Thursday, October 26, 2023

Bleg (Sweet Sorghum)

Sweet Sorghum is the temperate climate analog of Sugar Cane.

While the juice from well-grown Sugar Cane will typically tip the scales at +20% sugar (mostly sucrose, the sweetest sugar), well grown Sweet Sorghum might tip the scales at 15% sugar with only a third of it being sucrose.

By comparison, the sap from a Sugar Maple tree might have 3% sugar.

What that means in practical terms is that a fellow in Vermont making maple syrup might have to boil away 18 gallons of water to make a gallon of maple syrup while a fellow in the tropics might have to boil off three gallons of water to make a gallon of cane molasses and the fellow in Missouri might have to boil off five gallons to make a gallon of sorghum molasses.

Early enthusiasm about biofuels generated a great deal of interest in using sorghum as a feed-stock for ethanol production. Minnesota seemed to be the hot-spot for the research. They developed several lines of sorghum that were well over 16% BRIX and were well suited to production in the eastern United States.

The fickle finger of fashion moved on. Direct use of sorghum juice was discarded as not-economical probably because of the short season it was available. Most people forgot about the Minnesota sweet sorghum varieties. A few seeds remain in freezers in USDA facilities.

Other sources of interesting sweet sorghum genetics are from Ethiopia (Gambela cultivars) and India (Juar cultivars). For the record, there is a Sudanese cultivar called Coral that is very similar to the Ethiopian genetics that is available in commerce.

I don't know if any of my readers have ever grown sweet sorghum or have a friend who has a cousin who...knows somebody with access to some of these seed lines. But if you do, I would love to hear about it.


  1. When I was a kid in SW Mo., a neighbor grew about half an acre of sorghum. My G-pa would help him harvest it. They loaded up a 30s one tonner a took it to a press about six miles away. G-pa got a gallon of syrup for his help. Man that was good on cornbread.

  2. Drove out to Colorado on I80 at the beginning of the month. Saw some fields planted with sorghum in Nebraska. That confused me since I thought it was a southern crop, I'd only seen it once before, in Mississippi. Using a little google fu, we found sorghum is grown in nebraska on marginal land. It needs less water than corn so can be grown on dryer land.

    1. I live in PA. this is the first year I've seen quite a few acres planted in sorghum.
      don't know the variety.

    2. The sorghum you saw in Nebraska was most likely grain sorghum, not the sweet variety. Grain sorghum is shorter than the sweet variety.

  3. Sugar beets are loaded with sugar. They were a biofuel option in Europe. They suffer from pests.

  4. Nothing like some sorghum molasses and butter on a hot biscuit. I grew up eating sorghum molasses. Pretty good on pancakes, too. Every year when we went to visit my great uncle in SW Oklahoma, we would stop at a particular stand just south of the state line inside Texas and pick up a gallon or two. At the time (1960s), quite a bit of sorghum was grown in that area.

  5. A friend grows/grew sorghum with another guy, pressed and processed it. I'm not sure what variety, but dropped him a note to swing by and see what input he might have.

  6. I planted some in the garden this year, first time I've grown it. Seed came from Southern Exposure Seed co, I believe the variety was Mennonite. Bought a Chinese hand crank sugar cane juice mill off Amazon. Cooked it down over a fire in the back yard, made about 15-16 pints. (Still have some that needs more cooking). Plot was 5 rows, about 20-25 feet long. The mill WILL have a motor attached by next year, we about wore our arms off cranking that thing ( Myself, Dear Wife, and 2 daughters)


Readers who are willing to comment make this a better blog. Civil dialog is a valuable thing.