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Is Sorghum the New Quinoa?

As more Americans are straying from blood-sugar-spiking, refined white flour, we're collectively embracing gluten-free, fiber- and nutrient-rich whole grain alternatives from ancient grains, regardless of celiac status.

While your parents may have only heard of these grains in Bible passages—which is exactly how Food For Life got the recipe for Ezekiel 4:9 sprouted bread—we've become accustomed to seeing grains like quinoa, amaranth, millet, teff, and buckwheat in our granola bars, cereals, breads, chips, and even cookies. So why all the hype? Modern grains, like wheat, corn, and rice, have been selectively bred over millennia to look and taste much different from their distant ancestors—and also to insert pesticide-resistant genes. On the other hand, "ancient" grains have changed little from antiquity. One of these nutritious grains has managed to quietly fly under the radar: sorghum.

Up until now, sorghum has primarily been used in the U.S. in three applications: The grain is used to feed livestock, to make ethanol fuel, and to provide sweet syrup similar to molasses. Its reputation as animal feed (or its requisite long-cooking time; more on that later) may have prevented it from being embraced as food in America. But its worldwide popularity, comprehensive nutritional profile, and gluten-free status is enough proof that this grain should be added to your diet.

Sorghum is a cereal grass that was first collected 8,000 years ago in Southern Egypt. From there it moved throughout Africa, India, and finally, to America in the 1800s. It has a nutritional profile very similar to quinoa's, including being high in protein with over 5 grams per ¼ cup dry; but where it differs is that it's also high in fiber: 3.2 grams of fiber per ¼ cup compared to 0 for quinoa. Sorghum also boasts a plethora of micronutrients, from iron and zinc—important nutrients for those following plant-based diets—to 8 percent of your recommended daily intake of good-cholesterol-boosting, B-vitamin niacin.

Whole grain sorghum looks similar to unpopped corn kernels when dry (in fact, they can even be popped like popcorn!) and Israeli pearl couscous when cooked. However, that cooking process requires patience; pearled sorghum takes about 35 minutes to cook and whole grain sorghum takes about an hour. This long cooking time does have an upside—sorghum is a great addition to slow-cooker recipes. And if you're on a gluten-free diet, or just want to give your pancakes, breads, or cookies a boost of fiber, sorghum flour is an essential addition to your pantry.

Buy it: Bob's Red Mill Whole Grain Sorghum, $8.19

Olivia Tarantino
Olivia Tarantino is the Managing Editor of Eat This, Not That!, specializing in nutrition, health, and food product coverage. Read more about Olivia