Is sorghum syrup the next alternative sweetener?

A Hungarian company has been given EU approval to sell the product to manufacturers.

2 October 2018

While sorghum has been used in African cooking for centuries, the gluten-free grain hasn’t really made its mark in the UK apart from appearing as a popped snack and in breads. Some chefs in London have also experimented with the grain.

But a Hungarian company is bringing the potential of sorghum to manufacturers in a different form. It has developed a sorghum syrup that can be used as a liquid sweetener across food and beverage categories.

Just last month, Sorghum Zrt had its novel food application approved by the European Food Safety Authority, giving it the go ahead to sell.

The plant-based syrup, which has a caramel flavour, will be available to manufacturers from November under the name Sorgovit.

Sweet as honey

So how is the syrup made? The crop is processed in much the same way as sugar cane and is harvested between August and November. After cutting and pressing the sorghum stalks, the raw juice is collected and purified, then concentrated at low temperatures to preserve the nutritional value.

The company describes its finished product as a sweet, silky, goldish-brown and slightly transparent syrup that can be used as a substitute for sugar in desserts, baked goods, cooked meals and drinks.

It’s got health benefits as well. The pressed juice from the plant is rich in protein, calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium, according to Sorghum Zrt.

Sustainability is core to the grain’s appeal, as it is a drought-resistant crop. Building on that aspect, Sorghum Zrt’s factory is CO2 neutral and runs on renewable energy, with the fibre content of the sorghum plant used as fuel.

Sorghum can be grown in a variety of climates, compared to sugar cane, which fares well in tropical areas, and sugar beet, which flourishes in temperate zones.

“We believe that in countries like Hungary, where the climate is not warm enough for sugar cane and not sufficiently cold and rainy for sugar beet, sweet sorghum can be an excellent sugar source due to its stability and high yield security,” said Sorghum Zrt.

“Both sorghum syrups and the raw brown sugar made from sweet sorghum can be a healthier alternative sweetener considering valuable nutrient content of its nectar.”

However, Sorgovit is no low-sugar saviour. In fact, daily intake levels of sorghum syrup should not exceed the maximum levels for sugar recommended by the World Health Organisation. Instead, its appeal lies in its easily farmable nature, its novelty as a sweetener and its added nutritional benefits.

American alternative

Sorghum syrup is nothing new to the southern states of the US, where it is considered a staple. It has been used as a natural sweetener since the 19th century and is also known as sorghum molasses.

Demand has been running hot in the States as people search for alternative sweeteners, and even soy sauce producers have shown an interest. The syrup is already used in biscuits and cakes, to coat ham or baked sweet potatoes, and even as a waffle accompaniment.

Experts describe it as having a unique flavour – a combination of umami nuttiness and a slightly sour edge that cuts through the sweetness to deliver a complex taste.

Chefs in America have been jumping on the sorghum sweetener scene for years too, using it in inventive ways: as a Vietnamese-style sorghum caramel with fish sauce, lime and chilies to glaze pork belly; combined with black garlic to glaze carrots, or creating a vinaigrette to drizzle on salads.

Other dishes include taking the syrup to coat spicy fried walnuts, barbecued peanuts or pine nuts, creating a sorghum-based ice cream or even bringing the grain and syrup together into a quinoa and sorghum pudding.

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