All grains contain peptides that mimic morphine or endogenous opioid substances. This is where I deal with my latest loaf craving. Get your bread-based exorphin fix here.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

30% Sorghum, 70% Whole Wheat Loaf

30% Sorghum, 70% Whole Wheat Loaf

Sorghum is a high-yield grass particularly suited to temperate climates, where it is often grown for its grain, which when harvested looks somewhat like large millet.  This grain is used to feed both animals and humans. Sorghum varieties can grow quite tall, so it is also grown for its biomass, for ethanol production; and its cane is full of sweet stuff, and can be exploited for a syrup that rivals molasses in flavour.

Here in the west we usually hear of sorghum flour as a bread ingredient for those who are gluten intolerant; and to me it seems fairly expensive and still difficult to find.  Therefore I was astonished to learn that the grain is "the third most important cereal crop grown in the United States," according to wikipedia

It is my belief that sorghum is a big, cheap ingredient in poultry feed, and our hunger for eggs and birds keeps demand for sorghum high.  Here in Canada, we import most of our sorghum, but modern biotechnology now has created a sorghum that will grow in our climate, providing us with the ability to harvest some of our own.  I have yet to see many fields of it in our area, however.  Too bad: they look so pretty.

Sorghum is also being altered to improve its nutritional content for humans in countries that have difficulty growing other crops to sustain their population.  Unlike wheat, which is directly consumed by most of us, sorghum is consumed mostly indirectly in North America.  Therefore it is able to slide under the radar of those who oppose GMO.  Unlike wheat, sorghum isn't so strongly identified with the nascent of agriculture and civilization; and our social structure and culture are not so dramatically intertwined with sorghum the way they are with wheat.  And that is why the biotechnologists can practice their skills in altering genes and trying new sorghum hybrids without much opposition from the anti-GMO camp. 

The same wiki on Sorghum gives an interesting table of nutritional content for major staple foods, including many grains, drawn from the databases of the USDA

This is a useful table: one can see at a glance the comparative superiority of wheat for many nutritional aspects (except sorghum has more iron).  But if you like graphs, you might also appreciate the page on sorghum from nutritiondata.  You can see, for example, that like wheat, sorghum's first limiting amino acid in its protein is lysine.

One of the most interesting and thorough nutritional studies I have ever read has given us a detailed look at sorghum's protein.  MacLean, W. et al, "Protein quality and digestibility of sorghum in preschool children: balance studies and plasma free amino acids". The Journal of Nutrition (1981). 111(11): 1928-36.  It would be rare to get ethical approval for studies of this nature any longer, but as the article points out, animal studies in nutrition can only ever take us so far.  The article found that although sorghum protein provides up to 8% of dietary energy, sorghum consumption was associated with poor weight gain in preschool children.  Whether or not a diet rich in sorghum is sufficient to sustain life is not questioned here; but it would seem that a diet more or less limited to sorghum would eventually lead to a "failure to thrive" condition.  No wonder, therefore, that agrobiologists are interested in enhancing the grain's nutritional profile by any means necessary, in areas where it is a primary foodstuff -- areas like Kenya, or India, for example.

Other studies have shown that although sorghum has a lot of starch (around 70%), only about half of that is digestible.  The agrobiologist techies are trying to improve that too.

I have had some sorghum flour in my cupboard for some time now, always intending to make the gluten-free no-knead bread that 'glutenfreegirl' originated and championed, long ago.

But this was when I had just started making bread in earnest, and so many people were coming up to me and telling me that they were gluten intolerant or gluten sensitive when they really weren't (and I continue to suspect it was because it is trendy to be gluten-free, and those who tried going gluten-free found a benefit right away because they were used to over-consuming highly processed flour in processed foods, which contains a lot less bran, and a lot more unnatural ingredients).  There was a time when I thought perhaps I might one day leave wheat behind myself, if it would improve my health.  That day may yet come.  But I try to restrict my grains to whole grains, and I feel fine so far.  I haven't had to steer away from wheat.  And that is why so far, I have never yet made glutenfreegirl's bread.

But look at the ingredients which are required to replace the simple triad of wheat, water and salt, for her gluten-free bread:  In addition to sorghum flour, you have to add potato starch, rice flour, xanthan gum, baking soda, salt, sugar, yeast, vinegar, eggs and club soda.  This is quite a list.  And at the end of it all, what do you get?  A bread that to me doesn't look all that appealing (and many people responding to her post had trouble making it, or complained of the baking soda taste).  If I was gluten intolerant, I'd try it, for sure.  But so far, I haven't been able to bring myself to do it.

More recently, I found this recipe online, from AgMRC (Agricultural Marketing Resource Center), that made me curious: Quick and Easy French Bread from the Sorghum Handbook.  But like most of the other sorghum bread recipes I've seen, sorghum bread recipes all seem to require xanthan gum, and/or other gums and starches or gelatine. This recipe at least is yeasted, and has no baking soda (which makes me wonder why the vinegar is also required).  I have added it to the list of other breads that I probably will never make.

My sourdough partially-sorghum loaves
My sorghum loaves are only 30% sorghum: I am still using wheat, so if you came here looking for a nice gluten-free sorghum sourdough loaf, keep looking, this ain't it.

I tried the recipe a couple of times. 

1. First Loaves

The first time I made it, I kind of skimped on the folding, and let it bulk ferment without turning it and folding it as much as I should.  I went to a yoga class instead.  And I wasn't really all that enamoured of the taste.  My wife seemed to like it, however.  I think that she simply likes bread with no taste, so she can taste the toppings she puts on it. 

2. Second Loaves
So I made it again and this time diligently folded the loaf 7-8 times, for 4 hours before shaping it and proofing it.  And lo and behold, it did not greatly improve the loaf (the first loaf even had more oven spring).  Although the crumb was nicer, the taste was still rather ordinary.

So there you go: 30% sorghum loaves.

Notes to Myself
  • In my opinion, sorghum is not as nutritious, and not even quite as tasty as wheat, and makes less interesting bread.  If you can eat wheat, do so.  If not, by all means make sorghum bread.  Or if you've got sorghum on hand, use it with wheat as I've done here.  
  • But of all the 30% breads I've made so far, with various other grains added to a 70% wheat flour base, this one is -- to me, so far -- the least interesting.  This is purely subjective, but there it is.  I prefer the taste of a 30% Rye bread to this one, although this one was perfectly acceptable too.  I am looking for a grain that will be complementary to wheat, and add to its nutritional content, not make it worse.
  • If you like a bread that's bland so you can taste what you put on it, perhaps this bread is for you.

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