Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Sorghum Makes a Comeback

It's not your grandfather's syrup anymore. Once a staple on breakfast tables more than a half-century ago, sorghum fell out of popularity when it became too expensive and labor-intensive to produce. Today, however, it is making a resurgence due to its health benefits and value as a natural sweetener.

"For our grandparents, especially in the South, sorghum was used every day. But then sorghum skipped a generation," says Matt Jamie, president of Bourbon Barrel Foods. "When I talk about sorghum to people they invariably say, 'my grandparents used that on everything, and I haven't had it in years.' It's making a comeback though, and many chefs and home cooks are enamored with its distinctive taste and healthful properties. Plus, sweet sorghum is rich with anti-oxidants."

Bourbon Barrel Foods has developed a new line of sorghums to introduce the product to a new generation. In addition to the classic Sweet Sorghum, the line includes two specialty flavors, Blueberry and Bourbon Vanilla. Sorghum is supplied to Bourbon Barrel Foods by local Kentucky farmers.

"The product is officially called sweet sorghum, but over the years there's been some confusion as to what sorghum really is. It is often mistaken for molasses which, if you ever refer to it as such to a sorghum farmer, you're likely to offend them," says Jamie. "Sorghum is made from the sorghum cane while molasses is made from the sugar cane."

Jamie says there are endless uses for sorghum, and it tastes great on everything from biscuits to pancakes to ice cream. It can be used as a stir-fry base, in baked beans, barbecue sauce and in homemade breads and cookies. It can be substituted in any recipe calling for molasses, honey or maple syrup.

In addition to its great taste, Jamie extols sorghum's numerous health benefits. It is rich with anti-oxidants, which are believed to lower the risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and some neurological diseases. Sorghum also includes such nutrients as iron, calcium and potassium.

"Many manufacturers are getting away from using very highly processed high-fructose corn syrups and are using alternative sweeteners," he says. "I like to use sorghum because, to me, sorghum is Kentucky."

A United States patent officer introduced sweet sorghum to America in 1853, and it became very popular as a sweetener when cane sugar was too expensive. Kentucky once produced 25 million gallons of sorghum annually. After World War II, however, sorghum production fell to just 5 million gallons per year. "Sorghum is very labor intensive, and the workers just weren't there anymore," says Jamie. "It became too difficult to produce."

Today, sorghum production has picked back up with the growing interest in natural foods and the encouragement from the state of Kentucky for tobacco farmers to grow other crops. About 90 percent of sorghum today is produced in three states, with Kentucky and Tennessee leading in production.

Not only does Bourbon Barrel Foods produce a line of gourmet-flavored sorghums, but the ingredient is also used in many of its other products.

"My favorite Kentucky product is sorghum, and I use it as often as I can in my other products, including my Bourbon Barrel Aged Worcestershire Sauce," says Jamie. "It's unfamiliar to many people today, but part of the fun of working with sorghum is educating the consumers. The product has a rich Kentucky history and great potential to reach a broader market."

Bourbon Barrel Foods is a maker of high-quality food products that reflect the rich heritage of Kentucky's Bourbon Country. Products include Bourbon Barrel Aged Worcestershire Sauce, Bourbon Barrel Aged Soy Sauce, and Bourbon Smoked Sea Salt, Pepper and Paprika, as well as a line of gourmet Sweet Sorghums. The products are available for gourmet retail outlets and food service. For additional information and recipes, visit www.bourbonbarrelfoods.com.


valereee said...

There's another localish source for sorghum, Hidden Valley Sorghum Mill. They're in Butler OH, which is up north of Columbus, but their product is available at Pipkins in Blue Ash.

Gene said...

I have always purchased my sorghum from Muddy River in Tenn. Very reasonably priced and they ship in plastic containers which don't break.

Gene Maxwell