Gluten-free baked foods demand a lot of work from formulators, with taste and texture running neck and neck as the top concerns. That’s where sorghum flour offers advantages. It has a neutral flavor and can be worked into whole-grain and multigrain applications as well as gluten-free products.

Big potential marks the debut of sorghum flour as an ingredient for commercial bakers, especially those pursuing the gluten-free market. According to the research firm Datamonitor, the global market for gluten-free products is estimated to reach $4.3 billion within the next five years, representing growth of $1.5 billion. While this category seeks to serve those suffering from celiac and related diseases, its appeal has grown through demand from consumers seeking perceived prophylactic benefits from a gluten-free diet.

“The popularity of gluten-free products has helped raise awareness for sorghum flour and other types of flours,” said Brook Carson, technical products and market development manager, ADM Milling, Shawnee Mission, KS. “Like many of the other grains and flours that are now getting attention, sorghum flour has unique characteristics that have been overlooked for a long time because wheat flour has been the standard.”

Sorghum flour, milled from white sorghum, is more economical than most specialty flours and food starches, according to Ms. Carson. The company introduced sorghum flour and whole-grain sorghum flour for both gluten-free and multigrain food applications in 2010. ADM’s sorghum flour has a light color and neutral flavor. It has already found use in bakery mixes, flour blends, gluten-free cookies, multigrain breads and tortillas. It also adapts well to extruded products such as RTE breakfast cereals and snacks.

Grain sorghum, one of the oldest known grains, originated in Africa and India. In the US, the drought-tolerant cereal grain grows primarily in Kansas, Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Dakota. All sorghum produced in the US is non-GMO, and its storage protein, kafirin, is gluten-free. Colored varieties range from dark brown to red to white.

ADM currently produces sorghum flour at its Plainview, TX, facility. “As demand for sorghum flour increases, we have room for growth at other facilities within the sorghum growing region,” Ms. Carson noted.

This grain is better known in the US as an animal feed, yet on a global basis, its primary use is for human foods. In many parts of the world, sorghum provides the basis for thick porridges, popped snacks and fermented and unfermented flatbreads and is cooked and served as a whole grain and malted into both alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages.

When working with sorghum flour, bakery formulators must take into account its lack of gluten. No gluten matrix is present to give the necessary structure required for baked foods. “A new gluten-like system must be created using flours, gums and starches to mimic the functionality of wheat flour,” Ms. Carson explained. Such additions of starches and gums will change the water absorption, and she noted that sorghum flour also binds more water than wheat flour. “Granulation plays an important role in functionality when using sorghum flour,” she added.

What’s Ms. Carson’s advice to formulators about putting sorghum flour to work in bakery applications? “Use it! Don’t be intimidated by the fact that sorghum flour is different than what you may be used to,” she said, and ADM’s technical experts offer advice and assistance on using sorghum flour in bakery formulations. More details are available through the company’s website