I remember being in Kansas one time and seeing fields growing with a plant I'd never seen before. Now, of course, I grew up in a large city in the Eastern United States. When I asked someone what it was, they looked at me like I was a prize idiot. I eventually found out that the plant was "milo" or grain sorghum.

Later, during a trip to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, what did I see in a field along the highway but the same plant!

Grain sorghum is the fifth most important cereal crop in the world. It originated in Africa and has a different name in every place it is grown:

In the United States, Milo is the fourth largest (legal) crop. It is used primarily for cattle and hog feed.

Although the amount of milo planted will change with crop prices and other circumstances, a recent peak was 1996, where U.S. farmers harvested 803,000,000 bushels of milo, worth about $2 billion dollars.

Gaoliang is grown on the North China Plain and in Manchuria. Chinese farmers harvested 6.1 million metric tons of gaoliang in 1993. This was used for for animal feed and liquor. Gaoliang stems are used for paper and roofing material.

It is grown in areas where more profitable crops (such as corn or rice) cannot be grown. Since Milo usually brings higher prices than wheat in the United States, you will find milo in moderately dry areas, such as the Great Plains, or areas where the soil will not reliably support corn production, such as the Delmarva Peninsula. Remember that farmers may try different things in different places.

Grain Sorghum is an odd-looking plant. At first it looks like a stunted corn plant, or even a tobacco plant (although you have to be driving by pretty fast to mistake it for tobacco). In midsummer, a stalk bearing tassels and eventually seeds rises out of the leaves. This stalk grows to 6-8 feet for milo and about 12 feet for gaoliang.

"Sorghum" is also used to mean the thick, brown, very sticky syrup you can get from the sorghum plants. It is similar to molasses, but slightly thinner and with a grassier taste. My parents were in Payson, AZ on business once, and for some unknown reason they bought me a jar from a local apiary:

"We got everyone presents! Here, son4, here's some honey sticks. For you, son3, a piece of honeycomb. Daughter1, raspberry honey sticks. Son2...what did we get for you? Oh yeah, here are some wasabi chickpeas. And for you, Jeeves...here's a jar of sorghum."

At that time, I was starting to get sick of artificial foods (sweeteners in particular), and I had already been experimenting with using honey instead of white sugar when cooking. I found the taste of the sorghum syrup to be a bit like brown sugar, but with vegetable overtones. It doesn't seem as sweet, either. So I tried a couple of things. Here is what I found out:

First of all, you can make interesting coffee by adding sorghum instead of sugar. It tastes good, but it colors the coffee an olive-green color that is somewhat unattractive. Secondly, I can decisively say that substituting sorghum for brown sugar (same amount) in the typical recipe for chocolate chip cookies makes for a much softer, much tastier cookie. You may not agree if you rate tastiness by sweetness, but I certainly didn't miss the granularity.

As for using sorghum on waffles or pancakes, it's too raw for that, although dipping cornbread in it might be worth trying, as well as putting blobs of it in the freezer. This is assuming you can find sorghum for sale at all.

Sor"ghum (?), n. [NL., probably of Chinese origin.] Bot. (a)

A genus of grasses, properly limited to two species, Sorghum Halepense, the Arabian millet, or Johnson grass (see Johnson grass), and S. vulgare, the Indian millet (see Indian millet, under Indian).

(b)

A variety of Sorghum vulgare, grown for its saccharine juice; the Chinese sugar cane.

 

© Webster 1913.

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