SORGHUM & MILLET FOOD, C. Brauer, from 04/25/10 e-mail. EDIT THIS ONE
Bruce Hamaker sat at the round table in his office and proudly held out the small bag of
proof: couscous, made in Africa from African sorghum.
Many people think of wheat and corn as popular edible grains, but in drier places where
corn and wheat don’t grow as well, in areas like Africa where drought is common, sorghum and
millet become suitable alternatives. Hamaker, an INTSORMIL scientist from Purdue University,
said in some rural areas of Africa the production of rice, wheat and maize combined is surpassed
by the production of sorghum and millet.
“In the rural areas that’s their staple food,” he said.
Most sorghum and millet consumption occurs in Africa, India and Asia. Some sorghum is
consumed in the United States, but usually as an alternative for people with Celiac Disease who
can’t handle wheat and gluten.
Sorghum and millet can be cooked in a variety of ways. One cooking method decorticates
(removes the hull) of the grain. Annam, a dish common in India, contains decorticated sorghum
and millet that are boiled and served like rice. The dish may be supplemented with real rice or
beans and have various spices or nuts added for flavor.
Another method closely resembles movie goers’ favorite food. Popcorn, or rather,
popsorghum heats whole sorghum grains until the grains explode in a manner similar to popcorn.
According to “Sorghum and Millets in Human Nutrition” by the Food and Agriculture
Organization of the United Nations (FAO), popped sorghum is actually more tender than regular
popcorn, has less outer grain covering or hull, isn’t as likely to get stuck in the eater’s teeth and
is quieter than popcorn to consume.
Popped sorghum even comes in a variety of flavors. Popghum, a company that makes
popped sorghum and is based in Arlington, Va., offers nine different flavors including original,
caramel and green curry.
However, popped sorghum isn’t the staple food many people in the Eastern Hemisphere
rely on. Porridge is. The names for porridge change with each location and the porridge’s
consistency. Porridge can be thick or thin.
According to Hamaker, Africans tend to prefer thick porridge and often consume it
before a long day in the fields. Porridge makes people feel full and gives extended energy
release, he said.
“I’m over there, I eat one of those things and I think, goll, it’s 7 o’clock and I’m full,” he
Porridge consumption in the cities is less common than in rural areas. Hamaker said the
decrease in consumption was partially because of the perception of sorghum as a grain for the
lower-class. This is one of the stigmas INTSORMIL is working to eliminate.
In Mali, the efforts to change perception will soon include educational workshops and TV
spots. In other areas, the perception change efforts involve producing a high-quality food
Hamaker said he knew people not familiar with the situation tend to think Africans just
need food and consider it a waste of time to focus on quality.
“We need to be the hero. They need food. Who cares about that stuff,” he said. “The
reason you have to care about that is because if you don’t care about it, no one’s going to buy it.”
People are very particular about the food they eat, Hamaker said. Even at the village
level, people are careful about the consistency of their porridge and the grains that go into it, he
Hamaker picked a small bag off the shelf by the table and presented it as an example. The
bag of couscous was made in a special processing unit INTSORMIL helped develop.
Couscous is a popular dish that’s often served in the cities and at parties in Africa. It’s a
precooked, granulated dish made from agglomerated flour. Cooking couscous is time consuming.
Women in Africa often agglomerate (wet the flour so it clumps) and sift the couscous into small
pieces by hand. Hamaker said a good portion of couscous in African countries comes from
Algeria, Morocco or France.
Hamaker and INTSORMIL helped place about five metric tons of sorghum couscous on
the market in various African cities. Then they followed some of the couscous as it was sold and
surveyed the buyers.
“People were surprised,” Hamker said. “They couldn’t believe it was made from
Another INTSORMIL scientist, David Jackson from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln,
also works with sorghum foods in Africa. Jackson operates an educational assistance program for
entrepreneurs in East Africa. The program focuses on training participants in running a sorghum-
based business, processing methods for sorghum and personal follow-up meetings at the
entrepreneurs’ places of work.
Jackson said part of helping entrepreneurs bring sorghum into markets involved teaching
them to make the products appealing and convenient. They need to use proper and attractive
packaging and develop products that can easily be made into porridge or bread, he said.
In 2007, INTSORMIL helped one participant shift from processing 30 kilograms of
sorghum for Lishe (an instant breakfast cereal flour) a month to processing more than 350
kilograms of sorghum. In addition, the participant dehulled sorghum for more than 1000
households and produced sorghum flour, buns, bread, cakes and chapatti.
“You’re not introducing people to a new food,” Jackson said. “You’re reminding people
of old food uses from before they moved to the city.”
Another edible, though non-food use for sorghum is in sorghum beer. According to the
FAO, beers like dolo, pito, burukutu, marisa and urwaga, all made from sorghum, are common in
West Africa, southern Africa and Sudan.
Some companies in the United States, like Bard’s Beer and Anheuser-Busch, market
sorghum beer. However, sorghum beer in the U.S. mostly remains an alternative to wheat beer
for drinkers who can’t handle gluten.
“The taste is slightly different from beers made with wheat, barley or rice,” said Donald
Larson, an INTSORMIL scientist who currently researches beer marketability in Africa.
“Certainly other people could buy it.”
Larson works with INTSORMIL scientist J. Mark Erbaugh at Ohio State University.
Together they’ve worked on developing beer markets in Uganda, Zambia and Tanzania.
“The main thing is economics,” Larson said.
Larson and Erbaugh encourage the use of locally grown sorghum and millet instead of
importing the more expensive wheat and barley.
By promoting the incorporation of local sorghum and millets into food and beer,
Hamaker, Jackson, Larson and Erbaugh help fulfill one of INTSORMIL’s objectives: “Facilitate
growth of rapidly expanding markets for sorghum and pearl millet.”
“The idea is improving the income and livelihood of small farmers,” Larson said.
More income results from better crop prices. Better crop prices result from having more
selling options. More selling options result from having greater demand. INTSORMIL helps
create demand for sorghum and millet by developing markets for sorghum and millet food and
“I think that if you can have really high quality sorghum and millet foods, that can
compete with all the other foods,” Hamaker said.