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Optimize sorghum to make it a viable wheat alternative.

While sorghum has been part of the human diet in Africa and India for centuries, in the United States the sorghum crop has been used mainly to feed livestock. However, worldwide, more than 50% of sorghum is grown directly for human consumption.

Breeding programs continue to improve the genetics of sorghum. The objective is to provide a bright, white sorghum with a thin pericarp and excellent hardness for food applications: cereals, snack foods, baked goods and brewed products. Additional research is being conducted to prove sorghum's usefulness as an extender in meat products. The absence of gluten in grain sorghum provides a niche marketing opportunity for companies that specialize in meeting the needs of the celiac population.

USDA-ARS researchers are looking for new uses for the versatile grain. They want to understand how sorghum's starch, lipids and proteins affect its taste and texture. What makes sorghum attractive to many consumers, though, is what it's missing. Because it lacks gluten--present in wheat and two closely related cereals, rye and barley--sorghum is considered safe for the 1 million to 2 million people in the United States diagnosed with celiac disease, a condition marked by an intolerance to gluten.

But gluten proteins are what give dough made from wheat flour its viscoelasticity, a necessary quality in making breads and other baked products. Sorghum proteins are different from most other grain proteins. They're very tough and strong, which makes them more difficult to handle and analyze. Investigators are baking their way toward good-tasting, finely textured sorghum bread. In a recent study, the researchers used nine food-grade varieties to produce loaves of wheat-free, 70% sorghum-30% corn starch bread.

By analyzing breadcrumb structure and texture, the scientists rated the loaves, noting significant differences among them. The winning hybrids yielded breads with a fine crumb structure and a high overall number of cells. Scientists are working to produce a viscoelastic dough from sorghum flour, which is needed to make a high-quality, 100% sorghum bread. They are also developing recipes for other baked goods made with the grain.

Sorghum is also attracting attention for its ability to quench free radicals. Some varieties contain high levels of cancer-fighting phenols and tannins and even exceed blueberries in antioxidant potential. High in insoluble fiber too, specialty sorghum brands could become new sources of antioxidants in foods.

Further information. Scott Bean, USDA-ARS Grain Marketing and Production Research Center, 1515 College Ave., Manhattan, KS 66502; phone: 785-776-2725; fax: 785-537-5534; email: scott@gmprc.ksu.edu.
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Publication:Emerging Food R&D Report
Date:Jul 1, 2004
Words:411
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