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USDA Researches Use of Sorghum as a Gluten-Free Alternative Grain 10/16/2008 - Having gone gluten-free I, like many of you, have been struggling with gluten-free baking challenges. I began with pancakes. My first pancakes, made with a popular mix, were not the light, fluffy things that I remembered. My son compared them to hockey pucks. They got eaten, but were not a favorite. The next time I tried a popular author's gluten-free pancake recipe. These were a hit, and did not have the sourness of the popular mix (which were bean-based)! The author's recipe was also based on sorghum flour, so I have become convinced that sorghum holds the greatest potential for gluten-free baking. I also tried the author's recipe for bread, which is based on her same sorghum flour mix as her pancakes. The bread, however, was a disaster, and it collapsed as soon as it was taken from the pan. I think possibly that the problem was that by the time you take her sorghum flour mix, and add the additional potato starch called for in making the bread mix, you end up with a mix that is overwhelmingly starch rather than flour. There is actually very little sorghum flour in it by that point. I repeated these problems when trying to use yet another popular sorghum-based gluten-free bread mix.

Meanwhile, in my search for a good sorghum bread recipe I kept coming across a blurb by the Agricultural Research Service to the effect that they had discovered that sour dough fermentation improved the quality of sorghum bread. Well, I have never been fond of the sourness of sourdough bread, but I was interested to know that the ARS was trying to find good recipes for sorghum bread. Apparently they are convinced, as I am, that it holds the highest promise for good gluten-free bread.

Well, heck, the Agricultural Research Service was my old stomping ground! For a couple summers during college I worked at the ARS in Beltsville, Maryland, and at least one of them was spent in the Human Nuitrition Research Division. I worked as a biochemical technician. While I was working with test tubes and distillation apparatus, the wonderful aromas from the nearby test kitchens would waft by me and I would envy the taste testers. I decided to contact those sorghum researchers who have been involved in the search for a good gluten-free bread recipe. I emailed them requesting to know if they had developed any good non-sourdough recipes, and I received the following replies (the reply from Tilman Schober was particularly valuable):

Dear Hallie Davis,

There are a couple of things which could help you to get the desired gluten-free sorghum bread. Sourdough is not imperative, it just additionally helps to stabilize the bread structure. But we know that many people object to the flavor. So, besides sourdough, the following things may help:

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  1. 1) Add the hydrocolloid HPMC (hydroxypropyl methylcellulose). It tremendously helps to get a good crumb. It is a food additive, and some people object to it because they regard it as not natural. However, it is available in a food grade version designed for human consumption, and we simply know nothing that works better. Xanthan gum, probably the second best hydrocolloid, is much inferior in gluten-free bread making. There are various slightly different versions of HPMC commercially available. As US government employees, we cannot endorse a specific product. However, I would like to let you know that we had good success with Methocel K4M, food grade, which is available from retailers like Ener-G Foods.
  2. The larger your bread pan the more likely the bread will collapse. Try to use small pans, and just bake more loaves. This also helps to keep them fresh (just freeze the loaves which you do not eat fresh immediately after cooling). A good pan size might be e.g. 6 inches by 2-3 inches and 2-3 inches high.
  3. Mix sorghum flour with starch. A recipe that has worked for us is described in the attached article (wHPMC, p. 5138). It is as follows: 105 g water, 70 g sorghum flour, 30 g potato starch, 1.75 g salt, 1 g sugar, 2 g dry yeast, and 2 g HPMC. Highest accuracy in weighing these ingredients is not required, but I would prepare a larger amount of dough (e.g. all ingredients multiplied by 10), so that it is easier to weigh. Mix all dry ingredients first in a large bowl (make sure that the HPMC is well mixed with the rest, it tends to form lumps with water). Then add the water, mix (electric mixer) until a smooth batter results, and pour (or spoon) the batter in the greased bread pans. Let the dough rise for about 30-45 min (depends on temperature, observe how it increases in volume) and bake at 355 oF for about 30 min (depends on pan size, you will need to find out for your pan size and oven type).
Another source for sorghum recipes you can find here:

They sell a CD with recipes (it is copyrighted, so I cannot send it to you).

If you have success, we would love to hear about it. If you need further assistance, please let us know.

Kind regards

Tilman then wrote again, enclosing a copy of the referenced article, and asking that I cite it. The article was published in the "Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry", 2007, 55, 5137-5146, and is entitled, "Gluten-Free Sorghum Bread Improved by Sourdough Fermentation: Biochemical, Rheological, and Microstructural Background." The Authors were Tilman J. Schober, Scott R. Bean, and Daniel L. Boyle. They are working in the Manhattan, Kansas Grain Marketing and Production Research Center of the Agricultural Research Center.

The other person who responded to my inquiry was Scott R. Bean. He sent me an earlier but related article, entitled, "Use of Sorghum Flour in Bakery Products." This article was published in the "AIB International Technical Bulletin" in Volume XXVIII, issue 3, May/June 2006. The authors here were:

  • T.J. Schober and S.R. Bean, USDA-ARS, GMPRC, Manhattan, KS 66502
  • E.K. Arendt, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland
  • C. Fenster, Savory Palate Inc., Centennial, CO 80122
This article had the formulas for two sorghum flour blends: Sorghum-Corn Flour Blend and Sorghum-Bean Flour Blend. Further references for the mixes and also a brownie recipe is given as:
  • Fenster, C. 2004. Wheat-Free Recipes & Menus: Delicious, Healthful Eating for People with Food Sensitivities. New York: Avery (Penguin Group).
A recipe for Sorghum Waffles was also given with a citation, "Recipe by Amy Perry and Meredith Wiking, used with permission from" So, the ARS, like me, is using recipes by popular authors and Twin Valley Mills as a starting point, and are experimenting from there.

I don't know about you, but I, for one, intend to get the Methocel K4M, food grade, and try using it instead of guar gum or xanthan gum! I also plan to try the 70-30 sorghum mix described today by Dr. Schober. I am TIRED of gummy bread, and collapses! welcomes your comments below (registration is NOT required).

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6 Responses:

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said this on
17 Oct 2008 1:21:02 PM PST
Great article. Does anyone have a sorghum based (or gluten free) bread recipe that contains no corn and no tapioca? I am sensitive to both materials as well!

Hallie Davis
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said this on
18 Oct 2008 1:32:11 PM PST
I suggested to Dr. Schober that the above recipe was not 'kitchen friendly' since few persons have a kitchen scale that measures in grams. He was kind enough to make the conversions to volume, revising the recipe as follows:


Dept. of Agriculture Sorghum Bread: (multiplied by 10)

1050 g (4+3/4 cup) water,
700 g (6+1/2 cup) sorghum flour,
300 g (2 cup) potato starch,
17.5 g (2+1/2 to 3 teaspoon) salt,
10 g (2 teaspoon) sugar,
20 g (5 teaspoon) dry yeast, and
20 g (4 Tablespoons) HPMC.

(We use Methocel K4M, food grade, from Dow)

Mix all dry ingredients first in a large bowl (make sure that the HPMC is well mixed with the rest, it tends to form lumps with water) to make your bread mix.

I would recommend using very small bread pans. I bought mine in the local grocery shop, dimensions should be around 6 x 3 x 2 inches (2 inches is the height). Thus, the above quantity should yield more than 2 loaves. (Could you maybe tell the people to simply make several small loaves at once, or upscale/downscale the recipe? It is required to fill the pans only 2/3 of their height.

Mix (electric mixer) until a smooth batter results, and pour (or spoon) the batter in the greased bread pans (use small pans, otherwise the bread will collapse; e.g. 6 x 3 x 2 inches (2 inches is the height). Let the dough rise for about 30-45 min (depends on temperature, observe how it increases in volume) and bake at 355 degrees F. for about 30 min (depends on pan size, you will need to find out for your pan size and oven type).

I have optimized the water content in several studies. Less water makes the bread dry and low in volume (the dough is so firm that it cannot rise – the situation is completely different from normal wheat bread, in which less water is required). HPMC contributes to water binding. The actual amount of water may vary depending on the flour properties, but should always be around 1:1 (by weight, not by volume).


I have tried this recipe exactly as written above. I did find that the Methocel, instead of gums and egg whites, allowed it to have an improved crumb. However, I think that more potato starch, and slightly increased water might allow it to rise more, and might improve the taste and make the crust less cement-like. Using the Methocel has, I believe, opened a new door for experimentation, and I welcome all of you to start experimenting with sorghum flour-potato starch recipes, substituting Methocel for eggs and gums. I know we are all looking for a recipe that will rise well enough to give a loaf large enough to be sliced for sandwich bread. Happy experimenting!

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said this on
03 Nov 2008 7:41:33 AM PST
I can't find Methocel on the EnerG Foods website. Hallie, did you purchase from them or elsewhere?

Look forward to your reply.

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said this on
03 Nov 2008 6:13:56 PM PST
I purchased it direct from Dow, but generally they only sell to companies. I had to buy 10 pounds, which is much more than I need. I'm tempted to package it into smaller portions for sale to people who are having trouble getting it.

D. G.
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said this on
25 Feb 2010 2:09:00 PM PST
How has baking with it been?

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said this on
10 Jun 2011 2:45:36 AM PST
Great info, but not sure where the sourdough comes into the recipe? (seems a straight recipe with no fermentation)

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