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Sorghum: The next big gluten-free grain?

By Kacey Culliney , 16-Apr-2013
Last updated on 16-Apr-2013 at 12:21 GMT2013-04-16T12:21:40Z

In developed Western countries, sorghum is more familiar as an animal feed grain
In developed Western countries, sorghum is more familiar as an animal feed grain

Leading scientists have hailed sorghum as a highly nutritious and cost-effective gluten-free grain, but said industry use remains nascent.

A recently published study in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry concluded that sorghum is celiac-safe, on the basis of biochemical and genetic evidence.

The Italian researchers, led by Paola Pontieri, worked on a series of studies into the grain and continue to work on projects to analyze its use in baked goods, cereals and snacks.

Speaking to BakeryandSnacks.com, Pontieri said sorghum has great potential to produce high quality gluten-free products.

“Sorghum can be added into most recipes at levels of 40% with little to no change in product quality,” she said.

Unlike corn, the grain has little or no background flavor and does not transmit odor or color, Pontieri said.

Sorghum has a low glycemic index, good level of fiber and can be low in fat if the grain has been de-germed, she added.

Associate professor at Texas A&M University (TAMU) Dr Nancy D. Turner added that the ingredient also has antioxidant properties.

“Sorghum has a great mix of macronutrients and those varieties that contain elevated levels of biologically active compounds provide an opportunity to increase the intake of molecules that may serve as antioxidants,” Turner said.

‘In general, it isn’t highly used’

Traditionally sorghum has been used for animal feed, particularly in developed Western countries. However, food-grade sorghum is cultivated across the globe.

“In general, it isn’t highly used,” Turner said. “However, its use is increasing, especially in niche markets such as the gluten-free realm.”

The professor said the grain is only just starting to be recognized. Much like quinoa - unknown in Europe and North America a few years ago – sorghum will begin to find its way into mainstream once people learn about its beneficial attributes, she said.

“In both the US and Argentina, and also recently in the Campania region of Italy, there is a great deal of interest in sorghum not just from the gluten-free industry, but by the general food and snack makers,” Pontieri said.

She said her research team’s aim is to promote the cultivation of food-grade sorghum and flour production in the Campania region of Italy.

‘Strong’ opportunities

Turner said the level of opportunity for industry use of sorghum as a gluten-free ingredient is strong.

“As a gluten-free grain, it is possible to incorporate sorghum flours or brans into foods, and it can also serve as a popped snack,” Turner said.

“It seems to be easiest to incorporate into baked goods, cereals and snacks. TAMU has aggressively worked on different formulations for sorghum derived breads and we have several recipes that work quite well.”

Pontieri added that it should also appeal to bakery and snack manufacturers, given that it is cheaper than other gluten-free grains.

“The cost is important. When compared to other gluten-free grains, sorghum is generally cheaper. An important reason for this is that sorghum is a well understood crop and has been grown on a large scale for many years. There is also a ready market for the grain in most areas and this helps when large users want to purchase the grain,” she said.

Pontieri said that further research into the extrusion process with sorghum would be of interest to industry. “Sorghum works very well in this process and there are almost limitless food and snack uses when we talk about extrusion.”

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