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Sorghum is celiac-safe: Study

By Kacey Culliney , 04-Apr-2013
Last updated on 04-Apr-2013 at 17:41 GMT

Food-grade sorghum confirmed safe for celiac sufferers - backed with genetic and biochemical evidence
Food-grade sorghum confirmed safe for celiac sufferers - backed with genetic and biochemical evidence

The cereal grain sorghum is a safe food for consumers with celiac disease and therefore ideal for gluten-free formulations, new research finds.

The study published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found strong biochemical and genetic evidence that the grain lacks the proteins toxic to people with celiac disease.

“These analyses provide molecular evidence for the absence of toxic gliadin-like peptides in sorghum, confirming that sorghum can be definitively considered safe for consumption by people with celiac disease,” the Italian researchers wrote.

Sorghum – traditionally used as animal feed in developed nations – has emerged as an alternative grain for people with celiac disease and comes highly recommended given its nutrient value, they said. 

The researchers claim this is the first time biochemical and genetic analyses has been done on the grain, even though it is already considered celiac-safe after immunochemical, in vivo and in vitro research. 

“The nutritional qualities of food-grade sorghum are excellent. Food-grade sorghums should be considered as an important option for all people, especially celiac patients.”

But… it must be food-grade sorghum

However, the researchers made clear that the analysis exclusively covered food-grade sorghum cultivars that do not contain condensed tannins like regular sorghum – which can reduce the digestibility of dietary proteins.

“The modern, food-grade sorghum cultivars described in this paper do not contain condensed tannins and were developed for use as ingredients in food products for human consumption.”

Nearly 40% of global sorghum production is used for human food consumption in Africa and India but elsewhere it is not widely consumed – instead used for animal feed. However, in recent years farmers in the US have begun producing sorghum hybrids for wheat-free foods for persons with celiac disease.

Nutritional, low cost gluten-free

The study said sorghum has a number of desirable attributes for use in gluten-free products. It is highly nutritional – characterized by high total lipid levels. It is also light in color with a bland, neutral taste and inexpensive.

“Moreover, new technologies aimed at enhancing the nutritional and functional values of sorghum proteins in industrial-scale processes have been developed,” they said.

The researchers called for further studies into food-grade sorghum to support the cultivation and consumption of these varieties in new environments like Mediterranean countries.

Study details

Sorghum plant cultivars were sowed during 2010 with varieties evaluated during the spring/summer period. The team then milled a 500g sample of dried grain to obtain fine flour for testing. Proteins were then extracted using a vortexing process.

Genome and biochemical analysis was conducted on the flour to assess protein profiles.

Source: Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry
2013, vol. 61 (10), pg 2565-2571 Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1021/jf304882k
"Sorghum, a Healthy and Gluten-free food for Celiac Patients As Demonstrated by Genome, Biochemical, and Immunochemical Analyses"
Authors: P.Pontieri et al.

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