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So Many Sorghum Facts!

June 21, 2010 Sorghum Month is still chugging along, and we certainly hope you’ve been enjoying the focus we’ve put on this sweet-tasting, nutritious whole grain.  My favorite part of this particular Grain of the Month celebration has been introducing so many people to this little-known grain.  Maybe different regions of the U.S. are more clued-in to the existence of sorghum, but by and large, when I’ve uttered the word “sorghum” in a sentence to folks in the Northeast I’ve received blank looks and the occasional “What kind of gum?” question.  Speaking personally, I’d only ever heard of sorghum in a literary setting; I had to read Mo Yan’s novel Red Sorghum and watch the film adaptation of the same title in a Novel Into Film class at Emerson College.  I can’t say that I’d recommend the novel for a light summer beach read, nor would I suggest the film for a family movie night, but hey, at least I knew what sorghum was!

Our Sorghum Month page has made me realize there’s much more to sorghum than my college experience taught me.  For instance, I had no idea that the U.S. was the largest sorghum producer in the world, or that most sorghum in the U.S. has been grown as feed for livestock.  It’s only the relatively recent need for healthier gluten-free options that’s really helped more people get to know sorghum on a first-name basis.

All this learnin’ made me curious – what else goes on with sorghum here in the states?  Thankfully, whole grains run in the family, and this great blog from Bob’s Red Mill sparked my interest.  Did you know that corn and sorghum look almost identical when growing in the field?  Yeah, me neither, but apparently they do.  If you don’t believe me, head on down to the Lucky Ladd Farms in Eagleville, Tennessee and explore their sorghum maze once it’s fully grown this fall.  Their “amazing maize-less maze” makes total sense from an agricultural perspective.  Compared to corn, sorghum needs much less water to grow and can be planted with much less room between each plant.  Sorghum also grows on a taller, thicker stalk, which means even the tallest, thinnest person with good eyesight can’t see from one part of a sorghum maze’s path to the other.  Apparently the Ladd Farm even lets people run around the maze at night – creepy!

If a maize-less maze isn’t really your style, maybe you ought to check out the Sorghum Festival in Blairsville, Georgia.  You read that right – an entire festival in Georgia centered on sorghum!  For two weekends in October, you can dive in and learn about all kinds of soghum facts, including live demonstrations. Sorghum cane used to be ground and squeezed to make sorghum syrup, which supposedly tastes like molasses.  Sorghum syrup and hot biscuits are a traditional breakfast in southern Appalachia, and the Blairsville Biskit’ Eatin’ contest during the sorghum festival is “a favorite.”  (I’d be more excited about the Rock Throwin’ and Pole Climbin’ contests myself.)  Don’t fret if you don’t live close to Blairsville, because similar sorghum festivals take place in various parts of Kentucky, Indiana, Alabama, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee – plenty of sorghum fest fun for all!

What if a road trip just isn’t in the cards this year?  As a last resort, you can always see if your local beer distributor carries New Grist, a beer made from sorghum and rice.  Brewed by Lakefront Brewery out of beer-savvy Milwaukee, Wisconsin, New Grist was one of the first gluten-free beers to hit the market back in 2006.  Here’s a neat bit of trivia - the brothers in charge of Lakefront Brewery actually changed the definition of beer under the government’s policy, which stated that the starting recipe for all beer had to be made of 25% malted barley.  Because barley contains gluten, beer was traditionally off-limits to anyone with a gluten sensitivity.  Thanks in part to the folks at Lakefront Brewery, that policy was changed and the “beer” category now contains brews like New Grist, which are total deviations from the norm.  Okay, interesting, but how does it taste?  For those who enjoy giving your taste buds something different from time to time, I highly recommend New Grist as an alternative to standard summer ales.  Nothing against all the more familiar saisons, but New Grist is smooth and refreshing without being too light and pairs perfectly with just about anything you can cook on a grill.  And yes, I know this first-hand!

Enjoy the rest of Sorghum Month!  (Kara)

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