AMARILLO – When producers showed up to the annual Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service forage sorghum silage tour near Bushland, little did they know they would be getting a muffin and a nutrition education.
Dr. Jourdan Bell, AgriLife Extension agronomist in Amarillo, added Lizabeth Gresham, AgriLife Extension family and consumer sciences agent for Potter County, to her annual tour lineup this year in an effort to link agriculture and human health and diet.
The 2017 AgriLife Bushland Forage Sorghum Silage trial includes 78 forage sorghums, sorghum-sudangrasses and grain sorghum hybrids grown for livestock production. However, Bell said, it also provided the opportunity to discuss the value of food-grade sorghum hybrids in the human diet.
“We wanted to look at sorghum use from both sides; while this field trial is targeting the livestock industry and silage production for both beef cattle and dairies, we also recognize there is a human component,” she said.
“We need to look at sorghum for the human diet as well as the animal diet. And, if farmers know there are additional marketing opportunities, maybe they can tap into something that offers a premium.”
With many producers and seed industry representatives present, Bell said the tour was an opportunity to address the human aspect, provide education and emphasize that AgriLife Extension realizes sorghum is a part of a healthy diet and there is an opportunity to direct it into alternative markets.
“This is part of the Path to the Plate program, which is a new statewide research-based educational program to improve agriculture literacy with consumers,” she said. “It is important for consumers to understand how food is produced as well as how to prepare healthy foods in order to lead healthier lives.”
Select AgriLife Extension county agents across the state were trained as Path to the Plate Champions, and will be training other county agent.
“Lizabeth is one of the Champions,” Bell said. “When you look at how important nutrition is to health and minimizing chronic diseases, it is important for us to educate consumers about healthy food choices. Lizabeth is focusing on sorghum in the diet, and promoting it as a healthy grain to consumers.
“It was wonderful for Lizabeth to participate in our plot tour. While the program objective is not to target producers, we recognize agricultural producers are also consumers,” Bell said. “At the tour, it was interesting to see how many people directly involved in agriculture and grain sorghum production had not even tasted sorghum.”
Gresham said she wants to emphasize the importance of nutrition and whole grains in the diet, including sorghum. She developed a sorghum banana muffin recipe for the producers to taste. As producers of sorghum, she said, it’s important for them to not only know how to grow it but also how it tastes as well as about its nutritional benefits.
“It only makes sense for us to work as a team and be educated on the nutritional benefits and taste of sorghum,” she said. “I am able to offer cooking and tasting opportunities and emphasize sorghum’s exceptional whole grain nutrition. Sorghum is an excellent choice in whole grains because it is packed full of healthy nutrients. It’s extremely high in protein and fiber.”
“Sorghum is a naturally gluten-free whole grain, which is important right now in the food industry,” she said. “It is a great product for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.”
Gresham said the availability of whole-grain sorghum products can be limited in some areas although it can be found readily online.
Ultimately, education is the key to help market and use the grain, she said, including the use of sorghum in recipes.
“It can be a little tricky at first to bake with sorghum due to the lack of gluten but only a few tips are needed,” Gresham said. “I can add support, helping to educate on baking techniques and cooking methods to add taste, flavor and texture that consumers are accustomed to.”
She said sorghum provides a mild nutty flavor that pairs well with all spices and can be used in both savory and sweet dishes. Sorghum grain has a similar consistency to rice and can be used to prepare many meals and side dishes.
“A passion of mine is bringing families back to the table by teaching hands-on cooking skills,” Gresham said.
She added sorghum is versatile and can be served in many ways. It can be used in soups, salads, stews and even popped like popcorn. When cooked, sorghum will double to triple in size and becomes tender.
Sorghum takes slightly longer to cook than other grains but it can be cooked in a pressure cooker to reduce cooking time or prepared ahead and refrigerated or frozen for later use, she said.
“Just add it to your stews, beans and salads. It can be eaten warm or cold,” Gresham said. “Sorghum provides health benefits that make it a worthy addition to any diet. Fuel your body with sorghum and add an important plant-based protein, a great source of dietary fiber as well as minerals like phosphorus, potassium and iron.”
Gresham handed out a flyer from the Texas Sorghum Association on 10 reasons to try sorghum, which can be found at http://www.simplysorghum.com/nutrition/.