easily digestible. For consumer food products, it can be cooked like rice or quinoa, popped like corn, or milled into flour. Sorghum can also be processed into a syrup and is widely used as a sweetener in the food industry.

While the largest producer of sorghum worldwide is the United States, the crop is cultivated across the globe’s tropical and subtropical regions.
Sorghum grows in a wide range of climates, soils, and altitudes, and can tolerate both drought and heat. It is recognized as an extremely resilient plant that also matures quickly and can be harvested several times each year.
The crop has several drought-resistant features, such as a large root-to-leaf surface area ratio and the ability to roll its leaves – which are also covered with a waxy cuticle – during dry spells to reduce transpiration. It also uses C4 carbon fixation, making it an efficient crop in environments with high temperatures and low moisture.

Looking to the future
The future of sorghum is bright – with uses that go beyond food and animal feed. The crop is growing in significance as a renewable resource through the potential use of Sorghum bicolor as an energy crop for the production of electricity and gas from biomass.
The high sugar content of sorghum stalks is already utilized in some countries in the production of ethanol. This has proved more efficient than the same product made from corn, as sorghum requires significantly less water and fertilizer to reach maturity.
With the accelerating move towards renewable energy sources, sorghum will be a name to remember in the coming years.