Know Your Ingredients: Sorghum

A closeup of latte art with sorghum in it.


Photos courtesy of Portland Coffee Roasters

Last October, we took a look at several fall and winter drink offerings from a few different cafés, including Portland Coffee RoastersSorghum Cinnamon Latte. The sweet, molasses-like flavor of sorghum paired with cinnamon has a ginger molasses cookie taste, perfect for a latte. What exactly is sorghum, though? As part of our “Know Your Ingredients,” series we are taking a closer look at sorghum, and learning about its uses both in and out of the coffee industry. 

Sorghum’s sweet, molasses flavor pairs great with cinnamon in Portland Coffee Roasters’ Sorghum Cinnamon Latte.

Sorghum is a cereal grain, or more accurately, a flowering plant of the grass family that originated in Africa. It can grow up to eight feet tall. In fact, it’s not uncommon for sorghum to be planted between rows of young coffee plants to provide shade. Some varieties are grown to feed livestock, and others are grown for human consumption. You can even pop the kernels like popcorn

Roxana Jullapat, head baker and co-owner of Los Angeles bakery Friends & Family, has a book slated to come out this spring titled Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution. The book shares her work with ancient crops like barley, buckwheat, rye, and sorghum, and how using these grains brings out different attributes in baked goods. 

Roxana explained that there are two main varieties of sorghum grown for human consumption. Grain sorghum is grown to harvest the berries, which are then milled into flour. Sorghum flour has a mild, earthy texture, and makes a great gluten-free flour substitute for wheat. The second variety is syrup sorghum, grown specifically to extract juice from the plant stalks, then cooked to a syrup. “The process is very similar to molasses made from sugar cane juice,” Roxana says. 

Sorghum syrup is “incredibly artisanal, made in smaller batches mostly in the Southern U.S.,” she says. “Each batch speaks of its specific maker as well as of the region in which it was grown … no two batches of sorghum syrup are identical.” 

Sorghum syrup is a flavorful sweetener that can be used similarly to molasses or honey. Flavor nuances can range from caramel-y and buttery to smokey and fudgy.

Want to experiment with sorghum syrup at home with your own coffee drinks? Your main grocery store might already carry it—call ahead to find out. If not, check out this website for a list of retailers and more info about sorghum. Once you’ve got it, check out this recipe to make a sorghum latte at home.

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Mark Van Streefkerk
is Barista Magazine’s social media content developer and a frequent contributor. He is also a freelance writer, social media manager, and novelist based out of Seattle. If Mark isn’t writing, he’s probably biking to his favorite vegan restaurant. Find out more on his website.