There are several types of sorghum. Most are grown for the grains they produce, which are eaten by humans and fed to livestock. But one type, known as sweet sorghum, produces small, bitter grains. It has a thick, juicy stalk and is grown to be made into a sweet, delicious syrup that is served in many of the same dishes as honey or maple syrup typically would be.
Sweet sorghum, a native of Africa, was introduced to the United States by a patent officer in 1853 as an attempt to reduce the country’s dependence on imported sugar cane. It quickly grew in popularity due to its heat and drought resistant qualities. By the 1880s, production reached a peak of 24 million gallons. Production of sorghum syrup began to decline shortly thereafter due to competition from other types of sweeteners. Manufacture of this substance reached an all-time low in 1975, with less than 400 thousand gallons produced annually. Farmers have recently rediscovered sorghum’s benefits and more is grown every year.
Sweet sorghum is grown mostly in the southeastern states. It grows well in the South’s often nutrient-poor soil and hot, unpredictable climate. Sorghum syrup production has long been a part of Appalachian culture, and it was a staple food for many families 150 years ago. Kentucky and Tennessee are the top producers of sorghum syrup in the United States.
The sweet sorghum plant looks similar to corn, but it has no tassels or ears. It grows 6 to 12 feet tall, and the stalk is approximately 2 inches in diameter. Sorghum syrup is often called sorghum molasses although it is not a true type of molasses. It is a clear, dark, sweet, mild-tasting, thick syrup.
Cultivation and Production
Sweet sorghum will yield tow to three hundred gallons of sorghum per acre cultivated. The stalks are harvested 90 to 120 days after planting. The leaves and seed heads are removed and used as livestock feed. The stalks are run through a mill, which crushes them and extracts the juice. The juice is then filtered and boiled down to a thick liquid, skimmed and poured into jars.
Sorghum syrup is a natural sweetener that is a good source of iron, calcium and potassium. It is delicious served over ice cream or in baked beans. Use sorghum to replace corn syrup, molasses, honey, or maple syrup in recipes. Eat sorghum syrup the traditional way by pouring it over buttered biscuits.