Photograph of a field of sorghum in Texas. The photo shows a dense field of sorghum plants with yellowish to dark pink ears of grain.

Sorghum quick facts

Page snapshot: Quick facts about sorghum: What it is, where it came from, how it is used, how it is grown, and where it is grown.

Topics covered on this page: What is sorghum?; Where did sorghum come from?; How is sorghum used?; How is sorghum grown?; Where is sorghum grown?; Resources.

Credits: Funded by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Page by Elizabeth J. Hermsen (2023).

Updates: Page last updated March 12, 2023.

Image above: Cultivated grain sorghum, El Campo, Texas, 2013. Photo by Lance Cheung, USDA (USDA on flickr, public domain).

What is sorghum?

Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) or milo (among other names) is a tropical grass that is grown primarily for its grain, although sweet sorghum (sorgo) is grown for the sugar-rich juice in its stem, and broomcorn is grown for its branches. Sorghum produces small, round grains that are often white or red in color. The scientific naming of wild and domesticated sorghum species is complicated, although the domesticated forms are now usually placed in Sorghum bicolor subspecies bicolor.

Photograph of a ear or head of sorghum, India. The photo shows a conical ear of sorghum with off-white grains.

Sorghum or jowar (Sorghum bicolor), Maharashtra, India. Photo by MGB CEE (Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license, image cropped and resized).

Photograph of four people standing in front of a field of sweet sorghum. Three of the people watch as the forth person cuts a piece of sorghum stem.

Original caption: "Paul Cochran, a farmer from Portland, cuts slices of sweet sorghum stalk to taste for sweetness. Drs. Nilda Burgos and Leopoldo Estorninos and Jerry Gregory, a certified crop consultant from Lake Village, look on during a field day at the University of Arknasas Division of Agriculture's Rohwer Research Station." Photo source: AAES Director on flickr (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license, image resized).

Photograph showing a head of broomcorn. The photo shows a fan-shaped inflorescence with delicate branches bearing brownish spikelets.

Where did sorghum come from?

Scientists think that sorghum was domesticated from a wild form of sorghum more than 5000 years ago in the region of present-day Sudan. Cultivation of sorghum later spread to other regions, including India, other parts of Africa, East Asia, and the Mediterranean region, before sorghum was brought to the Americas. 

Map of Africa showing the location of Sudan, which is shaded red. Sudan occurs in northeastern Africa, immediately south Egypt. Its northeast border is on the Red Sea, and Eritrea and Ethiopia are also roughly to the east. South Sudan is to the south, and the Central African Republic, Chad, and Libya are roughly to the west.
Photo of a field of sorghum in Amara, Ethiopia. The photo shows sorghum plants with ears of reddish-orange grain.

Sorghum crop in Amara, Ethiopia, a region of Ethiopia bordering Sudan. Photo by Radosław Botev (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland, image cropped and resized).

How is sorghum used?

Sorghum is cultivated for its grain, which is an important food source for people living in dry tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Sorghum grain, stems, and leaves are also used as livestock feed and fodder. Sorghum grain can be fermented to make beverages. Fermented sorghum beverages are traditionally brewed in parts of Africa (for example, doloikigage, or tchapalo). Commercial brewers are also exploiting sorghum for use in gluten-free beers.

Sweet sorghum or sorgo accumulates sucrose (a sugar) in its stem. Sweet sorghum stems can be crushed to extract the sugary juice, which an be processed into sorghum syrup. The juice can also be fermented and distilled to make sorghum rum. Sweet sorghum is of interest for producing biofuels, although it is not yet widely exploited for that purpose, unlike maize and sugarcane.

Broomcorn inflorescences are used in some types of decorations, as well as in natural-bristle brooms.

Photograph of sorghum porridge. The photo shows a thick, granular, brown porridge in an off-white bowl.
Photograph of bhakri, a type of Indian flatbread, made out of sorghum flour. The photo shows three flat, circular pieces of bread.

Bhakri (flat bread) made from jowar (sorghum) flour. Bharkri is made in certain parts of India. Photo by Dharmadhyaksha (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license, image resized).

Photograph of cattle grazing on a field of sorghum that has been harvested for grain in Kenya. The photos shows brown and black cows among tall, sparse stalks of sorghum.

Cattle grazing on sorghum stalks in a field, Kenya, 2005. Photo by ICRISAT/M. Winslow (flickrCreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license, image cropped and resized).

2-panel figure showing images of tchoukoutou brewing in Benin, Africa. Panel 1: A woman showing malted sorghum, sorghum that has been germinated and then dried. The grains are light brown and have roots coming out of them. Panel 2: A woman stirring tchoukoutou in a metal kettle. The tchoukoutou is an opaque brown liquid.

Preparation of tchoukoutou, a fermented beverage made from sorghum grain, in Benin, 2017. Left: Malted (sprouted, dried) sorghum. Malting releases enzymes that break down the starch in grains, converting it to sugars that can be fermented by yeast. Right: Tchoukoutou brewing. Left photo and right photo by Abby Wendle (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license, image cropped and resized).

Photograph of grits and milk with sorghum syrup. The photo shows yellow grits (coarsely ground corn) in milk, with brownish syrup on top, all in a white bowl.

Grits (ground maize) and milk with sorghum syrup. Grits are a traditional food in the southeastern U.S. Photo by Melinda Young Stuart (flickr, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license).

Photograph of a field of tall sorghum plants being machine-harvested. The photo sows a tractor with a harvesting attachment on the front and a wagon behind. A man in an enclosed cab operates the tactor. The sorghum plants are taller than the tractor.

Tall sorghum plants engineered to produce bio-oil for fuel being machine-harvested. Photo by Claire Benjamin (PETROSS, TERRA-MEPP & WEST on flickrCreative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license, image resized).

How is sorghum grown?

Like other grass grain crops, sorghum is grown in cultivated fields. Grain sorghum is grown from seed as an annual crop, meaning that it reaches maturity in one growing season. Sorghum is primarily a self-pollinated plant, and pollination and fertilization are important to grain yields. 

Photograph of two women sitting near sorghum plants and inspecting harvested ears of sorghum. The photo shows two women in traditional Indian dress sitting near one another among ears of sorghum with white kernels. The nearer woman is holding up ears in both hands and appears to be looking at them. A bundle of ears is sitting on the ground in front of the women.

Farmers saving sorghum panicles for seed, Maharashtra, India, 2010. Photo by ICRISAT (flickrCreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license, image cropped and resized).

Photograph showing a field densely planted with sorghum. Each sorghum plant has large cluster of red caryopses near its apex. A low hill with patches of forest and open field rises in the background.

Cultivated sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), France. Photo by Jean Weber (flickrCreative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license, image resized).

Photograph of a man hand-harvesting sorghum in Haiti. The photo shows a man standing in a field of sorghum and reaching up to cut an ear of sorghum off a plant with a tool.

Hand-harvesting sorghum, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 2014. Photo by SOIL (flickrCreative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license, image resized).

Photograph of the sorghum harvest on a farm in Navasota, Texas. The photo shows a green and yellow combine cutting ears of sorghum off the tops of sorghum plants. A pile of red grain can be seen mounded on top of the combine. The ears on the plants nearer the viewer have already been harvested.

Mechanized sorghum grain harvesting, Navasota, Texas, U.S.A., 2013. Photo by Bob Nichols/USDA (flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license, image resized).

Where is sorghum grown?

Sorghum can be grown in large parts of the temperate zone because it is an annual crop that does not require an extremely long growing season. Today, sorghum is the world's number five cereal (grass grain) crop, after maize, wheat, rice, and barley. The top producers of sorghum are the United States and Nigeria, followed by Ethiopia, India, Mexico, and China. 

World map showing sorghum production in 2020. Countries are shaded lighter green to indicate less production, darker green to indicate more production. The top producers (dark green countries) are the U.S.A., Mexico, Nigeria, Ethiopia, India, and China.

World map of sorghum production in 2020 by country. Map from Our World in Data (Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license, image resized).



Plants Engineered to Replace Oil in Sugarcane and Sweet Sorghum (PETROSS):

Sweet sorghum research (I. Dweikat, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Department of Agronomy and Horticulture):

Tchoukoutou (C. Seidl, Gastro Obscura):


Charles, D. 2013. Heat, drought draw farmers back to sorghum, the 'camel of crops.' The Salt, October 31, 2013.

Curtis, W. 2016. Making sense of sorghum rum. Distiller, July 1, 2016.

Ezeanya-Esiobu, C. 2019. The role of rural women in making home brew: a Rwandan case study. The Conversation, May 5, 2019.

Farm Energy. 2019. Sweet sorghum for biofuel production. April 3, 2019.

Heuzé V., G. Tran, and F. Lebas F. 2015. Sorghum grain. Feedipedia.

Heuzé, V., G. Tran, S. Giger-Reverdin, and F. Lebas. 2015. Sorghum forage. Feedipedia.

Rajvanshi, A. K. 2018. From food to fodder, here's how this magic plant can take care of our needs. The Better India, December 20, 2018.

U.K. Cooperative Extension Service. 2013. Broomcorn. PDF:


Levetin, P., and D. S. McMahon. 2016. Plants and Society, 7th ed. McGraw Hill Education, New York.

Simpson, B. B., and M. C. Ogorzaly. 2001. Economic botany, plants in our world, 3rd ed. McGraw Hill Higher Education, New York, New York.

Stewart, Amy. 2013. The Drunken Botanist. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Scientific articles

Fuller, D. Q., and C. J. Stevens. 2018. Sorghum domestication and diversification: a current archaeobotanical perspective. Pp. 427-452 in A. Mercuri, A. D'Andrea, R. Fornaciari, and A. Höhn (eds.) Plants and people in the African past. Springer, Cham.