For many people in the American South, sorghum is a condiment to be spread, like maple syrup, on top of warm, pillowy biscuits, pancakes, and cornbread. But for most of the world, particularly in West Africa, sorghum is a grain used much like rice or quinoa. 

Test fields of sorghum at Clemson University’s Pee Dee Research and Education Center in Florence, South Carolina. Researchers grow hundreds of different varieties of sorghum from all over the world in order to find and breed strains that do well in the South.

There is a growing group of chefs, millers, plant breeders, and farmers that is trying to reconnect with the West African roots of sorghum and create gastronomic and growing opportunities in this region. Reporter Wilson Sayre explains how sorghum might again become a grain of the American South. 

The mill at Anson Mills in Columbia, South Carolina that processes sorghum flours.

Acknowledgments

We thank Danyell Irby for editing. We also appreciate insight from Scott Blackwell and Ann Marshall.

Music in this episode is provided by Blue Dot Sessions.

Additional Resources

Watch an SFA film about the making of sweet sorghum syrup at Muddy Pond Sorghum.  

Learn more about the work Carolina Seed Systems is doing around sorghum. 

Read more about Ashleigh Shanti and her culinary work.

For information about the history of sweet sorghum syrup with recipes, check out Ronni Lundy’s book Sorghum’s Savor.

Feature photo: Ashleigh Shanti’s sorghum berry dish cooked with sorghum vinegar, topped with popped and sprouted sorghum at her restaurant, Benne on Eagle, in Asheville, North Carolina. All photos by Wilson Sayre.