- The fifth most important cereal grain in the world, sorghum has largely been used as animal feed in the US and UK until now, but the fact it doesn't contain gluten and is high in nutritional value for humans means it is becoming a viable alternative to other grains
- The crop is drought tolerant and requires little water to grow
- As a human foodstuff it is a substitute for rice and wheat flour (when ground) and is an alternative to popcorn
Gluten-free gurus have had their eye on this super-grain as a viable alternative to wheat for some time now, but for most of us the cereal has remained largely in the shadows.
A versatile grain, sorghum has been used for centuries in African cooking: milled it's cooked up as porridge; the flour is used to make bread and it is fermented for alcoholic drinks (as Ikoyi head chef Jeremy Chan points out, in Africa, it's brewed for Guinness). But aside from its presence on the shelves of a few health food shops, we are yet to let sorghum's culinary capabilities shine in the UK.
However, with its clear gluten-free credentials and the fact that the wholegrain has nutritional benefits – it is said to be high in antioxidants and has a lower glycemic index than other cereals – it is primed and ready to take its share of the spotlight.
The presence of more African-influenced restaurants – like Ikoyi – on London's restaurant scene and our continuing obsession with healthier foods will see the grain gaining ground. Both Marks & Spencer and Waitrose have already dabbled with it, adding the wholegrain to breakfast and salad bowls.
But it is sorghum's versatility that makes it a true superhero in the kitchen. It is tough enough to perform as a gluten-free pasta flour, nutritious enough to give quinoa a run for its money and has just enough flavour to impart a subtle nuttiness to dishes.
Jeremy Chan, head chef Ikoyi, London: “Sorghum goes into the cream that we serve with our cassava crisp and caviar on our snacks menu. The cream is made with popped sorghum, yoghurt, roasted cashews , honey and lemon juice. We roast the sorghum in a dry pan until it pops, then we add it to the other ingredients before passing it all through a sieve. It comes out like the texture of Chantilly cream. Sorghum in this dish has a similar flavour to popped corn, but slightly nuttier. The cassava, served on the plate with dried cep mushrooms and the caviar have a saline nature and a sense of umami which are offset by the cream. The caviar just melts in the mouth and the cassava is a humble ingredient cooked to a crisp, which you then dip into this refreshing cream. It just works really well together.”
Silvio Vangelisti, one of the founders of Leggero restaurant in London's Soho: “We decided to add sorghum flour to our pasta and bread mixes because in addition of being a gluten-free cereal, (a primary thing for our business as we are 100% GF), it adds to the mix of the other flours like rice and potato, bringing with it a delicate scent, flavour and colour that improves the taste and texture. Being very delicate, it is not intrusive and therefore doesn't compromise the complexity of the flavours of the other dish ingredients, like our pink sorghum large ravioli stuffed with gorgonzola cheese and beetroot topped with pistachio and rocket pesto - it enhances them, also making everything very healthy and nutritious. Although it is a widely used flour for other uses, it is still little known by most people and because of his goodness, our recipes with sorghum are really popular among our customers.”
Alex Mackay, chef, cookery teacher and Merchant Gourmet ambassador: “I love experimenting with grain-based risottos. To complement sorghum’s nutty flavour profile I’d do something light but comforting like squash and chestnut. You can actually use the chestnuts to add creaminess to the risotto meaning if you want you can go dairy-free. Roast the squash for about an hour then boil the chestnuts for 10-15 minutes, allow to cool, de-shell and chop up. Take half of the chestnuts, blend with half the squash (the rest can be slung into the risotto as they are), some stock and seasoning to create a creamy mixture. When the sorghum is close to being cooked, add the mixture. The sorghum won’t go super soft like rice will but rather retains a slightly chewy texture – it shouldn’t have bite to it though."