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Sorghum Growing in India [1]

Witness Post: Sorghum

With gastro-intestinal sensitivity on the rise in America and other countries, quality substitutes for wheat are in demand by those requiring a gluten-free diet. Enter sorghum, an ancient, slightly nutty-tasting grain that’s the fifth most consumed cereal grain crop in the world, behind rice, wheat, corn and potatoes. While mainly a food product for humans globally, the US primarily uses sorghum as livestock feed. It is also used as a dry distillers’ grain in a growing number of ethanol plants. Recently, though, it has experienced an upswing on domestic food and pet-food usage, a byproduct of marketing.

PlainSorghum_0

Sorghum Stalk Up Close [2}

The United Sorghum Checkoff Program (USCP) and the National Sorghum Producers are working with food companies across the country to increase awareness about the versatile grain. USCP is also encouraging the use of sorghum flour in gluten-free baking by developing relationships with major flour, grain, bran, and syrup users. Bob’s Red Mill sorghum flours are starting to catch on with Americans.

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Naturally drought tolerant and capable of growing in many different environments, sorghum is also a key source of fiber, iron, protein, and micronutrients, with some varieties rich in antioxidants. It is a genus of plants in the grass family. Most species of sorghum are native to Australia, with some species extending to AfricaAsia, Mesoamerica, and certain islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.[3]

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Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Grains [4]

Also known in different locals as durrajowari, or milo, sorghum is typically identified by the scientific name Sorghum bicolor [5]. Sorghum has four features that make it one of the most drought-resistant crops in global cultivation:

  • It has a very large root-to-leaf surface area.
  • In times of drought, it will roll its leaves to lessen water loss by transpiration.
  • If drought continues, it will go into dormancy rather than dying.
  • Its leaves are protected by a waxy cuticle.
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Sorghum

The movement of Gluten-Free Diets has accelerated the rapid adoption of this and other more obscure grains. The phenomenon of gluten intolerance (from general indigestion to serious abdominal problems) is rampant in the Millennial Generation. Even at Catholic masses these days, we hear of “gluten-free host stations,” catering to those who are sensitive to wheat. The more serious problem of reactions to gluten in diets is increasingly causing celiac disease and can be dangerous to your health.

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The internet is full of health warning signs: We must change our diets now.  We live in food deserts.  We are overly exposed to unhealthy food choices.  Our children are malnourished and fat at the same time.  Childhood obesity and diabetes are exploding.  The healthy story goes that in a single generation we have accepted too many simple sugars and genetically modified grains in our diets.  We have “learned” to thrive on plants that are resistant to pesticides.

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One company’s weed killer, Monsanto’s Round-Up, has been incorporated into the new generation of wheat, barley and corn.  The Round-Up resistant grains, when introduced to our children have stressed their immune systems.  The increases in GI tract infections and food allergies are rampant, and lots of research points fingers at Monsanto as the leading culprit for sickening of our kids.  Round-Up resistant grains may not be the whole story, but they are part of dramatic changes to our food supply.  Add to it the Super-Sized sodas, and fast food lifestyle and daily processed food intake, and the end result is pretty ugly.

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Parents with serious gluten-intolerant children, for the health of families, have been persuaded to switch from traditional grains (Rice, Corn, Wheat, Oats and Barley) to whole-grain and milled-grain substitutes that are Gluten-Free: Quinoa, Flax, Millet, Coconut, Teff, Sorghum, Montina, Garbonzo Beans, Fava Beans, and Amaranth). These grains are found in other parts of the world and are finding a new home in the United States.

As the board member of an outdoor education program in the Four Corners of the US, I became aware of the relative ease of growing some of these non-gluten choices first hand. I first found Amaranth, for example, in what seemed to be inhospitable places: gardens at the Cottonwood Gulch Expeditions in Thoreau, New Mexico are at an altitude of 7,400 feet. Despite the short growing season and Sonoran Desert winds, the plants are flourishing in the plentiful summer sun.  The most prolific plants in the gardens, harvested daily for the Gulch Base Camp residents are tomatoes, corn, kale, carrots, radishes, turnips, and collard greens.

tall-sorghum

Broomcorn [6]

One species of sorghum is commonly called broomcorn. An annual grass, like other sorghums, broomcorn grows 6 to 15 ft (1.8 to 4.6 m) tall. There are some dwarf varieties that grow from 3 to 7 ft (0.91 to 2.13 m) in height. The upper peduncle is normally 8 to 18 in (200 to 460 mm) long, topped by a branched inflorescence or panicle, from which the seed-bearing fibers originate. The fibers are usually 12 to 24 in (300 to 610 mm) long, but can be up to 36 in (910 mm) long; they are branched toward the tip where the flowers and seed grow. The seeds number about 30,000/lb (70,000/kg), with feed value similar to oats. A ton of the fibrous panicle makes 900 to 1200 brooms.[7]

[1] http://exploreit.icrisat.org/sites/default/files/uploads/1375091505_1.jpg

[2] http://nifa.usda.gov/sites/default/files/styles/nifa_large/public/blog/PlainSorghum_0.jpg?itok=uwzibyQC

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sorghum

[4] http://glutenfreegirl.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Bobs-red-mill-grains.jpg

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sorghum_bicolor

[6] http://faculty.agron.iastate.edu/mgsalas/img/tall-sorghum.jpg

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sorghum_bicolor

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