Sorghum has been a staple food in many parts of Mzansi for years. This cereal grain, well known as an option for traditional African porridge or traditional beer (umqombothi), is now being explored as a nutritious and versatile ingredient and showing up in all sorts of unexpected places as a tasty and healthy option.
Limpopo-based dietitian Kulani Mtileni says sorghum is the fifth most important cereal crop in the world after wheat, rice, corn, and barley. More than 35% of sorghum is grown directly for human consumption due to its nutritional value.
“For centuries, sorghum has been a versatile cereal grain used for human consumption as well as livestock feed, alcoholic beverages, and biofuel production, and it is very commonly used in alcoholic beverages,” Mtileni says.
Grow it yourself
For Thebe Mosidi from North West, who has been a sorghum farmer for over three years, farming with sorghum is not complicated because it’s able to adapt to many soil types.
“Sorghum generates good input and output when it reaches efficiency. It’s not complicated; it just needs less direct sunlight and grows best on its own when fertilised. A good supply of water is also very important,” he says.
Blessed with resilience
Gangalthele Lulutho, a farmer and a qualified agronomist from the Eastern Cape, emphasises that sorghum is an important crop because of its malting content and tolerance to drought.
He adds that growing sorghum has many advantages, which include but are not limited to:
- Being able to adapt to wide ranges of soil types where soil fertility is reasonable.
- It can still produce a good yield in heavy soils.
- It is approximately 10% cheaper than maize in normal growing seasons.
“Planting sorghum should commence when temperatures are at least 15 degrees and soil moisture is high enough for germination and should be done during frost-free periods. In the eastern highlands, planting should be done early (October), and in the western areas, planting should be done approximately in mid-November, depending on the climate conditions. A cool climate during planting and later during flowering should be avoided,” Lulutho explains.
Packed with goodness
Mtileni shares that sorghum is non-GMO (genetically modified), gluten-free, and an alternative for those who deal with gluten intolerance or celiac disease.
It is very rich in vitamins and minerals: magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc. He says it is also an excellent source of fibre, antioxidants, and protein, and it is also easy to replace rice with whole sorghum in most recipes.
“Fibre also works as prebiotic fodder for gut bacteria, which helps in maintaining a healthy digestive tract. Fibre has also been linked to lower cholesterol levels and protecting the body from heart disease,” he says.
“Sorghum nutrition facts: 100 grams of sorghum contain the following: calories: 329 protein: 10.6 grams fat: 3.46 grams carbohydrates: 72.1 grams fibre: 6.7 grams.
“It is also rich in phytochemicals that have been reported to have glucose-lowering or hypoglycemic properties. Sorghum also has a low glycemic index, so it may reduce the risk of cancer and bone health and may help in weight management,” he adds.
Take note if you have allergies
Mtileni cautions that the downside of sorghum comes from the unfortunate fact that it is a form of grass and, therefore, can produce an allergic reaction in some people.
“The biggest health risk of sorghum is tied to its potential as an allergen. Allergies associated with grasses and grass pollen are extremely common, and unfortunately, sorghum is a grass and is known to produce an allergic reaction in some people. However, its benefits still stand tall!”
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