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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 PDT
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 PDT
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 PDT
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 PDT
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 PDT
How has baking with it been?

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

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All Activity Celiac Disease & Gluten-Free Diet Forum - All Activity

The Rash and various other symptoms are strong signs of Celiac, multiple people in your family also have it. I see several of your symptoms as very familiar to me myself, and I know that supplementation will help resolve the rest of your issues with a gluten-free diet. While we do suggest getting tested for confirmation if your limited as you say with insurance, and money then doing what is best for your health should be your focus right now. Go ahead and remove the gluten from your diet if you wish and go gluten free. If something happens later you MIGHT be able to put up with a gluten challenge and get tested at a later time. I feel for you and see the issues, I have Medicaid myself and my severe gluten reactions and allergies got me on disability for a good while. Testing was a pain in the ass for me as finding a doctor that takes Medicaid is bloody near impossible where I live. I do suggest supplementing Magnesium, Iron, Vitamin D, and B vitamins primarily right now. Others you might be low in are folate, E,C,A and various others. The nerve issues are strongly related to various b vitamins, magnesium, and D. I will share a link of what I take for a example. BTW have you checked out the newbie 101 thread? And if you need help finding gluten-free foods I have a huge list that I have complied for people although we normally suggest a whole foods diet only for the first month or so. Might want to drop dairy and oats for a bit, by the sound of your deficiency issues I would say it would be a huge help doing so.

It is meant to show you are a real person not a spammer. Not sure if it works anymore. Only Admin can see it and he doesn't do anything with it.

MelissaNZ, Has your daughter been checked for vitamin deficiencies??? Vitamin D deficiency symptoms include urinary incontinence, oral candidiasis (thrush), skin rashes, bumps on the backs of arms, joint pain, distended stomach and short stature. Bones can't grow much without vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency causes delayed gastric emptying (food doesn't move through the gastrointestinal tract at a normal speed and the intestines bloat) which explains your daughter's delayed reaction to the cake. Vitamin A deficiency is also a cause of bumps on the back of the arms. Vitamin A deficiency causes vision problems. Vitamin A and D are both fat soluble vitamins. Absorption of fats is a problem for Celiacs. So is absorption of B vitamins and important minerals. B Complex vitamins are water soluble and must be replenished every day. Skin rashes are associated with several B vitamins like niacin (B3), B12, and thiamine (B1). I went through a period of severe malnutrition prior to diagnosis. It was not a pleasant experience. I had symptoms similar to your daughter's, including the incontinence, which resolved on vitamin D supplementation. Please, please have your daughter tested for vitamin D deficiency. And have her B vitamins checked as well. Celiac Disease causes malabsorption. Malabsorption causes deficiency diseases. Newly diagnosed Celiacs need to be checked for deficiencies. I hope this helps.

I will try to make my long story short, I have been searching my whole life for a diagnosis, I have seen pretty much every doctor possible I even went through a spinal tap recently because they thought I had multiple sclerosis, when I was younger I was always throwing up and having stomach problems, a couple hospital visits they thought I had appendicitis, I started having a neurological symptoms as well as anxiety and depression, The fatigue was just over bearing, I was having numbness and tingling and muscle spasms all the time eventually started having seizures, which kind of cycled through and stop happening after a couple months, and then it dawned upon me my brother has celiac pretty severely, my grandmother also has celiac, my dad does as well, I don't know why I never thought that it could be my issue, for the last week I have Been gluten-free and steering clear of cross-contamination, my dizziness is improved my fatigue is improved as well as rashes I was getting on my arms and sides, I have no more muscle jerks or spasms, The problem is I have horrible insurance and I cannot afford testing, so I am at least trying to do it an home blood test, I know it's not very accurate on telling me if I have celiac or not, But the thought I may never know for sure if I have it is very daunting. My family keeps telling me you don't need to spend thousands of dollars to have a doctor tell you you can't eat something you already know you can't. Just was wondering if anybody else has been in my position and seeing if anybody has a vi just was wondering if anybody else has been in my position and seeing if anybody has advice, I don't want to be known as one of those people who believe they have something and people with the disease frown upon them it's a very scary thing to think about.

...ON a side note this is quite easy, you can make your own out of any gluten-free Bread mix, I recently started using a coconut flour blend for this.......Most often people associate caraway with Rye Bread so you just add caraway seeds to the dough and a bit more vinegar to sour it a tad and BAM gluten-free Rye Bread knock off. I think Authentic Foods even has a additive to put in bread mixes to make it taste like Rye Bread....Or you can buy it preamade, I have issues with all the other ingredients but as for one of the best gluten-free Breads out the Canyon House makes a Rye like bread