Sunday, March 23, 2014

sorghum syrup: history, health benefits, & use

Sorghum syrup from Muddy Pond Sorghum Mill


The History, Health Benefits, & Uses of Sorghum Syrup

Have you ever heard of sorghum syrup, also known as sweet sorghum or sorghum molasses*? I learned about it recently through my Uncle Ronnie, who was telling me his fond memories of eating it drizzled over biscuits as a child in North Carolina. I happened to mention I'd never eaten it, so he sent me a batch! Gotta love uncles.

{*Note: Although some people call it sorghum molasses, sorghum syrup is not actually molasses, which is a byproduct of the sugar refining process and is made of sugar cane, not sorghum cane}.


You can learn all you ever wanted to know about sorghum via this article by Doctor Schar (image credit).

What is sorghum syrup?

Sorghum syrup is made from Sorghum bicolor, a large annual cane grass that originally came from Africa. The history of its growth as a crop is political; it began in the north during slavery when the Union was looking for an independent sweetener to the Confederacy's sugar cane. Read more of its interesting history here.


How does sorghum syrup compare to other sweeteners?

Sorghum is even more delicious than I imagined; it has explosive taste, with fruity and earthy notes (yes, I just said "earthy notes," I apologize). I am like Goldilocks; now that I've gotten a taste for it, I don't want to go without! Here's how it stacks up to the liquid sweeteners in my cabinet:

  • Honey: I love local honey and use it almost daily, but it is so unbelievably sticky--plus, if you've been keeping up with the news, apparently it's not even always really honey
  • Maple syrup is wonderful, and I've been getting my fill up in Boston. But it is too thin to pour over yogurt or biscuits. 
  • Blackstrap Molasses is great in baked goods but is way too intense to eat straight out of the jar. 


Is it as good for health as molasses and local honey? 

There's no denying blackstrap molasses is a healthy ingredient; it's full of essential minerals like magnesium, calcium, and iron. I researched sorghum to see how it compares, and it turns out sorghum is full of the same minerals and has been used for years in traditional medicine. Like wheat grass juice, sorghum juice contains antimicrobial saponins. Although toxic to some animals, saponins are not toxic to humans; in fact, saponin is thought to drain the lymphatic system of toxins.

Like honey, sorghum syrup serves as a mild diuretic and expectorant, and it is potentially anti-inflammatory. Interestingly, there is also evidence to back up sorghum syrup's folkloric use to treat anemia, which is good for me because I've battled with low iron off and on in my life.


How is sorghum syrup produced?

A difference between molasses and sorghum is that molasses is an industrial byproduct of making refined sugar; if that whole process bothers you, you might prefer this uniquely American substitute that is purely boiled-down cane juice. To me, it's a shame that the complex, healthy sorghum syrup has been replaced by considerably less healthy, simple corn syrup; that's reason enough for me to support sorghum.

Today Sorghum bicolor it is grown in the cooler corn belt and warmer southern United States, both by farmers who own mills and by homesteaders seeking an independent lifestyle. Here's a list of certified makers of sorghum syrup. 10 gallons of cane juice make 1 gallon of syrup, but the process is certainly worth the effort. There's a great video about how sorghum syrup is made on the Whole Foods website.

What are you waiting for? Ask around; you might be able to find it in a farmer's market near you. If you're not local to it, you can even buy it at Whole Foods or on Amazon. Personally, I would love to attend the sorghum festival in Blairsville, GA in October. I can't get enough of this stuff.

Sorghum syrup drizzled over pumpkin muffins. Mmmmm.

What can you do with sorghum syrup?

Baking Substitute

If you've been worried like me about the future of honey, then sorghum is a great substitute. The viscous consistency of sorghum is best compared with molasses, but the lighter color and taste are more like honey but earthier. You can substitute sorghum for any baking recipe that calls for honey, molasses, or especially corn syrup; keep in mind that sorghum is sweeter than molasses, so you may want to back off other sugars in the recipe a bit.

Sweet & Savory Dishes

Try whipping sorghum with butter, using about a 1:4 ratio of sorghum to butter. I made a compound sorghum butter with citrus salt yesterday, and it was delicious on biscuits this morning. Drizzle it into Brunswick stew or spaghetti sauce (that's my mom's trick with molasses). Bake your cornbread with it. Make candy! Here's a 160-year-old recipe for sorghum syrup candy in a book about renewing America's traditions.

Sorghum syrup is also delectable poured on any of these breakfasts I posted last week:
Sorghum syrup & whipped butter over a biscuit

Cocktails

I looked into using sorghum in a cocktail, as I'm wont to do. Well, it turns out there's a rare spirit made from sorghum in the Carolinas. In the absence of this elusive moonshine, you could also seek out Sorghrum, a rum made in Indiana from sorghum (not legally allowed be called rum, but whatevs), and Sorghum Whiskey made in Madison, Wisconsin. Or try the delectable-sounding honey drip, which is 1:1:3 sorghum syrup, amaretto, and bourbon. You could also substitute sorghum syrup for simple syrup in any drink.

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~POSTSCRIPT~

Y'all, are you still reading? There's one last thing I want to share, and that's a new favorite TV documentary series. It's A Chef's Life on PBS; you can watch past episodes online. Creator Vivian Howard is documenting her experience as a chef in Eastern North Carolina. She puts modern twists on southern classics--always with local, seasonal ingredients--and highlights the work of local farmers. Best of all, she is attempting to preserve the local food culture, and I give that goal a big AMEN. I'm mentioning her show today because last night I watched an episode in which she used sorghum syrup in her candied yams (note: the recipe calls for molasses, but she used sorghum on the show). It was a total coincidence that I saw it when I did. I love when that happens.

Let me know if you try any recipes with sorghum. I'd love to know what you think!

Author's note: This post is part of The Homestead Barn Hop and Real Food Wednesday.

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