Tennessee Sorghum Makes the World a Sweeter Place

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Sorghum from Muddy Pond in Tennessee

It isn’t Tennessee’s biggest cash crop, but when it comes to taste, nothing’s sweeter than old-fashioned sorghum.

What is Sorghum?

Don’t mistake the tall, broad-leaf plant with corn, which it resembles in the field. And certainly, aficionados say, don’t confuse it with plain old sugar cane that yields molasses. Sweet sorghum (Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench) is a thing unto itself – part tradition, part history, part agriculture– and entirely good eating.

“I can’t say that sorghum is a major industry boom in Tennessee, but it’s been grown here for a long time, kind of a family tradition,” says Stanley Trout, marketing director for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. “It’s a secret treasure. People think they need molasses, but you can forget molasses when you get some really good sorghum syrup.”

Nutritional Facts About Sorghum

That sweet-tasting syrup is apparently good for you, too. According to the National Sweet Sorghum Producers and Processors Association, one tablespoon of sorghum syrup supplies 200 mg of potassium, 6 percent of the daily value needed for the average adult.

It’s also high in antioxidants, contains 300 milligrams of protein, 30 mg of calcium, 20 mg of magnesium and 11 mg of phosphorus – all in one tablespoon.

“It’s really catching on in the Western states,” says Morris Bitzer, executive secretary for the Kentucky-headquartered NSSPPA. “We’re shipping like mad.”

That’s good news for Tennessee, which can lay claim to being one of the top two sorghum producers in the nation – second only to Kentucky.

A Sweet History

Sorghum is certainly not a new crop, however. A native of Africa, sorghum cane was introduced to the United States in the 1850s as an alternative to sugar cane, whose long growing season makes it unsuitable in the upper South and Midwest. Sorghum cane thrives in hot and dry conditions, and was a welcome way for farmers to obtain sweetener cheaply and locally.

By the late 19th century, according to the NSSPPA, the crop was being grown mostly in the South, dropping to only 2,400 acres nationally in 1975, though today it’s back up to 25,000 to 30,000 acres nationally.

“We’re pretty steady,” says Steve Stoll, whose Stoll’s Sorghum Mill produces 7,000-9,000 gallons of sorghum syrup annually from 55 acres of cane near Finger, Tennessee, south of Jackson. “We have good sales and we’re holding our own.”

The Difference Between Sorghum and Molasses

Though many people confuse molasses with sorghum, there’s a world of difference, fans of the amber-colored syrup claim.

“Molasses is a byproduct of the sugar industry,” explains Sherry Guenther of Muddy Pond Sorghum Mill in Monterey. “It’s what’s left after the sugar rises to the top of boiling sugar-cane juice. Sorghum has a different taste to it, though. You can’t get dry sugar from sorghum, but what you get is a syrup that has a sweet taste with a little bit of bite to it.”

Unlike cane sugar or molasses, sorghum is full of nutrients. It’s also a versatile ingredient in many recipes, from bread and cakes to barbecue sauce, and is a flavorful complement to vegetables, such as green beans and corn. The NSSPPA even recommends it for stir-fry cooking.

Sorghum, John Guenther, Muddy Pond Sorghum Mill

Muddy Pond Sorghum in Monterey, TN

Guenther definitely speaks with the voice of experience. The sorghum syrup she, husband Mark and his family produce won the top national award from the NSSPPA in 2003, based on its clarity, smoothness and taste.

Muddy Pond’s 40 acres of sorghum cane are planted, using a horse-drawn planter, around the first week in May – “if the ground is dry enough and it’s warm enough,” Guenther says. For a long while, the crop resembles corn. When the plants near maturity in late to mid-August, they bear seed-filled heads, which are lopped off and saved for seed for next year.

Sorghum cane is harvested during September and October. The Guenthers pull a press behind their tractor, so juice is extracted from freshly cut plants right in the field. The bright green juice then goes back to the mill, where it is kept, heated, in a holding tank. To avoid spoilage and produce the best syrup, it is cooked the next day, thickening into light amber syrup that is then bottled. Guenther says 10 gallons of raw sorghum juice will yield about 1 gallon of syrup.

Mayford Effler of Townsend, a self-professed lifelong sorghum fan who refers to sorghum syrup as simply “sorghums,” claims he eats perhaps 2 gallons of the sweet stuff a year, mixing the hot syrup with butter and drizzling it on hot biscuits.

“They’re good and good for you,” he insists enthusiastically. “In fact, when I was little, they told me sorghums would make me pretty. Turned out it was the butter and biscuits, though.”

Not everyone shares Effler’s love of sorghum syrup. Steve Stoll says many younger visitors to his farm “don’t take to sorghum as much as older folks do. Some even turn up their noses.”

Still, the lure of this “secret treasure” is strong for many people, especially those who grew up with its distinctive taste and who cherish the rural traditions it recalls.

Mark Guenther says that sense of tradition is part of the reason he’s a sorghum producer. It’s gratifying, he says, that “a lot of the people who stop to see us making sorghum say it brings back memories of when their grandpa used to make it the same way.”

The Guenther family helps preserve that tradition at their farm, where visitors can watch the entire sorghum-making process, taste syrup warm from the cooker and buy homemade breads and baked goods. They also demonstrate sorghum-making at Dollywood’s October Harvest Celebration every year, as well as a number of other local festivals. They sell their products mainly to welcome centers and outlets in the Great Smoky Mountains.

TN Sorghum

Stoll’s Sorghum Mill in Finger, TN

At Stoll’s Sorghum Mill, the emphasis is on wholesale production and sales.

“Ninety-five percent of our syrup goes to farm suppliers, wholesalers and co-ops in six different states,” Stoll says. “You’ll find us in a lot of tourist places like Apple Barn, and in grocery stores like Piggly Wiggly, Big Star and Sav-a-Lot. We do some retail at the house, and we invite people to drop in whenever they want to.”

Both the Guenther and the Stoll families inherited their involvement in sorghum production from the generation before– and hope to see it live on into the future.

It’s hard work, they agree, but well worth it. As Sherry Guenther says: “We like to say we’re sweetening up the world.”

SEE ALSO: What is Sorghum?

32 Comments

  1. John Green

    April 1, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    looking for sorghum syrup. I bought a 16.oz jar of sorghum molasses from you
    folks and it’s GREAT. Do you sell sorghum syrup? Thank you John Green

    • Ruby

      November 1, 2017 at 6:43 pm

      I have been trying to buy some molasses for to weeks but can’t figure this out, I helped while young so I know a bit about this great food, will some one send an e/mail or a phone number any thing I need some please. I am 76, and love unsulfured molasses, thank so much hope to hear from some one soon, MS, Martell.

      • yvonne savage

        December 22, 2017 at 1:27 pm

        try Davey’s sorghum just outside of Memphis. phone 662 851 7832

  2. carolyn wigington

    October 4, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    When will your new crop of soghum molasses be ready. Church group would like to visit and get some.

    • Blair Thomas

      October 5, 2011 at 9:04 am

      Carolyn,
      The best way to find out when the sorghum will be ready is to contact Muddy Pond Sorghum in Monterey directly. You can find their contact telephone number on this page (look under the heading “Sweet Sorghum-Molasses Muddy Pond Sorghum Mill”).

      Hope this helps!
      Blair Thomas
      Tennessee Home & Farm

      • Tim

        November 1, 2016 at 10:32 am

        They run the mill every weekend in October. Best to get there early before the baked goods all sell out.

      • Ruby

        November 1, 2017 at 6:49 pm

        Carolyn, Thank you so much, I hope they still have some so I might be able to get some also,

  3. carolyn wigington

    October 10, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    Church group plan to visit October 29th.

  4. Betty Stark

    October 25, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    I bought a quart of sorghum today . It was made in Fingers, TN. It is very, very good and I would like to come to Fingers, TN and buy me some from the farmer myself , if that is possible.

  5. B. Dreher

    February 1, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    I grew, crushed, boiled, and loved HONEY DRIP sorghum when I lived in Ash County, North Carolina. Now I am in Maine and would like to find a northern short season sorghum with a taste like honey drip. Do you know any source that might have a short season cane sorghum seed? An internet listing of Robs Rare And Giant Seeds talks about a 45 day variety, but such a link seems to be fugitive and futile.

    Thank you, and keep on baking, – with sorghum!

    • Ricky Jones

      February 19, 2013 at 3:43 pm

      You can find the 45 day sorghum seed on Ebay. thanks

  6. Janice

    February 25, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    How can I get some sorghum from Stroll’s mill in Finger TN. We live in Colorado but born and raised in Selmer TN We always had it from Finger. It is the best, the last time we were back there we got a big jar and I drop it and pow had it everywhere only way I could get it up was to use seltzer water in case anyone else might need to know. I would like to get more.

    • Aleta Fields

      July 16, 2015 at 4:42 pm

      I purchased your sorghum on our trip to the Blue Ridge last Fall and would very much like to be able to purchase more. We live in New Mexico so I wonder about shipping. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

      • Rachel Bertone

        July 20, 2015 at 7:44 am

        Hi Aleta,

        Thanks for your comment. We are not affiliated with Muddy Pond Sorghum and suggest you contact them directly at 931-445-3589. Hope this helps!

        Rachel Bertone
        editor, TN Home and Farm

  7. craig Lynch

    May 27, 2013 at 6:16 am

    I need to order sorghum seeds. Craig Lynch

    • Jessy Yancey

      May 28, 2013 at 6:10 am

      Hi Craig,

      For information on ordering sorghum seeds, I would try your local Co-op or similar type of store. Hope this helps!

      Jessy Yancey
      editor
      Tennessee Home & Farm

    • Sherry Guenther

      June 3, 2013 at 2:56 pm

      You can order sweet sorghum seed from Mississippi State Seed Stock online or Danny Townsend in Kentucky at 859-498-4142.

  8. Rhonda Adcock

    June 4, 2013 at 6:20 am

    I live in Williamson County TN and about 12 miles south of Nashville. Do you sell your sorghum anywhere in this area? Or can I buy on line? or, if the answer to boths questions is no , then do you know of anyone near here that sells sorghum? We are older and do not travel.

    • Rachel Bertone

      June 4, 2013 at 8:59 am

      Hi Rhonda,

      The best way to find out where Muddy Pond sells their sorghum or if you can order it is by contacting them directly. You can find their contact telephone number on this page: http://www.bigsouthforkpark.com/muddypond.htm (look under the heading “Sweet Sorghum-Molasses Muddy Pond Sorghum Mill”).
      Hope this helps!

      Rachel Bertone
      Editor

  9. nancy gravitt

    June 8, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    can I order your sorghum from Muddy Pond?

  10. N Dogan

    July 31, 2013 at 2:51 am

    I am interested in Sorhum Sirup.

    Please can you contact me for more detais

  11. E Clickner

    November 6, 2013 at 9:44 am

    The fall was a great time for making sorghum. Our neighbor and his children, as well as our family made the sorghum together. My dad was the “cook” and decided when it was done and was placed in a small bucket with a lid. All of us kids played King of the Mountain on the cane pile. My children and grandchildren cannot imagine what a festive time it was.

  12. shayan

    March 4, 2015 at 8:27 am

    We are producer of sweet sorghum molasses /syrup in Karachi Pakistan. We have a supply ability of 450,000 gallon of sweet sorghum syrup per year. We manufacture dark and light brown sweet sorghum syrup/molasses which is 65/70 brix (Best for brewery).We use the latest and the most advance technology for processing sweet sorghum syrup /molasses and are also approved with ISO.
    For further details Please contact Mr Shayan 0092 333 2256378 or email faizby1@hotmail.com

  13. Pamela Kosta

    May 3, 2016 at 10:29 am

    Do you sell sorghum molasses… Do you ship?

  14. Joe Collins

    March 11, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    I am the assistant fire chief in Henry TN. About 45 minutes north of Jackson. The 3rd Saturday of September is our Henry Pioneer Day. Is there a way you could set up an exhibition and show people the history of making sorghum?

  15. Joe Collins

    March 11, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    I am the assistant fire chief in Henry TN. About 45 minutes north of Jackson. The 3rd Saturday of September is our Henry Pioneer Day. Is there a way you could set up an exhibition and show people the history of making sorghum?

    • Rachel Bertone

      March 13, 2017 at 9:12 am

      Hi Joe,

      Thanks for your comment. We are a magazine that did an article on Tennessee sorghum, and are not directly affiliated with the companies mentioned in the article. You’ll have to contact them directly for more information on exhibitions. You can reach Muddy Pond Sorghum at 931-445-3589 and Stoll’s Sorghum Mill at (731) 934-4831. Hope this helps!

      Rachel Bertone
      editor, TN Home and Farm

  16. Sharon Kay Trask

    August 21, 2017 at 4:21 pm

    I want to purchase sorghum. When I was a kid we made it here in Missouri

  17. D. Hilliard

    October 24, 2017 at 9:44 pm

    Where is fingers,tenn I live in Memphis, Tennessee

  18. Ruby

    November 1, 2017 at 7:06 pm

    I sure am glad I found this page, thank you so much, When a child about 6 years old I sat in the circle to feed the cogs sugar cane while the horse pulled to make the cogs turn in order for the Juice to be squeezed from the cane stalks, it would go down in what was called a vat under the ground, so the juice was cooked, and juice was skimmed so I enjoyed that so much, thanks so much.

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