sprinkle a handful of dry grain onto a bed of hot sand or a hot sheet of metal. The popped kernels are brushed off as they form. Most are consumed by school children as a snack. They may be balled with crude sugar (jaggery). They may also be pounded into a nutty-flavored flour, which is typically mixed with milk and sugar, buttermilk, salt, or chilies.

A world collection of sorghums is maintained at ICRISAT. Of 3,682 accessions tested, 36 have shown good popping qualities. Most originated in India. These could be the starting point for breeding popping sorghums on a scientific basis. Indeed, they could create a new and very tasty food that could quickly establish itself in most of the 30 or more nations that grow sorghum as a staple—not to mention in at least that many more nations that now look on sorghum as "barely fit for cattle."2

As with popcorn, the best popping types usually have small grains with a dense, "glassy" (corneous) endosperm that traps steam until the pressure builds to explosive levels.

VEGETABLE SORGHUMS

In certain countries, sorghum is eaten like sweet corn. The whole seedhead (panicle) is harvested while the grain is still soft (dough stage). It is roasted over open coals, and the soft, sweet seeds make a very pleasant food. These strains are found notably in Maharashtra, India. Like sweet corn, they have sugary endosperms containing 30 percent glycogen as well as grains that shrivel when dry. They are a treat for anyone.

This unique method turns sorghum into a vegetable crop—more like broccoli than like barley. It has so far received little or no serious study from scientists, but it could be a powerful way to capitalize on the plant's ability to produce food in sites where most crops fail. The types that perform this way should be collected, compared, and cultivated in trials. The traditional processes by which they are used should be analyzed, as should the nutritional value. Seedheads in the dough stage may have a better-than-expected food value.

VITAMIN-A SORGHUM

In some developing countries a lack of vitamin A in the daily diet blinds many children. However, certain sorghums with yellow grains

2  

Even popcorn was neglected until quite recently. Although it has long been a popular treat in the United States, only in the last 10 years—since microwave ovens made it convenient for the home and office—have modern breeding techniques been applied in force. Sales have since skyrocketed. The increasing popularity of microwave ovens could also boost the use of popping sorghums.



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