It may be that sorghum is one of the most well known and widely cultivated of all crops around the world. While not occupying as high a place as wheat for example, sorghum is certainly one of the most important and versatile types of grain in existence today.
What is Sorghum?
Essentially, sorghum is a genus of grass with many species and subspecies, and there are various types, including grain sorghum, grass sorghum (for pasture and hay), sweet sorghum (for syrup), and broomcorn. Sorghum is part of the subfamily Panicoideae and part of the tribe of grasses that include sugar cane and big bluestem. One of the most important species of this family is sorghum bicolor (sorghum vulgare) which is used for food and grain (including syrup or molasses), fodder, alcohol, ethanol, and many other uses as well.
The color of sorghum kernels vary from white and gold to red, purple and brown; white, red, and brown being the most common. Because of its hardy nature, sorghum is actually one of the cheapest grains to grow with a very low cost per acre. For many growers of sorghum, they simply plant the crop, then harvest it in the fall with very little tending or maintenance.
Sorghum is found in most tropical and sub-tropical regions on all continents, besides Antarctica. However, not all species of sorghum are desired. Johnson grass, which is a species of sorghum is considered “invasive” by the US Department of Agriculture. Certain species of sorghum produce lethal levels of nitrates, hydrogen cyanide and hordenine which generally occur if the plant is under stress from heat or drought conditions.
What are the Uses of Sorghum?
Sorghum actually has several uses and is one of the most versatile of crops. Since there are varieties of sorghum that are heat resistant and tolerant of drought conditions, it has become a staple crop for those living in very harsh conditions.
Food: In most areas where sorghum is grown, it is an important food crop. This is especially true in Central America, Africa and South Asia where it is used as a cereal grain. This is a highly versatile crop being included in several different types of foods.
Forage or Fodder: Often used as a fodder plant, sorghum is either harvested or used as part of the pasture for silage. Since the plant can grow under many different conditions, it is often left to grow wild in pastures where farm animals can feast on the crop.
Alcoholic Beverages: As with other cereal grain crops, sorghum is also used in conjunction with the creation of alcoholic beverages. Sorghum beer, wine, and spirits are produced all the world over, with a bulk of the US grain going to mainland China to supply the large Asian spirit and wine production.
Ethanol: Because sorghum is a stable, plentiful crop, it is one that is often used in creating biofuels such as ethanol. Because the crop grows fairly quickly and is cheap, sorghum makes for an effective ethanol product, although there are issues with transportation. However, given that it is cheaper to plant, grow and cultivate an acre of sorghum than it is to merely buy the seeds for corn, sorghum is being used more and more as a biofuel.
There is little doubt about the versatility of this crop, being one of the heartiest of the cereal grains. Sorghum will continue to be used in a variety of means to meet the needs of people around the world.