Sorghum: Are There Health Benefits?

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on March 28, 2024
5 min read

Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) is not a well-known grain in the world food market. It ranks a distant fifth among most-produced grains — behind barley, rice, wheat, and corn. While dwarfed by better-known grains (or cereals), sorghum is an important crop that has long played a vital role in certain diets.

Other names for sorghum include milo, great millet, Indian millet, and jowar. It’s a grass plant thought to have originated around 8,000 B.C. in Africa, where it has remained a major crop. The U.S. currently produces the most sorghum worldwide. Sorghum is grown and sold for various purposes besides human consumption. Sorghum is a popular animal feed and an emerging biofuel.

Today, more than 500 million people in more than 30 countries rely on sorghum as a key part of their diet. Many people are also looking at sorghum for its unique characteristics. In particular, those with celiac disease have been drawn to sorghum as a source of gluten-free flour.

Sorghum vs. molasses

Sorghum syrup and molasses have similar consistencies, and both contain iron, potassium, and calcium. Sorghum is made from the sweet sorghum stalk (not the grain), while molasses is a byproduct of the sugar-making process and comes from sugar beets and sugar cane.

There are several ways that sorghum is used in food products. It can be eaten similar to rice or porridge, added to baked goods, and even popped like popcorn.

Whole grain. The unprocessed grain is hearty and chewy and can be cooked like rice or quinoa. 

Pearled grain. It is similar to the whole-grain version but without the bran layer. It is cooked like whole grain but takes less time and is slightly softer. It also has less fiber and protein than whole grain.

Popped. Sorghum can be popped in the microwave or on the stovetop, just like popcorn.

Flour. Sorghum comes in both whole-grain and white flour forms. It can be used as an alternative to wheat flour to make gluten-free pancakes, breads, muffins, and other baked goods.

Bran. It can be used like wheat bran to add antioxidants and fiber to smoothies and baked goods.

Flaked. Similar in texture to instant oatmeal, flaked sorghum can be used in granola and as a cereal.

Syrup. Similar to molasses, sorghum can be used in the place of corn syrup, maple syrup, honey, and even sugar in most foods.

Sorghum, which is gluten-free, can be cooked and eaten on its own, but it is also frequently used as an ingredient in other dishes. Half a cup of whole-grain sorghum contains approximately:

  • Calories: 316
  • Protein: 10 grams
  • Fat: 3.3 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 69 grams
  • Fiber: 6.45 grams

One of the most prominent micronutrients in sorghum is iron. Half a cup of sorghum contains approximately 19% of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of iron for adult women and 40% of the RDA for adult men. Other micronutrients found in sorghum include:

Sorghum has a unique structure, making it harder for your body to absorb proteins from whole grains. Despite this drawback, studies have shown several health benefits linked to sorghum.

Anti-inflammatory effects

Sorghum is known to be rich in phenolic compounds, many of which act as antioxidants. It has also been shown to be good at reducing some forms of inflammation due to its antioxidant properties.

Anti-cancer effects

Several of the phenolic compounds in sorghum have been linked to anti-cancer effects. The tannins in sorghum, which contribute to the grain’s pigmentation, may inhibit an enzyme linked to the development of breast cancer.

Another set of phenolic compounds found in sorghum, known as 3-deoxyanthocyanidins, have been shown to have a destructive effect on some human cancer cells.

Weight loss

The starches in sorghum are difficult for the human body to digest compared to those in other grains. As a result, sorghum is an excellent addition to any meal, helping you feel full without adding too many calories to your diet.

Safe for celiac disease

Sorghum and its byproducts, including sorghum flour, have been determined to be a safe alternative grain for those with celiac disease.

Reduced diabetes complications

Some varieties of sorghum (particularly sumac) may help inhibit a process called protein glycation and reduce insulin resistance in people with diabetes.

The biggest health risk of sorghum is tied to its potential as an allergen.

Sorghum allergy

Allergies associated with grasses and grass pollen are extremely common. Unfortunately, sorghum is a grass and is known to produce an allergic reaction in some people. Food allergy symptoms include tingling or itching of the mouth, swelling in and around the mouth, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and fainting.

Severe allergic reactions or anaphylaxis can result in any food allergy, which can be life-threatening. Symptoms can happen within minutes of eating sorghum and include:

  • Hives
  • Flushed or pale skin
  • A drop in blood pressure
  • Swelling of the tongue or tightening of the throat, making it hard to breathe
  • Weak pulse
  • Stomach issues such as nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting

If you get a severe allergic reaction, go to the emergency room or call 911 right away.

There are many ways to eat sorghum in both savory and sweet foods. Sorghum syrup can replace other sweeteners such as honey, molasses, and corn syrup. And sorghum flour can be used in breads and other baked goods.

  • Sorghum syrup can be mixed with butter and spread on biscuits or other baked goods.
  • Sorghum flour and syrup are used in baked goods such as cookies and cakes.
  • Sorghum flour can be used to make bread.
  • Pearled and grain sorghum can be used in grain bowls or as a breakfast porridge.

Sorghum, in its different forms, can be found at supermarkets and specialty grocers. It can also be found online at specialty retailers and major ones such as

Sorghum can be used as a replacement for various sweeteners or as a gluten-free grain in baked goods. It is a good source of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and iron.

What does sorghum taste like?

The flour and whole-grain forms have a light, nutty flavor. Sorghum syrup tastes similar to honey but has a slightly sour note.

Is sorghum healthier than corn?

Sorghum has more calories but less fat than corn. It also has more protein, but that protein doesn't digest as well as corn protein does. People can digest about 46% of sorghum's protein and 73% of corn's.