FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA, US — Sorghum works as a food ingredient, in animal feed and in biofuel production. Lesser known is the ancient grain’s ability to play a role in growing mushrooms.

Sorghum may be bred to have specific traits desired by the mushroom industry, said Earl Roemer, president and founder of Nu Life Market, LLC, on June 25 at the Northern Crops Institute’s third annual Ancient Grains Conference in Fargo. Mycelium from mushrooms may be injected into a sterilized sorghum grain, he said. The grain becomes seed and spreads throughout the substrate.

Nu Life Market was founded early this century, when sorghum was an ingredient used in the growing gluten-free category. Consumer demand has evolved, with a shift toward sustainability, Roemer said. Besides Certified Gluten-Free, Nu Life Market sorghum products are Non-GMO Project verified and certified organic by the US Department of Agriculture. Sorghum grows well in western Kansas, even though annual rainfall in the area hardly ever exceeds 20 inches per year, Roemer said. Sorghum also improves soil health in that it covers the ground like a blanket and prevents carbon dioxide from leaving the ground, he said.

In the gluten-free category, Nu Life Market and Kansas State University worked together to control the milling process and changed the particle size of sorghum, which reduced the sandy mouthfeel, Roemer said. Many gluten-free products are frozen, and waxy sorghum has better freeze-thaw stability than conventional sorghum, he said.

Over 100 million consumers globally eat sorghum every day, Roemer said. Food applications include ready-to-eat cereal, extruded snacks, filled crisps, pretzels, baked foods, crackers, bars, pasta and wafers. Attendees at the Ancient Grains Conference made a Mediterranean sorghum salad and a mushroom sorghum stir-fry dish in a baking demonstration led by Laurie Scanlin, PhD, of Ardent Mills and Rachel Carson and Mary Niehaus of the Northern Crops Institute.