Mexico uses most of its sorghum grain for animal feed, but it is increasingly relying on new, food-quality sorghums. These produce grains suitable for making tortillas, the round flat bread that is Latin America's staple food. In addition, sorghum is also being used to make breakfast cereals, snacks, starch, sugars, and other products that currently come from maize. It is even the basis for some (European-type) beers in Mexico, a country renowned for its brewing skills.

Although these developments demonstrate sorghum's capabilities and almost certainly portend a coming boom in production throughout much of the world, much remains to be done before this crop can truly fulfill its international potential. At present, it has several drawbacks, including the following:

  • Lack of status. In global terms, sorghum is being held back by the mistaken prejudice that it is a ''coarse" grain, "animal feed," and "food of the peasant classes."

  • Low food value. In its overall nutrient composition—about 12 percent protein, 3 percent fat, and 70 percent carbohydrate—sorghum grain hardly differs from maize or wheat. However, sorghum has two problems as far as food quality is concerned. One is tannins, which occur in the seed coats of brown sorghum grains. When eaten, tannins depress the body's ability to absorb and use nutritional ingredients such as proteins. Unless the brown seeds are carefully processed, some tannins remain, and this reduces their nutritional effectiveness.

    The other problem is protein quality, which affects all sorghums, both brown and white. A large proportion of the protein is prolamine, an alcohol-soluble protein that has low digestibility in humans.9

  • Difficulty in processing. Sorghum is harder to process into an edible form than wheat, rice, or maize.

Ultimately, none of these drawbacks is a serious barrier to sorghum's grander future, but each is a drag that—like a sea anchor in the tide of progress—is holding the crop from its destiny. Moreover, all of them can be overcome, as the following chapters demonstrate.

This plant's potential is so great that we have devoted the following four chapters to its various types. The next chapter highlights sorghum's promise for subsistence farmers—the millions in Africa and Asia (not to mention Latin America) to whom the plant means life itself. The subsequent chapter highlights commercial sorghums—the types that are increasingly grown by farmers who produce a surplus. The chapter that follows highlights specialty sorghums—unusually promising food

9  

The alcohol-soluble fraction makes up about 59 percent of the total protein in normal sorghum. The amount of this indigestible protein is lower in other cereals.



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