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Sorghum bicolor

Sorghum bicolor, commonly called sorghum (/ˈsɔrɡəm/) and also known as durra, jowari, or milo, is a grass species cultivated for its grain, which is used for food, both for animals and humans, and for ethanol production. Sorghum originated in northern Africa, and is now cultivated widely in tropical and subtropical regions. Sorghum is the world's fifth most important cereal crop after rice, wheat, maize and barley. S. bicolor is typically an annual, but some cultivars are perennial. It grows in clumps that may reach over 4 m high. The grain is small, ranging from 3 to 4 mm in diameter. Sweet sorghums are sorghum cultivars that are primarily grown for foliage, syrup production, and ethanol; they are taller than those grown for grain.[2][3]

S. bicolor is the cultivated species of sorghum; its wild relatives make up the botanical genus Sorghum.


Seed head of sorghum in India
Sorghum with a recurved peduncle trait. Turpan basin, Xinjiang, China. In some varieties and in certain conditions, the heavy panicle will make the young soft peduncle bend, which then lignify in this position. Combined with awned inflorescence, this forms a two-fold defence against birds.

The leading producers of sorghum bicolor in 2011 were Nigeria (12.6%), India (11.2%), Mexico (11.2%) and the United States (10.0%).[4] Sorghum grows in a wide range of temperature, high altitudes, toxic soils and can recover growth after some drought.[2] It has four features that make it one of the most drought-resistant crops:

  • It has a very large root-to-leaf surface area.
  • In times of drought, it will roll its leaves to lessen water loss by transpiration.
  • If drought continues, it will go into dormancy rather than dying.
  • Its leaves are protected by a waxy cuticle.

Richard Pankhurst reports (citing Augustus B. Wylde) that in 19th-century Ethiopia, durra was "often the first crop sown on newly cultivated land", explaining that this cereal did not require the thorough ploughing other crops did, and its roots not only decomposed into a good fertilizer, but they also helped to break up the soil while not exhausting the subsoil.[5]


red on white sorghum grains

Sorghum is cultivated in many parts of the world today. In the past 50 years, the area planted with sorghum worldwide had increased 66%.[4] In many parts of Asia and Africa, its grain are used to make flat breads that form the staple food of many cultures.[6][7] The grains can also be popped in a similar fashion to popcorn.

Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy1,418 kJ (339 kcal)
74.63 g
Dietary fiber6.3 g
3.30 g
11.30 g
Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.

The species can be used as a source for making ethanol fuel, and in some environments may be better than maize or sugarcane, as it can grow under harsher conditions.[2] It typically has protein levels of around 9%, enabling dependent human populations to subsist on it in times of famine, in contrast to regions where maize has become the staple crop. It is also used for making a traditional corn broom.[8]

The reclaimed stalks of the sorghum plant are used to make a decorative millwork material marketed as Kirei board.

Sweet sorghum syrup is known as molasses in some parts of the U.S., although it is not true molasses.

In China, sorghum is known as gaoliang (高粱), and is fermented and distilled to produce one form of clear spirits known as baijiu 白酒 of which the most famous is Moutai (or Maotai). Sorghum was ground and the flour was the main alternative to wheat in northern China for a long time.

In India, where it is commonly called jwaarie, jowar, jola, or jondhahlaa, sorghum is one of the staple sources of nutrition. An Indian bread, jowar roti or jolada rotti, is prepared from this grain. In some countries, sweet sorghum stalks are used for producing biofuel by squeezing the juice and then fermenting it into ethanol.[9] Texas A&M University in the United States is currently running trials to find the best varieties for ethanol production from sorghum leaves and stalks in the USA.[10]

In Korea, it is cooked with rice, or its flour is used to make cake called susu bukkumi.

In Australia, South America, and the United States, sorghum grain is used primarily for livestock feed and in a growing number of ethanol plants.[11]

Sorghum is one of a number of grains used as wheat substitutes in gluten-free recipes and products.

Agricultural uses[edit]

It is used in feed and pasturage for livestock. Its use is limited, however, because the starch and protein in sorghum is more difficult for animals to digest than the starches and protein in corn.[citation needed] Research is being done to find a process that will pre-digest the grain. One study on cattle showed that steam-flaked sorghum was preferable to dry-rolled sorghum because it improved daily weight gain.[4] In hogs, sorghum has been shown to be a more efficient feed choice than corn when both grains were processed in the same way.[clarification needed][4]

The introduction of improved varieties, along with improved management practices, has helped to increase sorghum productivity. In India, it is estimated that productivity increases have freed up six million hectares of land. The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in collaboration with partners produces improved varieties of crops including sorghum. Some 194 improved cultivars of sorghum from the institute have been released.[12]


Research is being conducted to develop a genetic cross[clarification needed] that will make the plant more tolerant to colder temperatures, since it is native to tropical climates.[13] In the United States, this is important because the cost of corn is steadily increasing due to its usage in ethanol production for addition to gasoline. Sorghum silage can be used as a replacement of corn silage in the diet for dairy cattle.[14] Other research has shown that a timely harvest of sorghum is essential for a safe feed product. The plants need to be harvested during the time when the plant's total moisture content is between 63 and 68 percent, to prevent lodging.[clarification needed] Approximately, this is when the grain reaches the "soft dough" stage.[clarification needed] More research has found that sorghum has higher nutritional value compared to corn when feeding dairy cattle. And the type of processing is also essential in harvesting the grain's maximum nutrition. Feeding steam-flaked sorghum showed an increase in milk production when compared to dry-rolling.[14] When a grain is steam-flaked, it is cooked slightly, this makes certain nutrients more available to be digested.


The genome of Sorghum bicolor was sequenced between 2005 and 2007.[15][16]


Sorghum is a host of the parasitic plant Striga hermonthica.[17] This parasite is a devastating pest on the crop.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Plant List". 
  2. ^ a b c "Grassland Index: Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench". 
  3. ^ "Sweet Sorghum". Sweet Sorghum Ethanol Producers. Retrieved 13 November 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c d Jeri Stroade, Michael Boland, and Mykel Taylor. "AGMRC Sorghum profile". 
  5. ^ Richard Pankhurst, Economic History of Ethiopia (Addis Ababa: Haile Selassie I University, 1968), p. 193.
  6. ^ O P Sharma (1993). Plant Taxonomy. Tata McGraw-Hill. p. 439. ISBN 0-07-460373-6. 
  7. ^ National Research Council (1996-02-14). "Sorghum". Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I: Grains. Lost Crops of Africa 1. National Academies Press. ISBN 978-0-309-04990-0. Retrieved 2008-07-18. 
  8. ^ "How to make a broom". Ogden Publications, Inc. Retrieved 2010-03-16. 
  9. ^ Sweet Sorghum : A New "Smart Biofuel Crop" AgriBusinessWeek, 30 June 2008
  10. ^ Ceres and Texas A&M to Develop and Market High-Biomass Sorghum for Biofuels Texas A&M University System Agriculture Program, 1 October 2007
  11. ^ [1] United Sorghum Checkoff Program
  12. ^ Sorghum, a crop of substance. Downloaded 16 March 2014.
  13. ^ "Sorghum Research Showing Promise". Oklahoma Farm Report. 23 February 2011. 
  14. ^ a b Micheal J. Brouk and Brent Bean. Sorghum in Dairy Cattle Production Feeding Guide. 
  15. ^ Paterson, Andrew H.; John E. Bowers, Remy Bruggmann, Inna Dubchak, Jane Grimwood, Heidrun Gundlach, Georg Haberer, Uffe Hellsten, Therese Mitros, Alexander Poliakov, Jeremy Schmutz, Manuel Spannagl, Haibao Tang, Xiyin Wang, Thomas Wicker, Arvind K. Bharti, Jarrod Chapman, F. Alex Feltus, Udo Gowik, Igor V. Grigoriev, Eric Lyons, Christopher A. Maher, Mihaela Martis, Apurva Narechania, Robert P. Otillar, Bryan W. Penning, Asaf A. Salamov, Yu Wang, Lifang Zhang, Nicholas C. Carpita, Michael Freeling, Alan R. Gingle, C. Thomas Hash, Beat Keller, Patricia Klein, Stephen Kresovich, Maureen C. McCann, Ray Ming, Daniel G. Peterson, Mehboob-ur-Rahman, Doreen Ware, Peter Westhoff, Klaus F. X. Mayer, Joachim Messing, Daniel S. Rokhsar (2009-01-29). "The Sorghum bicolor genome and the diversification of grasses". Nature 457 (7229): 551–556. Bibcode:2009Natur.457..551P. doi:10.1038/nature07723. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 19189423. 
  16. ^ Sorghum bicolor genome on Phytozome
  17. ^ Yoshida, Satoko; Maruyama, Shinichiro; Nozaki, Hisayoshi; Shirasu, Ken (28 May 2010). "Horizontal Gene Transfer by the Parasitic Plant Stiga hermanthica". Science 328 (5982): 1128. Bibcode:2010Sci...328.1128Y. doi:10.1126/science.1187145. PMID 20508124. 


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