For many years, I have been buying ‘birdseed’ at the pet shop. Not to feed our garden birds, but for tasty breakfasts, lunches, and suppers for myself.

These days, sorghum is a lot more mainstream and available in other stores too. It is the same thing. The ‘human’ sorghum has been cleaned more, while the ‘bird’ sorghum still has dust and twigs and occasionally stones in the bag, which means it needs to be rinsed a few times. I quite like the reminders of the Free State fields where it was grown.

I am a big fan of sorghum.

Besides being locally grown it is delicious, nutritious, and versatile. Why not replace the quinoa, rice and bulgar wheat you eat with some grains that originate in Africa?

Sorghum is also called: amabele, Guinea corn, Indian millet, cholam, durra, great millet, jonna, jowar, kaoliang, milo, mtama, shallu, sorgo, sweet sorghum.

Sorghum bicolor is the variety available where I live. Sorghum is grown extensively in South Africa and is relatively drought resistant. Sorghum bicolor was originally domesticated in North Africa and is the fifth most widely grown crop in the world. Over fifty percent of the world’s production area is located in sub-Saharan Africa, where sorghum covers the second largest area after maize. Sorghum is heat-tolerant and is particularly important in arid regions.

Is Sorghum good for you?

The seeds are full of fibre. It helps regulate your blood sugar levels by slowing down sugar absorption into the bloodstream. Sorghum is high in antioxidants which are known to fight inflammation. Sorghum is crammed with micronutrients: zinc, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, manganese, calcium, selenium, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin B6, vitamin E, fatty acids, and amino acids.

What does sorghum taste like?

Whole sorghum will add a sweet and nutty flavour to your favourite recipes. I use it in both savoury and fruit salads and instead of pasta, samp, or rice. Add sorghum to bulk up curries and stews. Sorghum can be popped like popcorn.

Maltabela porridge for breakfast is a South African favourite. Stir in a spoon of nut butter for a surprise flavour burst. Sorghum flour can be used to make bread or pancakes, or to thicken gravy and sauces.

Whole sorghum takes a while to cook – about 40 minutes on the stove. To reduce the energy needed, I soak it overnight, start it on the stovetop for 10 minutes then pop it into a Wonderbag to finish cooking.

Sorghum Salad

  • 1 cup cooked whole sorghum
  • ½ cup pecan nuts chopped
  • 2 spring onions chopped
  • 1 green apple cut into batons
  • 2 sticks celery sliced
  • Chopped fresh chilli and garlic
  • Juice of a lemon
  • Salt
  • A drizzle of olive oil
  • Plain yoghurt or maas (a few tablespoons)

Combine all ingredients and check seasoning to taste. 

Lasts well in the fridge. Perfect for picnics.

Sorghum Fruit Salad

The first chill of Autumn demands that morning fruit salads become more substantial. This is the time of year when Vitamin C-rich fruits are in abundance – exactly what our bodies need.

Keep it sweet and simple with apples, citrus, and pineapple with plain yoghurt.

Or forage for tree tomatoes, cherry guavas, naartjies, and wild mint to add to your staples. Serve with naturally fermented maas and some homemade jam to sweeten.

Sorghum Flap Jacks

Thanks to Mpho Tshukudu and Anna Trapido for introducing me to this delight. Their book Eat Ting celebrates sorghum in many ways – including as risotto with mushrooms and polenta with spinach.

  • 1 and ½ cups sorghum meal
  • 1 tsp Bicarb
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter
  • 1 cup maas

Combine dry ingredients in one bowl and wet ingredients in another. Mix wet into dry. Lightly grease a frying pan and heat to medium. Drop spoonfuls of batter into the pan. When bubbles form and it no longer looks runny (at least 3 minutes), flip over. Cook for about 3 minutes on each side.  Don’t flip too soon, or it will crack.

They are very filling! My best is served topped with umsobo jam and a spoonful of maas or yoghurt. Whatever takes your fancy.  Nuts would be good. Strong cheese is fabulous too.

The mixture can be kept in the fridge for a few days and cooked whenever you feel like a treat.

Sorghum with Beans

We all love samp and beans – umqusho. But before colonists brought maize and sugar beans to Africa, sorghum and jugo beans / bambara nuts or cowpeas were the popular combination. In Lesotho whole wheat is traditionally added to the mix. This is a delicious, filling, and exceptionally nutritious combination of ingredients. Try it – slice a few shallots, drizzle with olive oil (or a blob of butter), and a sprinkle of salt. I like to add a spoonful of smoked paprika for extra flavour.

I also make a lighter version of this nutrient-dense combo with sorghum, white beans, roasted fennel, and orange zest.

Sorghum Soup

  • Olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds (fresh and homegrown if possible)
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds (who grows cumin? Cumin & cardamon are imported spices that I still buy)
  • 1 tsp ground coriander (fresh and local if you can)
  • 1 bay leaf (from a neighbour)
  • bunch of carrots
  • 500g sweet potatoes
  • 6 cups water or whey (I like cooking with whey which I get from a friend who makes cheese)
  • 2 cups cooked sorghum
  • fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper
  • Plain yogurt

In a large pot, heat olive oil, add onion and cook until soft. Add fennel and cumin seeds, cook another few minutes. Add carrots, sweet potatoes stir well to coat. Fry for five minutes. Add liquid, coriander, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer until vegetables are tender. Remove bay leaf. Stir in the cooked sorghum and heat until warmed. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper, to taste. Serve hot with a swirl of yogurt on top.

Ting – information from the Slow Food Ark of Taste

Ting ya mabele is a traditional fermented sorghum product from the northern parts of South Africa “Ting” refers to fermented porridge, while “mabele” refers to sorghum meal, which is traditionally the most common raw material for making ting. The practice of fermenting sorghum meal before cooking it as a porridge stretches back at least 4,000 years in Tswana culture and was an important preservation method before refrigerators were invented. To prepare ting ya mabele, sorghum meal is mixed with warm water and then allowed to ferment in a sealed container for 2-3 days. Lactic acid bacteria are primarily responsible for fermentation. The presence of bubbles in the mixture indicates that fermentation has begun, and the ting is ready once its aroma becomes “bitter.” At this point, the ting is cooked with water and some salt to make porridge. The porridge must be stirred regularly as it cooks to prevent the formation of lumps. To obtain a thick porridge, called bogobe, the ting is cooked longer and with less water. To make a thin porridge, called motogo, the ting is more heavily diluted and cooked only for a short period. Both bogobe and motogo can be eaten at any time of the day. To keep leftover ting from over-fermenting and spoiling, it can be mixed with a new batch, in the same bucket. It is highly nutritious and rich in antioxidants, and it improves digestive health.

In Tswana communities in South Africa today, ting ya mabele is no longer consumed on a daily basis, as it was traditionally: It has become ceremonial food, reserved for funerals, weddings, and other special occasions. In these contexts, ting ya mabele is used to honor the ancestors, who rarely ate white maize meal, and to let them know that they are remembered and a part of the ceremony taking place.

Ancient African Grains

In Africa people once obtained their basic subsistence from wild grasses. In some places the practice of collecting wild grasses still continues especially during periods of drought. One survey records over 60 wild grass species known to be sources of food grains in Africa – more than any other continent. Also indigenous to Africa is finger millet, fonio, pearl millet, tef, guinea millet. In the 1500s, the Portuguese imported maize to Africa from the Americas. Sadly, parts of the continent have slowly moved away from their own ancient cereal wealth and embraced the newfound grains, particularly maize, from other parts of the world. In South Africa, this is especially problematic because 80% of our maize is genetically modified.

Let’s all think about including more local grains in our meals. Good for our health, good for our communities and good for the planet.

13 Comments Add yours

  1. Christeen says:

    My very favourite grain, introduced to it many years ago in Lesotho, where it is grown extensively. There if a maize crop is failing sorghum is planted to replace it, also grown in it’s own right as a sustaining food and to me used in brewing traditional beer. Such a lovely post, thank you Nikki! xxx


    1. Often cooked with beans and that magnificent mountain wheat to create a dish called Likhobe /Dikgobe.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lindiwe says:

    I would like to try Sorghum Soup this Winter 😍


  3. naturebackin says:

    Thanks for this Nikki. We buy ground amabele to make porridge but I had not though about eating it whole! With the anticipated shortages worldwide of wheat it is an especially good time to explore local grains.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hope you can find some to try Janis.


    2. Look for some whole grains – you will love it. I didn’t think about the wheat shortage, but yes local is usually the way to go.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. naturebackin says:

        I will definitely look out for some – thanks.


  4. Marieta Steenekamp says:

    Thank you for this informative article Nikki!


    1. An absolute pleasure Marieta


  5. Janis says:

    how amazing, and you are right, we should all be eating the grains from our own local areas! thanks Nikki! xx

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “Amnandi amabele”. I just love them. Tried planting them for two seasons and we haversted none. Our feathered friends helped themselves. I shall try again and again until we get something (learnt that I can cover some before they dry up but leave some space for the air).
    Anyways..thanks for the recipe Ms Brighton.


    1. Yup, birds. A big problem with sorghum. A friend of mine who grows it has a big netted area to protect them. Thanks for the comment.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s