Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sweet Sorghum: our uniquely local sweetener

Sorghum, a sweet syrup that can be used in place of molasses in recipes and in place of maple syrup as a table sweetener, is made from the sorghum cane, and it's arguably our most uniquely regional sweetener. Its flavor is unique, spicy and tangy and flavorful and not so overpoweringly sweet as honey or maple syrup and without the slight bitterness of molasses.

Sorghum cane is well-suited to growing in the lower Midwest (Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri are historically the major producers) and in Appalachia, and today it is produced in only a few states. It looks a bit like very tall corn with a seed heads instead of ears.



Sorghum cane is harvested by cutting it off at ground level and stripping it of leaves and seed heads, leaving a cane 5 to 11 feet long. At this point it looks a little like bamboo.













The cane is then milled, crushing it to release the juices.

















The juices are collected...











...and simmered to thicken them, similar to the process of making maple syrup from sugar maple sap.





I don't know of any Cincinnati producers of sorghum, but Hidden Valley Sorghum Mill in Butler OH (north of Columbus) and Bourbon Barrel Foods in Louisville are fairly local. Barry Farm produces it up in Cridersville, near Wapakoneta. Hidden Valley's Sorghum can be found at Pipkins.

9 comments:

CityKin said...

Cool post. I have never tasted the stuff, but plan on trying it now.

Veggie Option said...

Thanks for posting about sorghum! Everytime I visit my relatives in East Tennessee I stock up.

When I was a kid my grandparents grew a few acres of sorghum and although it wasn't much fun to harvest (which was done by hand) it was fascinating to watch it being made. You had to be vigilant about skimming the surface or the result would taste bitter.

It was a much more enjoyable harvest than tobacco!

valereee said...

Veggie Option, and I believe a lot of tobacco farmers have switched to sorghum as a transitional crop.

J said...

Way late post, but... I've heard that sorghum is also an excellent fuel crop, much better for the environment and much more effecient than corn.

valereee said...

J, that's very interesting. Of course, I'm looking askance at all the biofuels these days...

goodfountain said...

Is this the same sorghum that sorghum flour is made from? I use a lot of sorghum flour in my baking because it's gluten free.

valereee said...

goodfountain, I assume it's made from a different part of the same plant or possibly that syrup and flour are made from specialized varieties of the same plant.

The Toledo Spirits Company said...

Sorghum flour is made from the grain which grows at the top of the plant, whereas the sweet syrup (sorghum molasses) is made from the stalk, like a sugar cane molasses would be. Too confuse things further, white sorghum syrup is made by converting the starches in the grain to sugars (there are many enzymatic ways of accomplishing this) - this syrup is often used as a gluten free sweetener or in brewing gluten free beer.

Lastly, and even more confusing, we (along with Appeltreow Distillery and Old Sugar Distillery) make a whiskey from the sweet syrup - its more akin to rum than whiskey in many ways, but since sorghum is considered a grain crop, and rum can only be made from sugar cane, it is classified as a whiskey

Toledo Spirits Company

Valerie Taylor said...

Toledo Spirits, thanks so much for the additional info!