Milling Produces Multiple Food Grade Sorghum Options

Milled food grade sorghum products.
Milled food grade sorghum products. From left to right: white whole grain sorghum flour, pearled sorghum and popping sorghum. Photos courtesy of Nu Life Market.

The global market for gluten-free products has been on the rise in recent years and is expected to reach $6.2 billion by 2018, according to MarketsandMarkets, a U.S. based global market research company. To meet the increasing demand, food manufacturers are relying on gluten-free ingredients to produce baked goods, cereals, snacks and other products that meet consumer demands.

The majority of milled or processed food grade sorghum is produced from a white or tan variety of the grain, but darker kernels are also used. It can be milled into a variety of forms such as flour, flakes, cracked kernels and even popping kernels.

The basic kernel structure of sorghum includes an outer bran layer, sometimes referred to as pericarp, a middle layer called endosperm and a smaller innermost layer called the germ. While companies have proprietary techniques that make their products unique, there are some commonalities to milling. During milling processes, the layers are cracked, ground or removed, resulting in a wide variety of products.

Additionally, many of the available nutrients and antioxidants in sorghum exist in the outer bran layer of the grain, so the physical change in the grain layers from the milling process results in a slight increase in nutrient absorption when consumed.

Whole grain sorghum flour is processed to control particle size and distribution, as well as manage starch content and texture. The result is a product that is an ideal alternative to traditional flour.

To maintain quality and consistency some grain millers contract with growers for a specific variety and quality of sorghum grain, growing protocols and management conditions. “We mill sorghum flour to exact specifications set by our commercial customers to work best for the baked goods they produce. We always start with a No.1 quality grain that is grown on contract under strict management protocols and with full traceability,” said Earl Roemer, a farmer near Scott City, Kansas, and president of Nu Life Market, a company that mills food grade sorghum.

Because sorghum is gluten-free, pure whole grain sorghum flour lacks the gluten proteins that serve as binders in traditional flour. Therefore millers add psyllium fiber, xanthan gum or starches to the flour mix so it is ready to use by retail customers. Commercial food companies also usually add these binding ingredients into their proprietary flour blends at various levels depending on the recipe.

Flaked sorghum is a milled product often incorporated into ready-to-eat cereal, baked goods, snack foods and nutrition or energy bars. Another common milled ingredient for ready-to-eat cereal is cracked grain sorghum. Popping kernels have the hulls removed and are typically incorporated into snack foods.

Removing the bran layer through milling results in a product called pearled sorghum. It serves as a substitute for rice and pasta and can be used in salads. 

The bran by-product from making pearled sorghum is sold in powdered form, which is high in fiber and antioxidants. This powdered sorghum bran, usually available in health food and specialty stores, can be added to cereal, yogurt and other similar foods.

In the United States, health and sanitation inspection in the milling industry falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Mill operators often go beyond the FDA standards and have independent audit programs that may provide value to international customers.

For additional information on food grade milled sorghum products visit