Pick up a jar at your local farmers' market

By Rebecca Firkser
July 27, 2018
Photo by smartstock via Getty Images

While strolling through a farmers' market recently, I noticed a display of sorghum syrup. The name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t think of a time I’d ever seen it in a grocery store back home in Manhattan. Sorghum syrup comes, unsurprisingly, from the sorghum plant, which is similar in height and appearance to corn. The grain is naturally gluten-free and can be milled into flour or animal feed. One variety of the grain, sweet sorghum, is a popular base for sorghum syrup, which is popular in the South.

The South’s affinity for sorghum syrup is likely rooted in how the crop arrived in the United States. As historian and geographer John J. Winberry writes, several genuses of sorghum arrived in the country with the slave trade, among them sweet sorghum from Sudan or Chad. While the sorghum industry thrived during Reconstruction, sorghum syrup production dropped drastically as the food industry began to favor glucose syrups. However, it remained a classic treat in many Southern homes and restaurants, and according to the National Sweet Sorghum Producers & Processors Association, Kentucky and Tennessee lead the US in sorghum syrup production today.

Often referred to simply as "sorghum,” or “sorghum molasses,” sorghum syrup can be used in place of honey, molasses, or maple syrup. “If you’ve never tasted sorghum on a hot buttered biscuit, you’ve only half lived,” reads a post in Southern Living. Its toasty, caramel-y flavor is stronger than honey, but less bitter than molasses, making it an ideal alternative to any sticky sweetener or topping for baked goods. According to the NSSPPA, sorghum syrup can be exchanged for honey or molasses on a 1:1 ratio when baking or cooking. It can also be used to replace granulated sugar, but NSSPPA recommends increasing the amount of syrup by ⅓ and decreasing the recommended liquid by ⅓ when baking.

White sorghum flour has also become a popular leavener in the realm of “healthy” gluten-free baking as an alternative to white flour, appearing in anything from scones to quick breads. I wondered if the syrup was seen in the same way. “Nutritionally speaking, molasses and sorghum syrup do contain more minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium compared to cane sugar,” Kris Sollid, RD, Senior Director, Nutrition Communications at the International Food Information Council, told me. “But the amount of sugar that is recommended to eat is so low that eating molasses or sorghum syrup instead of table sugar won’t make you ‘healthier.’ In the end, sugar is sugar, regardless of its source.”

So while it's not necessarily more nutritious than any other sweetener—and that’s OK!—picking up a bottle of sorghum syrup at the farmers' market or from an online purveyor could be the beginning of a new relationship with a lovely condiment.