Sorghum: The Latest in Gluten-Free Grains

By Bridget 

Gluten-free product development is a constantly evolving science. Anyone with a gluten allergy can attest to the fact that not all gluten-free products are equivalent to their gluten-filled counterparts. Gluten-free baked goods are often wrought with issues from being too crumbly to having a funky aftertaste that’s so unappealing it’s not even worth eating.

As part of the effort to develop better and better gluten-free products, scientists at Kansas State University are conducting research specifically on the under utilized sorghum grain.

Sorghum is a grain that is used worldwide as a human food source, but has been used in the United States as livestock feed. The grain can be easily ground into a fine flour that, when combined with eggs and gums, can form gluten-free baked products. The grain also has slightly more protein and fat than corn, meaning the structure of products developed with sorghum is very different than those from corn, which is part of the reason scientists are looking into the advancement of sorghum research as a gluten-free flour alternative.

The researchers began “from scratch,” starting first with the development of a tortilla to gain a better understanding of the properties of the grain when mixed and cooked with other ingredients. The grain itself is highly affected by the milling process, meaning that the hardness of the grain, its protein, carbohydrate, and fiber content all need to be considered when processing the grain into a flour. The grain, itself, does not provide the same kind of structure that wheat forms, and therefore results in a batter rather than a dough. Because of this, other additives must be mixed into the flour in order to create a useable structure in the baked good products.

The researchers have also been interested in the glycemic index levels of sorghum products, finding that sorghum flour has a positive effect on the glycemic index, resulting in a lower blood glucose level when compared to other grains.

So far, baked products made with sorghum are still in the development phases. Researchers have developed Crunchums, which are flavored popped sorghum and are working on the generation of dough products such as soft pretzels, sweet rolls, and dinner rolls. A product called Mini Pops (check out yesterday’s blog post about it!) that uses sorghum to achieve the likeness of popcorn has also been developed The grain has also been widely used in gluten-free beers, as sorghum has similar fermentable sugars to barley.

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