Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

Sorghum: A Sweetener with Actual Value!

February 15th, 2012 · 60 Comments · Food for Thought

I saw a list recently of sweeteners humans consumed 100 years ago. It was about five items long, and sorghum was one of them. (Ha! If there were still only 5 I could have been finished with this crazy Sweet, Sweet Summer series by now!)

The article also mentioned that folks ingested about 2 pounds of sugar per year, total, and we’re up to well over 150 per person in modern times.  Seriously, we question why our waistlines are expanding???

My First Impressions

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To be honest, although I’d seen sorghum often in real food recipes, I never tasted it until I requested a sample for this series.

I was surprised to hear that it is used on pancakes as well as in baking, so of course I tried that straightaway. Sorghum is sweet,  of course, but I’d say not quite as sweet as honey or maple syrup, and there’s a bit of a hearty taste like molasses, although not quite as strong as molasses.

It’s fine on pancakes…but nothing compares to maple syrup when it comes to breakfast!

How is Sorghum Syrup Processed?

Sorghum syrup comes from a plant usually called “sweet sorghum,” a plant popularly grown in climates too hot and dry for corn. It originated in Africa before traveling to Asia, Europe, and North America. Other varieties of sorghum are grown for grain or livestock use, but sweet sorghum has a juicier stalk.

Sorghum syrup is made by cooking the juice from the stalk of the plant, evaporating the water and concentrating the sweetness. Sorghum syrup retains all minerals, and it should never be cut with anything or need any chemicals to product. You can see a video of the process from Muddy Pond Sorghum Mill in Tennessee, the folks kind enough to send me a bottle, right HERE.

In America, sorghum became an important crop for hot southern states in the early 1900s, and sorghum as a sweetener became rather popular when sugar was scarce in the 30s and 40s. However, once cane and beet sugar, and then corn sweeteners like corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, were established as cheap (subsidized!) sources of sweet, a nail was put in the coffin of sorghum syrup. It is left now to small family farms to supply the niche of healthy-minded folks with sorghum syrup.

The positive part of all that is that you can get to know your sorghum farmer, and quite often you’ll find organic or almost organically grown sorghum.

Health Benefits of Sorghum Syrup

Unlike sugar, which is 100% empty calories devoid of nutrition, you can actually expect some nutritive value from a purely natural sweetener like sorghum. Before multivitamins, doctors sometimes prescribed sorghum syrup to help folks get the necessary iron, calcium, and potassium.

Check out the nutritional profile for just a Tablespoon of sorghum syrup:

  • 30 mg calcium (3% DV)
  • 300 mg protein
  • .76 mg iron (almost as high as blackstrap molasses; 4% DV)
  • 20 mg magnesium (5% DV)
  • 11 mg phosphorus
  • 200 mg potassium (almost 6% DV)
  • .80 mg zinc (5% DV)
  • .03 mg riboflavin (a B vitamin; almost 2% DV)

Some of those percentages seem low, for sure, but remember that’s in just a Tablespoon of a sweetener, where if you choose honey or table sugar,  you get practically nothing. I’m impressed!

Possible Disadvantages of Sorghum

Sorghum syrup is still a sweetener, and it actually has more calories per Tablespoon than molasses, maple syrup, or white sugar and about equal to honey. If you’re diabetic or need to avoid blood sugar spikes, sorghum is not a safe alternative sweetener.

How to Use Sorghum Syrup

It sure sounds like sorghum can be used successfully in any recipe calling for a liquid sweetener. A huge benefit of sorghum is that it might cost less for you than honey or maple syrup. It depends on where you live – I can get local raw honey for about $16-17 a half gallon and maple syrup for $40 a gallon (and that’s CHEAP compared to buying online, because we have local maple syrup here in Michigan).

Muddy Pond has 2 half gallons sorghum syrup for $29.00…so I guess even for me, it’s the least expensive natural liquid sweetener! (Note: prices vary widely – this place has a quart for $22, so a gallon would be $88!) UPDATE: This commenter has so many great ideas for how to use sorghum and also points out that Sandhill has bulk discounts, so it’s a much better deal than the $88 I listed here…Thanks, Lizi!

I’d start using sorghum to replace one fourth of the honey or maple syrup in any recipe, and probably up to a half. Like I said, the molasses-ish taste is not strong at all. In something with lots of strong flavors anyway, like these soaked pumpkin muffins, I bet you could start with half and move up to almost all sorghum. The grain-free granola recipe in the new Healthy Snacks to Go, 2nd edition works really well with just about any liquid sweetener subbed for either the maple syrup or honey.

It sounds like it’s excellent in homemade bread products, and even along with sugar in cookies, especially gingersnap types. UPDATE: Lizi says to use half the sorghum as white sugar – so if a recipe (especially chocolate cakes and such, she recommends) calls for 1 cup sugar, you can use 1/2 cup sorghum instead. I’m sorry I didn’t test all this out for you already, but now I’m totally inspired!!

Apparently I need to do more experimenting with this little gem!

How do you use sorghum syrup?

See more on natural sweeteners HERE.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

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Disclosure: Muddy Pond provided me with a sample of their delicious syrup for my review. Thank you! See my full disclosure statement here.

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60 Comments so far ↓

  • soozer

    Funny this would come up! Just the other day I was explaining to a friend what this was. My grandmother (born 1895) was from Alabama and called it SAW-gum. She used it over pancakes/waffles but always explained that the reason she used so much was because it was good for you.

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  • Ashley Bender

    Katie–I’m so glad you’re exploring some natural alternatives! I had that very thought this morning: “I hope KS will have some posts on natural sweeteners in this sweet series.” : ) I’ve never heard of sorghum syrup, but like what you have to say! Will you by chance be looking at agave syrup in this series? I’ve thought about it as a good alternative, but read some not-so-favorable stuff the other day. KS is a place I look to for well researched & healthful advice!

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    Katie Reply:

    Ashley,
    I’m coming back to it again, but here’s one from a while back: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2010/04/15/agave-and-stevia-all-natural-unsafe-or-unhealthy/
    Thanks! :) Katie

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  • Brandis

    I too would be interested in what you have to say about agave. I avoid it because of something I read from Dr. Mercola about it having a much higher glycemic index than even honey.

    I’m also interested in hearing about coconut sugar. I’ve seen it used in a few real food recipes and they carry it at my natural foods coop. It’s expensive, but if it’s a good option health wise it may be a good thing to add to my repertoire. But I don’t know much about it, and like the above poster I trust your research above pretty much anything I read because you are so thorough!

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  • Mrs. Mac

    My dad was raised using sorghum. He would take leftover cornbread cut into chunks and put in a tall glass .. drizzle sorghum on it and fill it up with whole milk. I buy it once in a while and use it instead of molasses.

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  • Sharon

    Sorghum molasses is how it’s known around here. Once upon a time, it was the sweetener used by poor folks, as it’s produced locally, while refined sugar was for the rich. I’ve even seen it being made, in the traditional, very labor-intensive way!

    When a recipe calls for molasses, I use sorghum. I’ve also used it in other baked goods, and put it on my morning oatmeal.

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  • courtney

    I grew up with “sawgrum” as my grandmother called it. My whole family & kids love it mixed with butter & smeared on hot cornbread from an iron skillet served with homemade pinto beans! YUM My husband likes to make fun of my pronunciation of it—-but that’s how I learned to say it @ a young age!

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    Naomi Reply:

    Oh, my, now that’s some good home cookin’! Makes me hungry . . .

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  • shannon

    Great to hear. I’ve used molasses and sorghum but only in recipes that call for it; I haven’t been brave enough to try subbing yet myself.

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    lizi Reply:

    try it in brownies or chocolate cake, thats my fave way to use it. just sub 1/2 sorghum for sugar called for.

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    deah :) Reply:

    Thanks, Lizi..for example, are you saying when a recipe calls for 1 c. Sugar, use 1/2 c. Sorghum and no sugar at all…or 1/2 c. Each?

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    deah :) Reply:

    Opps..I see you anwered that below..thanks for clarifying!! :)

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  • Farmer's City Wife

    My father-in-law introduced me to sorghum drizzled (who are we kidding? globbed!) on cornbread. Oh my gosh — it’s just about my favorite dessert now! Of course he doesn’t eat it as dessert — more as a side dish for chili, but I had to label it as “dessert” in my mind to keep from eating a whole dish :).

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  • lizi

    wow Katie, I am so glad to read your post on Sawgum!!
    I don’t know if you remember I recommended it to you this last summer
    I use sorghum in EVERYTHING!! I whole heartedly recommend subbing it in any recipe where a liquid sweetener will do, and experiment with things like cookies that need to be a little drier, but it CAN be done. It is ah-mazing in chocolate recipes like cake and brownies- it just adds that little somethin’ you can’t quite put your finger on.
    so go ahead, don’t just use it in place of regular molasses- use it on anything! especially like you said Katie, if it already has some other flavors, like cinnamon, it’s great. Maybe not white wedding cake, but I use it all the time.

    Here I get sorghum local- I lived at Sandhill farm for a season- the place where you said sorghum would be $88/gallon. Well they do include shipping in the quart rate, and it is a better rate when you buy in bulk, so it only costs me $36 a gallon. I know that isn’t super cheap, but it IS certified organic and trust me I know that these folks are beyond organic, the best farming practices, the best soil, and really cool old-fashioned ways of pressing and producing it.
    Sorghum ain’t just for cornbread ! Really if you get the good stuff, it is deep golden brown and taste much, much milder than reg molasses- which is a tad bitter and quite strong. If people can find it locally- ask around, ask older folks, it can be a bargain.
    I live in MO and I know it is grown all around the midwest, not just the south.
    I also love it in yogurt with cinnamon. It is good on vanilla ice cream. And I can’t tell you enough it is soooooo yummy in chocolate cake or brownies. also i use it for water kefir.
    I am glad you highlighted its nutritional content :)
    when subbing, just use half the volume as sugar. 1 cup sugar = 1/2 cup sorghum.
    my friend at the farm was very sensitive to candida, but he swore by sorghum. said it didn’t give him flare ups like maple syrup or honey would.
    i hope everyone can find sorghum, as it can be an affordable, local, natural sweetener :)

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    lizi Reply:

    i forgot to mention it is good for savory dishes where you want a little sweet to set it off. I put it in my chili, baked beans. winter squash, BBQ sauce, and it’s great with things that have ginger :)

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    Kathleen Reply:

    Where do you live in MO? I live in Southwest MO.

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  • Christine Robinett

    I ate sorghum and blackstrap molasses with my relatives as a kid but my mother hated both so we never had it at our house. I really liked it but not globbed on like my cousins, aunts and uncles.

    Now I can’t eat any grass grains so no sorghum syrup.

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  • Pam@behealthybehappywellness

    Well this is a sweetener I haven’t tried – but you bet I will – just need to get my hands on some!

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  • Lauren

    I’ve never heard of this, but a less-strong alternative to molasses sounds intriguing. I’ll have to see if I can find some.
    I didn’t understand this: “Sorghum … has more calories per Tbsp than [the alternatives]. If you’re diabetic or need to avoid blood sugar spikes, sorghum is not a safe alternative sweetener.”
    Calories ≠ GI. And really, any sweetener – even stevia – sets off the usual “sweet” reaction in the body, so there is NO safe sweetener for diabetics. At least with raw honey, molasses and sorghum, you’re getting some benefits with your insulin response!

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    lizi Reply:

    yes sorghum is sweeter per Tbps, but you just have to remember to use less. half sorghum equals the same amount of sugar in recipes.

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    Katie Reply:

    Lauren,
    the calorie note and diabetic note weren’t necessarily related…but I’ve never heard that any sweet response is not good for diabetics, even stevia. ? Really? I’m fascinated…
    :) Katie

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    Lauren Reply:

    Aha! Thanks for the clarification. I thought that might be the case, but always better to check, right?
    The research on stevia and insulin response is inconclusive – some studies say it tricks the brain into expecting sugar so the pancreas releases unneeded insulin, which can be harmful. Some studies suggest that it increases insulin sensitivity, so the body needs less to do the job. I wasn’t able to find a definitive link for you, but here’s a pretty complete discussion: http://paleohacks.com/questions/1457/artificial-sweetners-is-stevia-primal

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  • Melissa

    Please do tell where you get your maple syrup from? I buy mine from Meijer for $16-$20. I’d love to get it for your price.

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    Melissa Reply:

    By the way the maple syrup I buy is 32oz.

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    Melissa Reply:

    OK I called the health food store and they said they have 1/2 gal for $32. That’s cool. Thanks for mentioning it. I buy honey from them but I never thought about checking for maple syrup, doh!

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    lizi Reply:

    you might consider ebay for maple syrup.
    around here we have these amish stores that sell not only bulk but scratch/dent/almost or barely expired items. that’s where i get my maple syrup- (though it isn’t scratch/dent) it is $38 a gallon for grade A michigan maple syrup.
    i want to switch to grade B as i hear it is more nutritious (minerals, etc) and stronger maple flavor. i think the amish stores just don’t charge as much mark-up, plus they are solar powered and in the country with low overhead.
    i would think these amish type stores would be anywhere in the country where there is an amish presence. if it’s within a day trip, it can def be worth the drive, esp if you carpool with some other mamas. i say ask around!
    ps- i also get canned organic tomatoes for 55 cents, organic coffee for $3/lb, organic dark chocolate bars for 50 cents, and homeopathic/natural medicines there for $1 or $2. organic mustard for 50 cents, etc. they also have bulk cheese for great deals, usually $2/lb, if you buy that. also their pastured eggs are like $1.50/dozen! i stock up whenever i go to one and share the bounty with our “city” friends :)

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    Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Melissa,
    If you are in the GR area, it’s from Wegman’s in Alto, direct from the farm. I think the phone number is listed at the maple syrup post: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2011/07/14/a-sweet-sweet-summer-maple-syrup-and-maple-sugar-facts/

    Dang, LIzi knows how to get the deals! Awesome!
    :) Katie

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  • Stephanie M

    I have some sitting in my cupboard. Time to start using it!

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  • Becca via Facebook

    After reading your post I went to open my jar of sorghum to put some in my vinegar water, and I couldn’t get the blasted thing open. Figures! LOL

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  • Tiffany via Facebook

    Sorghum is something with a lot of flavor of its own, so it’s a tricky deal. Hubby and 2 of my kids adore sorghum molassas on biscuits, for instance (true Southern!), the other kid and I can’t stand it…

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  • Tiffany (As For My House)

    Sorghum is something with *a lot* of flavor of its own, IMO, so it’s a tricky deal… It does depend somewhat on some mysterious variables, as even maple syrup does to some extent, and the taste varies from batch to batch.

    Hubby and 2 of my kids adore sorghum molassas with butter on biscuits, for instance (he’s a true Southerner!), the other kid and I can’t stand it…

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  • Naomi via Facebook

    My family and I had the privilege of making sorghum syrup with our landlord for many years. It is so good! My landlord and his family still makes it, so I try to make sure to get my order in before they get sold out. Many good memories! It’s great on pancakes, biscuits, cornbread, etc. :) I didn’t like it at first, but it grew on us fast

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  • Ashley Bender

    I’ve been thinking about this all day, wondering if this sweet stuff could be grown in my garden. Humm… : ) I did some quick research; looks like it can be grown anywhere corn can grow! Sorghum likes sandy soil, which will be perfect for my garden (I live a stone’s throw from the river). I’ll have to look into the syrup-making process, but could be fun!

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  • Amy

    I first had sorghum on pancakes in Alabama about 25 years ago. They had it on the tables along with maple syrup. One taste and I was hooked. I have some in my cupboard now, but living in New England it is hard to come by. Nice to know it is available affordably. I’ll have to start using mine more dutifully. Thanks for the great article!

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  • Sara via Facebook

    Have you ever heard of hickory syrup? made from the bark of the hickory tree.

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  • Deborah Jennings

    I grew up eating Sorghum on everything from biscuits to pancakes. My grandmother, born in 1901, loved it! And so did my grand daddy, born in 1896. Also ate Ribbon Cane syrup. (Don’t know what it is made from though. I guess I need to search it online.

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  • Beth

    Our boys enjoy sorghum on their yogurt and sweet potatoes.

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  • Kathy (aka Mrs Dull)

    When we first moved to our home the fields all around town were filled with sorghum. I thought, wow bet there’s some great sorghum molasses here! Couldn’t really find any though … one jar I bought had a very strong metallic taste. Glad to have a good online source.

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  • Cheryl

    What a great video — thanks for linking it in the article. I love how the brother ended this short documentary.

    Was thinking about using sorghum, but like another post mentioned — it is a grass grain and can cause issues with allergies. :( Put an end to my brief thoughts of planting this labor intensive crop!

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  • cory

    Ok,, lizi, so I’ve been contemplating using sorghum instead of corn syrup in a family pecan pie recipe I have. Recipe comes from our Tennessee relatives. What do you think? Would that be good, or would the flavor just be way too strong? (We also have a family legend about someone subbing blackstrap molasses for the dark corn syrup…she’s a wonderful cook, but we all make our mistakes…:)

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    lizi Reply:

    yes i forgot to mention pecan pie! i think sorghum is perfect in pecan pie. but yes i am used to sorghum, and like some say it make take a few tastes before you love it, but then you will be hooked!
    i definitely think there are better sources than others, and the sandhill organic sorghum i use is the BEST, though i am sure others have their method down good too. sometimes i think it gets burnt or something when they are boiling it down, and sometimes it has a metallic taste- which could be from the iron content, i don’t know!
    anyway- i think if you find a nice sweet sorghum, go for it. i sometimes cut it with maple syrup in my pecan pie.
    of course, it will taste a bit different than Karo, and a lot depends on how picky your family is. but even my mom and dad think it tastes great!
    ps black strap molasses is WAY different from sorghum. sorghum is more like amber cane syrup- not as strong or bitter as black strap. good luck!

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  • Michelle

    I love sorghum!!!!! I buy it at every time we are in the Great Smokey Mountains (the store sells it, so proceeds go to projects in the park). I use it in anything that calls for honey, and in my bread recipe I sub half of the sugar with it.

    I’m going to have to try it some of the ways mentioned in the comments.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Michelle Reply:

    Looking through the website for Muddy Pond Sorghum Mill, I just realized that they are who supplies it to the Park :) How cool!

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  • via Facebook

    Becca Carroll – soak it in warm water – should loosen it right up!

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  • via Facebook

    Sara Pollard Pagano – that’s a new one on me – is it good?

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  • Sara via Facebook

    You know, it is no maple syrup but it is pretty good.

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  • Brittany

    My dad was from Southern Missouri and we’d always pick up a jug when we went back for family reunions. Back in the North, ;) we were the only people I knew that ate it, let alone knew what it was. As a topping, it definitely has a unique flavor (an acquired taste, perhaps?). But I would guess that you wouldn’t notice at all baking with it. I never realized it was healthy or that it was a natural sweetener.

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  • Esther

    I live only about an hour from Muddy Pond and have used their sorghum. Love it! I use it instead of molasses in recipes.

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  • Laura

    Of all the sorghum we have tried, I like Muddy Pond the best – BUT – I have trouble finding it. When I can, I buy it for my Dad (who practically lived off of it during the depression) for gifts! It is delicious! I was thinking that the nutritional content was higher, but that may have been for blackstrap molasses.

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  • Deborah via Facebook

    Good to know! I was just looking at buying some.

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  • Sandra via Facebook

    oooooh that sounds great! yum

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  • Beth via Facebook

    Oooh…please share the cornbread recipe!

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  • Laura via Facebook

    We looooove sorghum. My dad ate it daily, growing up during the depression.

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  • Peggy via Facebook

    I had a dear friend who brought me some homemade sorghum years ago. I put it in the back of the cupboard, thinking it was molasses. When I finally got it out, I was so pleasantly surprised! Delicious!!

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  • Joanna via Facebook

    Sorghum is amazing. It always makes me think about going to my grandparents house when I was growing up. We’d mix butter with the sorghum and spread it on our biscuits. Good stuff!

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  • sue brooks

    I really enjoyed reading this. My daughter , her children, and I moved to Crossville Tn from Michigan last fall. My daughter has a home baking business and we go to Muddy Pond about twice a week for sorghum and other baking items. We actually buy that container of sorghum that they sent you. The flavor of that sorghum is unlike any that I have ever tasted. It is phenomenal! The folks that sell it to us are very gracious and one woman that runs the store always has lots of good advice for my daughter. In September and October we will be able to buy fresh sorghum right from their mill. We pay $28. a gallon for it and are extremely pleased with the flavor and quality. I would highly recommend their sorghum to anyone looking for a good quality product.

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  • 'Becca

    How did I miss this article in February? I love sorghum! I use it in lots of baked goods and to sweeten oatmeal. I buy online from Maasdam Sorghum Mill. Here is my article on sorghum and other “weird” foods we eat. I’m going to link it to your article–lots of good information here!

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  • We Eat This. « The Earthling's Handbook

    [...] Check out this detailed information on sorghum syrup from Kitchen Stewardship! [...]

  • Deborah

    We moved to the Deep South (from VA, making us Yankees to the locals) a year ago. Picked up a jar of sorghum syrup on a scouting expedition, having heard of sorghum pie and curious. I use it now to make vegetable glazes, especially for carrots. It’s much earthier than brown sugar and complements root flavors well. Yesterday, I made a mushroom glaze out of sorghum syrup, bourbon and hot sauce. Mmmmm!

    [Reply to this comment]

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Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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