Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor L. Moench) is considered to be one of the four most important cereal grains used for human consumption. While sorghum is considered to be native to tropical Africa and continues to be a leading cereal grain the most areas of the continent, it came to the United States from France. It was common in our grocery markets from the 1850s when first introduced through World War I. But since that time, it has disappeared from general stores as a food staple and major flour item.
Sorghum comes in a variety of types, and its uses range from broom straw to syrup. Its wide usage explains why it is so universally grown. Depending on the type of sorghum, the pith may be juicy or dry. The leaves resemble corn leaves and are about 2 inches wide and 2 1/2 feet long. The color of the grain may be white, yellow, red, or brown. [Certified food grade sorghum varieties are white.]
Sorghum is higher in protein and lower in fat than corn. The mineral composition differs only slightly from corn, and the vitamin content in grain sorghum is similar to white corn.
Sweet Sorghum. It may be known by the common name of sorgos and has sweet, juicy stems and may grow 6 to 14 feet tall. The seeds of sorgos are small and bitter. This type of sorghum grows a heavier stock and is cultivated for the sweet juice found in the stalk, which is boiled down into sorghum syrup. Silage and animal feed can be made from the leaves and stalks of sweet sorghum.
Grain Sorghums. These include what we commonly know as kafir, kafir corn, durra, milo, maize, Egyptian corn, African millet, Black Indian millet and pearl millet. In some market areas and in selected health food stores, distributors often represent a confusion between the sorghums referred to as millets and other related millets.
Grain sorghum can grow 15 feet high. However, most sorghums we know in the U.S. grow only 2 to 3 feet high, permitting harvesting with standard grain harvesters. With nearly 95 percent of the nutritive value of corn, the seeds of grain sorghum are nutritionally valuable for all classes of livestock and poultry. Grain sorghums are excellent for forage. Farmers often feed the grain to livestock or make the entire plant into silage.
Grass Sorghums. These include sudan grass and tunis grass and are used for pasture and forage. They are annuals and grow quickly. They are generally used for summer pasture. Johnson grass, a perennial grass sorghum, is considered a pest when out of control, but makes an excellent hay and cattle feed.
Broom Corn Sorghum. This variety has branches of the panicle of the plant which are elongated and tough when mature. Thus, its major use is being adapted to the manufacture of whisk brooms. In our markets in Nebraska, we often find seeds still in the broom straws which can be planted and grown as immature plants in this climate.