Sweet Sorghum Revival: How to Grow Your Own Natural Sweetener

Allergic to bees and don’t have sugar maple trees, but still want to produce your own sweeteners? Try sweet sorghum syrup, a natural sugar substitute that can grow in most U.S. gardens.

| February/March 2013

I grew up helping my family make sweet sorghum syrup. I remember the sorghum canes growing in our garden, and the late summer day we harvested our crop. I loved the long day with family and friends, Dad readying the equipment, and Mom making sure everyone was fed. After Dad passed away, I became determined that my children would continue to play a part in producing this delicious, homegrown, natural sweetener. Sorghum-making is a way to increase your food self-sufficiency, but more than that, it’s a meaningful tradition you can add to your homestead.

A past call-out in MOTHER EARTH NEWS for sorghum-making stories led to a flow of memories, photos and recipes centered on sweet sorghum syrup. (I’ve shared many of these stories in my blog, A Modern Missouri Homesteader.) I’ve read about­­ kids chewing on sticks of sweet cane, neighbors working together to send the cane through the mill, and loving parents ladling syrup onto a pan for kids to dip into with apples. The best part? These aren’t only old, nearly forgotten memories. I’m helping MOTHER EARTH NEWS lead a sorghum revival so that you, too, can experience the sweet satisfaction of becoming one step closer to food self-sufficiency.

Don't miss the plans for a DIY sorghum press, submitted by a reader as a follow-up to the original printing of this article. The reader's letter and instructions are available under Sorghum Press Plans (scroll to the bottom of the page).  

What Is Sorghum Syrup?

Sorghum syrup is a 100 percent natural sweetener sometimes called “sorghum molasses,” as its flavor and uses are similar to those of molasses made from sugar cane. Sorghum-makers press sweet, green juice from the sorghum canes and cook the juice down into a finished syrup. Ten gallons of sorghum juice will make approximately 1 gallon of syrup.

When made at home, every batch of sorghum syrup turns out a little different because many variables play a part in the process. The variety of cane grown, the type of soil it’s grown in, the maturity of the cane at harvest, the length of cooking — all of these factors work together to turn out a unique, natural sugar substitute each time.

Check around for sorghum festivals in your area, and visit the website of the National Sweet Sorghum Producers and Processors Association to get in touch with folks near where you live. For more detailed instructions on producing sweet sorghum syrup — beyond what you’ll find in this article — read our online selections from the book Sweet Sorghum Production and Processing from the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Sorghum Production: Milling and Cooking and Learn About Growing Sorghum: A Natural Sweetener.

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