Sorghum vulgare

Sorghum vulgare

Sorghum (Sorghum vulgare Pers, sin Sorghum bicolor L. Moench), also called sorghum, is an annual herbaceous plant belonging to the family of grasses (Poaceae). There are different varieties of sorghum which are distinguished by their use and their final destination.

Systematics –
From a systematic point of view sorghum belongs to the Eukaryota Domain, Kingdom Plantae, Magnoliophyta Division, Liliopsida Class, Sottoclasse Commelinidae, Order Cyperales, Family Poaceae, Subfamily Panicoideae and therefore to the Genus Sorghum and to the Specie S. vulgare.

Etymology –
The origin of the name of this genus is rather uncertain. The epithet could derive from an Indian word or, more likely, from a medieval deformation of the word syriacum, referring to the origin from Syria. It is also called dùrra and mélica. In the various languages ​​and countries it has the following names: sorgho or gros mil in French, sorghum in English, sorghumhirse in German, sorghum in Spanish and Portuguese, melca in Catalan, milhoca in Occitan, dawa in hausa, sormijo grande and maíz de Guinea in West Africa, kafir in southern Africa, durra in Ethiopia and Sudan, mtama in Swahili, iowar in India and gaoliang in China.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Sorghum is one of the main plants grown all over the world. It is a macroterma species and quite demanding regarding temperature. Sorghum is a species with a photo-synthetic cycle of type C4 with a high synthetic photo yield; for this it requires high luminous intensities during all the phases of the vegetative cycle and is typically brevidiurna.
Due to genetic improvement, cultivars suitable for different climates have been created, including temperate ones. In the European continent, however, its cultivation remains limited especially to the Mediterranean countries.
The sorghum is not particularly demanding in terms of land, it prefers healthy, deep, not too heavy soils, but it develops well even in alkaline soils and tolerates salinity discreetly.

Description –
Sorghum is an annual herbaceous plant that can reach a height of 1-1.5 m in grain varieties and over 2 m in forage crops, with thick, wax-coated leaves. The leaves are linear, lanceolate, inserted alternately at each node of the culm; the flap is hairless with a pruinose surface and at the edges has a slight dentition easily perceptible to the touch.
The number of leaves is greater the later the variety is: on average 8-10 for the most precocious varieties, 18-20 for the later ones. The radical apparatus is collated and formed by embryonic and adventitious roots.
The inflorescence is a terminal raceme commonly called “panicle” with a normally erect bearing, but in some cases pending; the panicle is compact or loose depending on the length and strength of the main axis and side branches. On the lateral ramifications of the panicle are inserted the spikelets always paired two by two: one is sessile and fertile, the other is pedunculate and sterile.
The sessile spikelet is formed by two glumes that become coriaceous and shiny at maturity, from two glumelle of which the upper smallest and the lower paper and from a bisexual flower typically graminaceous, formed by a supersonic ovary, uniovular, with bifurcated stylus and stigma plump, and from androceo of three stamens.
In some varieties of sorghum the kernels are dressed remaining the adherent glumes, in others they are naked. The color of the glume can vary from reddish to brownish-violet. The color of the grain can be white, yellow, brown, reddish, brown-violet due to the presence of pigments in the pericarp or spermoderm cells or both.
The size of the kernels can vary greatly with a weight that can range from 15 milligrams to 35-40.
Under normal conditions, fertilization is about 95% autogamy. One of the peculiarities of the sorghum is that the plant remains green when the grain is ripe.
Among all the existing sorghum forms we can summarize a classification according to their destination as follows: Sorghum sorghum or sorghum (Sorghum vulgare var. Technicum); Sugary sorghum (Sorghum vulgare var. Saccharatum); Feed fodder and grain sorghum.

Cultivation –
For the cultivation of Sorghum it must be taken into account that its vegetative cycle varies from 75 days (ultra-early) to 180 days and beyond (ultra-late). The choice of the hybrid must be made above all taking into account the rainfall regime and the characteristics of the ground. In temperate regions, the most commonly cultivated cultivars or hybrids have a cycle of 100 to 120 days.
Sorghum enters the rotation as a renewal plant (before or after an exploitative, such as barley or wheat). Interval cultivation is not very widespread because the sorghum, a very voracious plant, does not leave sufficient fertility for the following cultivation. Unfortunately, the repeated culture is not uncommon, even for several years; what should always be avoided.
The cultivation of the Sorghum is normally carried out in dry conditions, counting on precipitations of the order of 300-350 mm during the vegetative cycle. The best yields are obtained from late hybrids with 500-600 mm of well-distributed rainfall. There are also hybrids and cultivars with a marked release capacity that allow to duplicate or close the yields.
In intensive cultivation, on the other hand, the technique is similar to that of corn; all operations are mechanized and selected seeds of hybrids and agrochemicals (fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides) are used, as for any crop destined for the market; which in the short span of a few years causes fatigue of the land, an increase in the resistance of some pathogens and consequent general drying of soil fertility.
In temperate climates, sorghum is sown from the first fortnight of May, being susceptible to cold returns. The sorghum needs a well-prepared seedbed that ensures a homogeneous emergency. 12-25 kg / ha of seed are distributed, with investments ranging from 20-30 plants / m² in dry environments to 30-40 plants / m² in areas where irrigation can take place. The optimal sowing distance is around 40-50 cm between rows (and above, to facilitate the execution of crop work) and 4-5 cm on the row. The sorghum is able to enhance very well the letamic and organic fertilizations in general and the residues of the legumes. This should be in itself one of the reasons to avoid mineral fertilization and to operate the cultivation of sorghum in conditions of greater naturalness and in companies that operate careful rotations with legumes and the presence of livestock that ensures an integration of organic substance.
The sorghum is harvested with a wheat combine harvester in September-October in temperate climates, obtaining variable yields of 40-60 quintals / ha of grains, in hilly and dry soils, up to 80-100 quintals / ha and over in the best conditions. Stems and leaves remain green even when the grain is ripe and can therefore be used as fodder, properly chopped, for fresh consumption or ensilage. Alternatively, they are mowed, shredded and buried. The grain is collected at 16-20% humidity, which is reduced to 13% in the dryer, for storage or marketing.
In countries where production is destined for human consumption, cultivation takes place at different degrees of intensity: on the part of small farmers (who are the majority) mainly for self-consumption; and by medium and large farmers who produce for the internal or regional market. For the producers of the first group, the use of productive factors does not concern that the seeds, conserved from the previous harvest, and the family labor. The latter are entrepreneurs who use technological packages similar to those described above for intensive production, based on the use of inputs acquired on the market. Within these two categories there is a very diverse series of farmers who adopt different technologies and strategies from country to country.
As for adversities, it should be remembered that sorghum is a relatively rustic and resistant to adversity. They can affect its cultivation especially the low temperatures and weeds that compete for light, water and nutrients, especially for nitrogen. Unfortunately, with the abandonment of correct cultivation and agronomic practices (rotations, seedbed preparation, correct density and seeding period, rational fertilization), the use of herbicides has become increasingly frequent to combat the increase in weeds (i more used are based on Atrazine) that while giving satisfactory momentary results, with the passing of time they show more and more resistance from the weeds with a worsening of the ecosystem and agronomic balances.
Among the plant and animal parasites that can cause significant damage to the crop, especially in areas with a high concentration of sorghids, we can mention plant and stem rot, coal, sorghum peronospora, terrestrial insects, aphids, pyralidides , the cecidomia and others also common to corn. In some regions birds, mostly passerine (for example the Quelea thatea in Africa), can be a serious problem.

Uses and Traditions –
Sorghum was one of the first plants to be cultivated. It is believed that current forms originated in West Africa several thousand years ago. From Africa, the sorghum has spread throughout the world, first in Asia and Europe, and more recently in America and Australia.
Sorghum is the fourth largest cereal in the world agricultural economy, after wheat, rice and maize. In Third World subsistence farming, the grain is used directly for human consumption, since such countries can not afford the zootechnical transformation; the yields are very low, in the order of 0.5-1 t / ha, both for the primitive cultivation technique and for the adverse environmental conditions: the sorghum is cultivated where the environment is too dry, where other crops become difficult, as e.g. the corn.
In advanced agriculture, the grain is destined for animal feed, in competition with that of corn, of which it has a similar nutritional value. Moreover, in the USA, a certain part is destined for industrial transformation in ethyl alcohol.
Italy cultivates just 29,000 hectares although it could be hoped for the extension on much larger surfaces, where especially the pedoclimatic conditions are less suitable for other crops.
In any case, the sorghum is used for centuries especially by some African populations as the first food in their diet, its neutral and full-bodied flavor makes it suitable for a wide variety of dishes. It can be eaten whole, or decorticated for the preparation of soups, or ground for the production of flour to obtain, polenta or porridge, piadina, focacce, bread and bakery products, breadsticks, cakes, biscuits, etc. In some areas it is used for beer production. Grains of sorghum can be roasted, flaked, boiled, and served as rice or couscous. The sorghum has a very low fat content and after eating it leaves a pleasant sense of satiety and lightness.
For some years now, some specialized companies have started processing white sorghum; it is possible to find the white sorghum and in organic flour for human food and for celiacs in the United States and in Italy. There are different varieties of sorghum, not all are suitable for human consumption, only some varieties are destined to become food sorghum, so they are chosen pleasing varieties pleasing with a slightly sweet taste, a characteristic of sorghum is its pleasant gum which distinguishes it from all other cereals.
The sorghum plant, when young, contains a highly toxic cyanogenic glucoside called durrine, which hydrolyses in the stomach into glucose, p-oxybenzoic aldehyde and hydrogen cyanide. The content of durrina is not constant, but varies with the age of the plant: as it approaches maturity it decreases until it disappears; young plants are the most concentrated, so durrina is a problem only for fodder sorghum.
A sorghum-based diet brings considerable environmental well-being. The sorghum fact is a cereal that resists very well to drought, in the case of long periods of drought in fact its vegetative activity is reduced to a minimum arriving equally to the final maturation of the plant, unlike other cereals that would have no chance of survival, it does not require a heavy expenditure of water and a lot of energy such as rice and corn. If cultivated rationally, the land must not undergo strong fertilizations and interventions of weeds, as the plant will overweigh the weeds by taking the upper hand, also after cultivation the sorghum will leave a good enrichment of nutrients on the ground for the next harvest.
Sorghum is rich in iron, phosphorus and calcium; has properties such as to be used both to remedy various gastrointestinal diseases, and as a natural remedy in some cases of bone decalcification. Grains of sorghum are high in carbohydrates (around 65%) and rich in protein. Turned into flour, it is used to make cookies and cakes; it is often found on the market also in the form of flakes to be used to enrich a healthy and balanced breakfast. The availability of flour and sorghum products is often limited to ethnic specialty stores.

Preparation Mode –
Due to the fact that the Sorghum is gluten-free it lends itself very well to food and recipes for those who suffer from intolerance to this substance lipoprotein.
In the meantime, it is necessary to distinguish the sugar sorghum which is used for the preparation of syrups and for the alcohol industry – spirits and beers, from the grain sorghum which is the most used for feeding. The versatility of this cereal makes it perfect to be transformed and used for the production of feed, paper and traditional broom brooms.
To make it easier to reintroduce this cereal, we must start from some almost abandoned food habits and recover them through some interesting recipes. Let’s see some:
Sorghum, radish and asparagus salad. Cook the grain of sorghum in boiling water for 30/40 minutes, drain it and let it cool. Cut the radishes into slices, add to a thinly sliced ​​red onion, add a chopped fresh parsley, a teaspoon of oil, a pinch of salt, stir and let it rest. Boil the asparagus and, once cooked, just season them slightly. Clean the salad, you can choose between rocket, songino, valerian and spinach. Cut the asparagus stems keeping the tips aside. In a large bowl, mix the salad, the asparagus, the radishes with their marinade and of course the sorghum. Season with salt and oil, add a few walnuts (pecans if you love a crunchy note) and a few raisins. This salad is ready.
Sorghum Cous Cous: seasonal vegetables are the best allies when you want to prepare a quick dinner or to amaze even vegan guests. For this recipe you must boil the sorghum following the advice given on the package or rinse it with plenty of water and boil it for 25 to 30 minutes until it is cooked. It will be the perfect base for a rich seasoning. In the autumn, grill some mushrooms, cook the pumpkin cubes in the oven and make a coarse chopped pistachios, walnuts and toasted pine nuts. Remember to adjust the salt and pepper and add a few leaves of nepitella. If you are in spring or summer cut into a regular cubes a red pepper, a copper onion, two romanesco courgettes and a small aubergine. Skip them individually in a greased pan with a little oil. Let it cool. Always adjust the salt; you can flavor your cous cous with bean sprouts, shredded pumpkin seeds and some peanuts.
Sorghum meatballs: they are a very nutritious and refreshing food for your intestine; they are perfect if you want to prepare lunch in advance. Obtain 100 g of white sorghum; it takes two hours of soaking and 20 minutes of cooking in deep water. In a bowl, mix a boiled and crushed white potato and 60 g of steamed squash and reduced to a puree. Add the cold sorghum and knead until a homogeneous mixture is obtained. Adjust the salt and add a generous teaspoon of curry. Make meatballs and place them in a pan lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle with a little oil and cook at 170 ° C for 13 minutes or until the meatballs are golden and crisp. Serve with a seasonal salad.
Sorghum cream: this is a sweet Tunisian. Velvety and inviting, the Drôo is perfect for breakfast. You need 180 g of sorghum flour, 500 ml of milk (also almond), 500 ml of water, orange blossom aroma, cinnamon, 6 tablespoons of sugar and a little butter (or its vegetable variant). Sift the flour in a large bowl, pour the milk you have mixed with the water. Stir continuously with a spatula until it thickens. Add the aroma, a pinch of cinnamon. Pour the mixture into a saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes. You can add little liquid if you love a smoother consistency. At the end of cooking add the butter and stir. Decorate with other cinnamon or you prefer dates or grains of pistachios or with berries for an acidic touch.
Mao Tai Jiu: this is one of the most loved liqueurs by the Chinese. It is a drink of ancient tradition, made from the fermentation of wheat and sorghum, its distillation is very complex, must follow very strict rules. After distillation, the liqueur is aged for several years in porcelain jars. Try searching for it in ethnic stores or at the most supplied Chinese restaurants.
As is clear eating habits and crops are one thing to this point that if we want to resume a new agriculture this must be reborn at the table.

Guido Bissanti

Sources
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Pharmacy of the Lord, Advice and experience with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Publisher
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (edited by), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.

Warning: Pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only and do not represent medical prescriptions in any way; there is therefore no liability for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.

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