Grain check: Sorghum, India’s alternative to corn, is gaining ground

BySwetha Sivakumar
Jan 20, 2023 05:56 PM IST

As climate and rain patterns shift, drought-resistant sorghum could find itself moving up the ranks from its current position at No. 5 on the list of most-grown grains in the world.

Sorghum and maize are closely related grains, belonging to the sub-family Panicoideae. Sorghum was first domesticated around 2000 BCE, in the savannas of Central Africa (where it is still grown and consumed). It soon made its way to India and China.

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In India, sorghum is cultivated more than maize is, because of its drought-resistant properties. Sorghum is similar in composition to corn, except for its slightly higher protein content (9.5% vs 8%). There are, therefore, a lot of similarities in how the two grains are used.

Sorghum can be popped, just like corn. While it yields smaller kernels, it has a stronger, more delicious flavour, especially when tossed with spices.

Both sorghum and corn are used as feed for livestock. Reduced sugars can be extracted from both types of plants. With sorghum, the stalks of certain strains can be crushed and the extracted juice can be used to make a sorghum syrup.

The National Sugar Institute in Kanpur, has identified five special strains rich in sugar and plans to launch sorghum sugar products this year.

Corn can be used to make sugars (dextrose, maltose and dextrin) as well, but it takes an additional process of converting cornstarch into sugars using acid or enzymatic hydrolysis.

The sugars obtained from corn and sorghum can be fermented to create the eco-friendly fuel ethanol.

Given all these similarities, there has been a push to grow more sorghum in the US. It is likely, as climates and crop patterns change around the world, that sorghum could find itself moving up the ranks, from its current position at No. 5 on the list of most-grown grains in the world (the top four are corn, wheat, rice and barley — that last one because of beer).

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