Sorghum and Millet in African Nutrition

The Traditional African Diet

African health scientists have discovered that many of the intricate biochemical processes that govern the body can be influenced by the presence or absence of certain vitamins, minerals, or nutrients.  The ailments that African people suffer from today are based on our improper diet and lifestyle. Remember that African biochemistry is based on the melanin molecule which is dominant in Africans. Western health science is based on white body chemistry, and is incompatible with the African body type.

Nitrilosides (Vitamin B-17) is a designation proposed to include a large group of water-soluble, essentially non-toxic, sugary, compounds found in many edible plants. Nitrilosides are found in great abundance in a very wide variety of vegetable foods once eaten in great abundance by man. There are approximately 14 naturally occurring nitrilosides distributed in over 1,200 species of plants. The natural fodder of animals is similarly rich in this factor. No area on the earth that supports vegetation lacks nitriloside-containing plants. Beta-cyanogenetic glucosides are found in 13 per cent of the plant families, and of this 13 per cent, 46 per cent are tropical.

Nitrilosides are comprised of  molecules made of sugar, hydrogen cyanide, a benzene ring or an acetone. These factors are collectively known as Beta-cyanogenetic glycosides. Though the intact molecule is for all practical purposes completely non-toxic, nitrilosides can be hydrolyzed, by an enzyme present in our bodies called beta-glycosidase, to a sugar, free hydrogen cyanide, benzaldehyde or acetone. Because of our cultural antipathy to cyanide, western food technology has made every conceivable effort through processing, hybridizing, distilling, etc., to remove every trace of derivable cyanide from foods for man and animals. Although it is literally true to say that nitrilosides contain cyanide, a deadly poison, it is also true to say that table salt, sodium chloride, contains the deadly poison, chlorine. Under normal conditions, the chlorine in salt and the cyanide in nitrilosides is tightly bound and in no danger of suddenly "leaking out".

Chewing of cyanogenic foods usually frees or hydrolizes much cyanide by mixing the resident nitriloside with the splitting enzyme b-glucosidase. That is why cooking the undisturbed plant tissue is important (neutralizing the splitting enzyme). By stabilizing the nitriloside in this way the cyanide is released more selectively at the sites of high b-glucosidase production,  i.e., cancer cells and concentrations of bacterial infestation.

Cyanogenetic glycosides have been found in the following common vegetables: maize, sorghum, millet, field bean, lima bean, kidney bean, sweet potato, cassava, lettuce, linseed [flaxseed], almond and seeds of lemons, limes, cherries, apples, apricots, prunes, plums and pears. Their widespread presence in foods consumed by humans and animals all over the world argues against nitrilosides being seriously or inherently toxic. 

African Traditional Diet, Nitriloside Foods and Cancer  

Nitriloside-rich plants and foods are a vital part of an amazing biochemical process in the African body type. For centuries, nitriloside-rich plants were used by Africans as a food and medicinal agent without manifesting any side effects.  It is found in the seeds of those fruits in the “Prunus Africanus” and “Prunus Rosacea” species of plants.  It can also be found in grasses, sorghum, millet, cassava, and many other foods that generally have been removed from the foods of Western civilisation. This diet has been one of the deciding factors that protected the integrity of the biochemical processes in African people.  Wherever "primitive peoples" eat their traditional natural diet, their intake of nitrilosides is high, and their cancer incidence is low. Preventing the formation of cancer cells, appear to be closely related to the traditional African diet. 

It is significant that prior to African people’s arrival to the Americas, there were no known records of them contracting cancer while maintaining their traditional diet.  Millet was once Africa ’s staple grain.  It is high in nitriloside content.  In fact, missionary and medical journals have recorded many cancer-free tribes all over Africa . From all over the African continent, the one thing Africans have in common is that the degree to which they are free from cancer is in direct proportion to the amount of nitriloside found in their diet.  As much as 80% of the tropical African diet consists of nitriloside and thiocyanate yielding foods.  The main staples of sub-Sahara Africa are cassava, yams, sorghum, and  millet grains. 

Biochemical Process of Nitriloside against Cancer Cells

The nitriloside compound is a crystalline structure which contains two units of glucose (sugar), one of benzaldehyde, and one of cyanate, which are tightly bonded together.  Locked together in this natural state, it is completely inert chemically and has absolutely no effect on human tissue. There is only one substance that can unlock the nitriloside molecule and release the cyanate and benzaldehyde.  That substance is an enzyme called “beta-glucosidase”, which is known as the “unlocking enzyme”.  When the nitriloside molecule comes in contact with this enzyme in the presence of water, both the cyanide and benzaldehyde are released, which are high toxic by themselves.  Now both of these substances working together are at least a hundred times more poisonous than either of them separately.  This phenomenon is known in biochemistry as “synergism”.

Perhaps the most interesting fact of all about this biochemical process is that the “unlocking enzyme” is not found anywhere in the body except at the cancer cells, where it is always present in large quantities, as much as one hundred times that of the normal cells.  The result is that the nitriloside molecule is unlocked at the cancer cell site, releases its poisons to the cancer cell, and only to the cancer cell!

Another important enzyme in this process is called “Rhodanese”, which is called the “protecting enzyme”.  This is because it has the ability to neutralize the cyanate by converting it instantly into nourishing by-products, which are actually beneficial and essential to health.  But more than that, the protecting enzyme is found in great quantities in all parts of the body except at the cancer cell site, which prevents the cancer cells from being protected.  On the other hand, healthy cells are protected, because of the excess of this enzyme which completely neutralizes the effect of the unlocking enzyme.

There are voluminous private records and medical papers written and published by well-known nutritionists, and physicians who have used nitriloside therapy in the treatment of their own cancer patients, with an effectiveness approaching 100%!  It has been used to control and cure breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, skin cancer, and colon cancer, without any toxic side-effects.

Controlling of Sickle Cell Anemia through the Traditional African Diet

Another benefit of the traditional African diet is the connection between nitriloside plants and the control of sickle cell anemia.  In Africa , and other parts of the world, people of African descent have developed sickle cells in the blood apparently as a natural immunity to malaria.  The development of the sickle cell trait was dependent, in part, on the nitrilosidic chemistry of the native African diet.  Once Africans were transported to the Caribbean and the Americas , their diet became deficient in the nutrients needed to inhibit cell sickling in the blood.  The result is the painful hemolytic crisis caused by the clumping of the red blood cells.  According to research developed by Dr. Robert Huston which appeared in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1974, he learned that sickle cell anemia could be controlled by cyanate tablets.  However, cyanate is also produced by nitriloside plants acting within the body, and it seems logical to assume that this is the way nature intended it to be taken.

According to Barbara Dixson’s book, Good Health for African Americans, “In Africa , an estimated 25 percent of the population carry the sickle cell trait, yet the incidence of sickle cell disease itself is rare.  In fact, from 1925 to 1950, it was estimated that fewer than one hundred cases of sickle cell anemia were reported throughout the continent.”  

As is well-known, sickle cell anemia is relatively rare in the Caribbean .  Those with the sickle cell condition are found living healthy into old age, and few ever experience serious crises.  In fact, the Jamaican diet is rich in thiocyanate where cassava and yams are staples.  It is proposed that sickle cell anemia represents an “unrelieved nutritional condition” which is dependent on the presence of thiocyanate and nitrilosides in Africans who are genetically predisposed to the disease. The significance of this research is that the solution to sickle cell anemia can be found in the field of nutrition rather than drugs, blood thinners, and blood transfusions.

  Health Benefits of a Traditional African Diet on High Blood Pressure and Heart Disease

Another welcomed consequence of eating nitrilosides and thiocyanate plant foods is that they prevent high blood pressure, arthritis and rheumatism, gastrointestinal disorders, and cardiovascular disease. Thiocyanate also was once widely used, in both Germany and American medicine, as an effective agent for hypertension. Used as such, as the simple chemical, the dosage was difficult to control. Obviously, this difficulty does not arise from the thiocyanate usually produced in the body through metabolizing nitrilosides. Chronic hypotension has been reported in Nigerians who eat large quantities of the nitriloside-containing manioc (cassava)--especially that of the bitter variety.

But, more than that, thiocyanate is known as a natural regulator of blood pressure, which helps to prevent hypertension (high blood pressure) in African physiology.  High blood pressure is a condition in which the muscles in the walls of the arteries constrict, causing the heart to pump harder or in which arteries have lost their elasticity due to arteriosclerosis.  One of its underlying causes is a deficiency of African Nutritional Factors.  Dr. Afrika states in his book, African Holistic Health:

“Hypertension is usually caused by a lack of proper nutrition.   Improper nutrition weakens the internal organs, immune system, and lowers the organs’ abilities to utilize nutrients which feed the body.  The body begins to starve because the loss of proper nutrients creates a nutritional debt.   Moreover, the nutritionally starved body tries to get more nutrients to pay the debt.  Consequently, the body demands more food (nutrients in the blood ) by drawing on more (below-nutrient-level) blood.  In order to increase the blood supply the body begins to increase the pressure.  The increase in pressure is the body’s attempt to feed itself.”

The body is merely defending itself by reacting with high blood pressure caused by a poor diet lacking in essential plant nutrients.

Traditional African doctors consider heart disease (arteriosclerosis, heart attack, stroke, and hypertension) to be a combination of poor nutrition and destructive eating habits.  When this occurs, there is a tendency for cholesterol to accumulate in the arterial lining.  The major cause is a loss of vein and artery flexibility due to a lack of biochemical precursors and enzymes which prevents the artery walls from deteriorating.  These chemical precursors have been found in natural foods containing nitrilosides.

Arthritis and Rheumatism

The fact is nitriloside food factors also serve as biochemical mechanisms in African physiology to prevent rheumatism and arthritis. Once they enter into the blood stream, derivative compounds called "salicylates" are produced.  This natural compound helps to fend off arthritis and rheumatism.  Some African health practitioners including myself attest to the theory that many toxins bind to cell membranes and disturb cellular metabolic functions, and can cause tissue damage which contribute to many of the symptoms of rheumatism, arthritis, and muscle aches.  Intestinal bacteria - "Proteus mirabilis", for example, an organism recently implicated in rheumatoid arthritis, is believed to be produced by the toxic waste in the body causing painful joint inflammations.

Whereas rheumatoid arthritis disease afflicts millions of people of African descent in the U.S., affecting one in 10, very few cases have been reported among the larger populations of tropical Africa.  This has defied explanation in Western health sciences.  According to African traditional medicine, rheumatism and arthritis is a disease reaction which creates inflammation caused by crystallized urine and toxic waste.  These impurities accumulate around the joints, bone lining and connective tissues.  Arthritis is waste in the bone joints while rheumatism is waste in the muscles.  Both of these diseases are caused by the same thing - excessive fat and meat, synthetic foods, and a poor diet deficient in thiocyanates and nitrilosides.

In this connection, Robert Houston, M.D., author of Sickle Cell Anemia and the Metabolites of Vitamin B17, compared the rate of rheumatoid arthritis between African-Americans and continental Africans.  He found that Africans living in West Africa and throughout tropical Africa only experienced rare cases of rheumatism, arthritis, and osteoarthritis where millet and sorghum grains are staples.  Both millet and sorghum are very high in calcium. He also found that a "salicylic acid isomer" is nutritionally produced from the nitriloside in millet and sorghum grains which works in the body to nourish healthy tissue and joints.

Experiments conducted by Dr. Ernest Krebs have indicated that trace amounts of cyanate and benzaldehyde released in the mouth and intestines are a part of the delicate balance of nature and serve beneficial effects in the human body.  In the mouth and stomach, these chemicals apparently attack the bacteria associated with tooth decay and bad breath.  The large and small intestines are home for over four hundred different kinds of microorganisms, mostly bacteria, flora, and some fungi.  These microorganisms live in harmonious, symbiotic relationship with us, provided the conditions are favorable and the friendly bacteria (Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bifidus) are sufficient in quantity.  These bacteria feed on the fermentable carbohydrates in our diet (found in grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, roots, and seeds).  The thiocyanates are secreted in bile, saliva, and urine; they are formed by the detoxication of small quantities of cyanide from plant foods. If the African body type lacks in a sufficient diet rich in nitrilosides and thiocyanate plant foods, it causes a decrease in the number of favorable intestinal bacteria and a subsequent increase in unfavorable organisms.  This is the beginning of many problems such as gas and constipation, yeast infections, to colon and rectal cancer.  Thus, nitrilosides and thiocyanate interact with the “bacterial micro-flora” in the stomach and colon to suppress or eliminate the ailments associated with westernized foods.

The staple foods of many tropic peoples are high in cyanogenetic glucosides. Cassava, sweet potatoes, sorghum, millet, maize and various beans contain varying amounts of nitrilosides. The major staple of Nigeria is cassava. Ugandan diets are usually rich in cassava, millet and sweet potatoes.

Unfortunately, methods of preparation of these foods vary greatly from tribe to tribe, for which reason there is considerable variation of the nitriloside content of the final product. Without more data on dietary nitriloside contents, it becomes extremely difficult to attempt a correlation between cancer incidence and nitriloside intake. However, there is little doubt that tropical diets may in some instances produce significant serum cyanide levels. 

The diets of Nigeria and Uganda were different from those of Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) in that the agriculture of Rhodesia is run by the white farmers who control 95% of the good farm land, thus distorting the dietary profile of the native population to resemble the European model. Hence they're much lower nitriloside intake and higher cancer rates as compared to the Nigerians and Ugandans whose agriculture is still native based and very high in nitriloside.

The discovery of oil in Nigeria has led to the rise of an upper class of Nigerians in Lagos who have bought into to western diet and this has now distorted the previous healthy dietary of the people of that class.

As demonstrated in the foregoing research, nature has assigned to the African body-type a specific diet for keeping it vital, healthy, and free from cancer.  There is much yet to be learned about our bodies, and no one can claim nitrilosides are the whole answer.  It is possible that an important role also may be played by other vitamins and enzymes.  However, nitriloside rich foods and vitamins seems to be the most vital and direct acting of all these factors.  It is an interlocking part of the total African biochemistry. The beta-cyanogenetic glucosides have been neglected as natural plant factors that appear to satisfy all or most of the criteria defined for vitamins.

Sorghum and Millet

Sorghum and millets have been important staples in the semi-arid tropics of Africa and Asia for centuries. These crops are still the principal sources of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals for millions of the poorest people in these regions.

Sorghum and millets grow in harsh environments where other crops grow or yield poorly. They are grown with limited water resources by a multitude of small farmers in many countries, usually without the application of fertilizers or other inputs. Consumed by disadvantaged groups, they are often referred to as "coarse grain" or "poor people's crops". Sorghum and millets are not generally traded in the international markets or even in local markets in many countries, so small farmers seldom have an assured market in the event of surplus production.


The cultivated sorghum of the present arose from a wild progenitor belonging to the subspecies verticilliflorum. The sorghum kernel varies in colour from white through shades of red and brown to pale yellow to deep purple-brown. The most common colours are white, bronze and brown. Kernels are generally spherical but vary in size and shape. It appears that sorghum moved into eastern Africa from Ethiopia around 200 AD or earlier. The Bantu people, who used the grain mainly to make beer, adopted and carried it to the savannah countries of eastern and southern Africa. The Bantu people probably began their expansion from the region of southern Cameroon about the first century AD, moved along the southern border of the Congo forest belt and reached eastern Africa possibly before 500 AD. The present-day sorghums of central and southern Africa are closely related to those of the United Republic of Tanzania, and more distantly related to those of West Africa as the equatorial forests were an effective barrier to this spread.

Sorghum, probably taken to India from eastern Africa during the first millennium BC, is reported to have existed there around 1000 BC. Sorghum was probably taken in ships as food in the first instance. Chow traffic has operated for some 3 000 years between East Africa (the Azanean Coast) and India via the Sebaean Lane in southern Arabia. The sorghums of India relate to those of northeastern Africa and the coast between Cape Guardafui and Mozambique. The spread along the coast of Southeast Asia and around China may have taken place about the beginning of the Christian era, but it is also possible that sorghum arrived much earlier in China via the silk trade routes.

Grain sorghum appears to have arrived in America as "guinea corn" from West Africa with the slave traders about the middle of the nineteenth century. Although sorghum arrived in Latin America through the slave trade and by navigators plying the Europe-Africa-Latin America trade route in the sixteenth century, the crop did not become important until the present century.  


Millet is one of the oldest foods known to humans and possibly the first cereal grain used for domestic purposes. Its use in making bread is mentioned in the Bible. In Africa and India, millet has been used as a staple food for thousand of years. It was grown as early as 2700 BC in China where it was the prevalent grain before rice became the dominant staple. Today millet ranks as the sixth most important grain in the world, sustains 1/3 of the world’s population and is a significant part of the diet in northern China, Japan, Manchuria and various areas of the former Soviet Union, Africa, India, and Egypt.

Millet is highly nutritious, non-glutinous and like buckwheat and quinoa, is not an acid forming food so is soothing and easy to digest. In fact, it is considered one of the least allergenic and most digestible grains available and it is a warming grain so will help to heat the body in cold or rainy seasons and climates.

Millet is tasty, with a mildly sweet, nut-like flavor and contains a myriad of beneficial nutrients. It is nearly 15% protein, contains high amounts of fiber, B-complex vitamins including niacin, thiamin, and riboflavin, the essential amino acid methionine, lecithin, and some vitamin E. It is particularly high in the minerals iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium. The seeds are also rich in phytochemicals, including Phytic acid, believed to lower cholesterol, and Phytate, which is associated with reduced cancer.

Finger millet, Eleusine coracana L., is also known as African millet, koracan, ragi (India), wimbi (Swahili), bulo (Uganda) and telebun (the Sudan). The colour of grains may vary from white through orange-red deep brown and purple, to almost black. It is an important staple food in parts of eastern and central Africa and India. It is the principal cereal grain in northern and parts of western Uganda and northeastern Zambia. The grains are malted for making beer. Finger millet can be stored for long periods without insect damage and thus it can be important during famine. It is believed that Uganda or a neighbouring region is the centre of origin of E. coracana, and it was introduced to India at a very early date, probably over 3,000 years ago. Though finger millet is reported to have reached Europe at about the commencement of the Christian era, its utilization is restricted mostly to eastern Africa and India.

Alternative uses of sorghum and millet

Sorghum and millet production has considerably increased in several countries during the past few years. With the simultaneous increase in the production of wheat and rice, millets face competition from the utilization point of view. Already there is an increasing trend of using wheat or rice in place of sorghum even in those regions where sorghum had been the traditional staple grain in the past.

Sorghum and millets will continue to be major food crops in several countries, especially in Africa (and in particular in Nigeria and the Sudan, which together account for about 63 percent of Africa 's sorghum production). These grains are used for traditional as well as novel foods. However, there is a need to look into the possibilities of alternative uses. Though sorghum and millets have good potential for industrial uses, they have to compete with wheat, rice and maize.

Variation in grain composition

Like other cereals, sorghum and millets are predominantly starchy. The protein content is nearly equal among these grains and is comparable to that of wheat and maize (Table1). Finger millet contains the lowest fat. One of the characteristic features of the grain composition of millets is their high ash content. They are also relatively rich in iron and phosphorus. Finger millet has high fibre content and the highest calcium content among all the food grains. Generally, the whole grains are important sources of B-complex vitamins, which are mainly concentrated in the outer bran layers of the grain. Sorghum and millets do not contain vitamin A, although certain yellow endosperm varieties contain small amounts of 13-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. No vitamin C is present in the raw millet grains.

Differences in grain composition in genotypes of millets have been reported. In finger millet, the value ranges reported are protein, 5.8 to 12.8 percent; fat, 1.3 to 2.7 percent; total ash, 2.1 to 3.7 percent; and carbohydrate 81.3 to 89.4 percent. Variations in the mineral content of these varieties were also large. Differences in the protein and mineral composition of finger millet hybrids have also been reported.

Grain protein and its amino acid composition in sorghum differ with the location at which the crop is grown. The level of nitrogen fertilizer also influences the quantity and quality of protein in sorghum and it is noted that application of nitrogen fertilizer increases the grain yield and protein, but had no effect on the mineral composition of grain sorghum. However, the mineral content of the sorghum does increase with increasing levels of phosphorus fertilizer. Other factors such as the density of the plant population, season, water and stress also contribute to variations in gram composition.

TABLE 1: Nutrient composition of sorghum, finger millet and other cereals (per 100 g edible portion; 12 percent moisture)


Proteina (g)

Fat (g)

Ash (g)

Crude fibre (g)

Carhohydrate (g)

Energy (kcal)

Ca (mg)

Fe (mg)

Thiamin (mg)

Riboflavin (mg)

Niacin (mg)

Rice (brown)
















































Finger millet














Starch is the major storage form of carbohydrate in sorghum and millets. It consists of amylopectin, a branched-chain polymer of glucose, and amy-lose, a straight-chain polymer. The digestibility of the starch, which depends on hydrolysis by pancreatic enzymes, determines the available energy content of cereal grain. Processing of the grain by methods such as steaming, pressure-cooking, flaking, puffing or micronization of the starch increases the digestibility of sorghum starch. With values ranging from 56 to 73 percent, the average starch content of sorghum is 69.5 percent. About 70 to 80 percent of the sorghum starch is amylopectin and the remaining 20 to 30 percent is amylose. Both genetic and environmental factors affect the amylose content of sorghum

In high-yielding varieties of finger millet, mean starch content was 60.3 (59.5 to 61.25) percent; pentosan 6.6 (6.2 to 7.2) percent; cellulose 1.6 (1.4 to 1.8) percent, lignin 0.28 (0.04 to 0.6) percent; and free sugar 0.65 (0.59 to 0.69) percent. Sucrose (33 percent) glucose and fructose, (each 12 percent), and maltose and raffinose (10 percent each) were the major components of the free sugar of finger millet. The amylose content of the starch in finger millet was 16 percent, which is lower than the values in normal sorghum and other millets.

Protein content and quality

The second major component of sorghum and millet grains is protein. Both genetic and environmental factors affect the protein content of sorghum and millets. In sorghum, the variability is large, probably because the crop is grown under diverse agroclimatic conditions, which affect the grain composition. Fluctuations, in the protein content of the grain, is generally accompanied by changes in the amino acid composition of the protein.

The quality of a protein is primarily a function of its essential amino acid composition. Sorghum and millet proteins differed in their essential amino acid profile (Table 2). However, the most common feature is that lysine is found to be the most limiting amino acid. The primary function of dietary protein is to satisfy the body's needs for nitrogen and essential amino acids. Apart from a favourable essential amino acid profile, easy digestibility is an important attribute of a good-quality protein. Wide variability is observed in the essential amino acid composition of sorghum protein. Finger millet, however, is poor in protein content compared with other common cereals. Differences in amino acid composition in different varieties of finger millet are large.

TABLE 2: Essential amino acid composition (mg/g) of sorghum and finger millet proteins























Finger millet











Sources: FAO. 1970a; Indira and Naik. 1971.

Lipid composition

The crude fat content of sorghum is 3 percent, which is higher than that of wheat and rice but lower than that of maize. Variations in reported fat content of the grain, is attributed partly to the different solvent systems used for extraction of kernel fat. It is reported that the neutral lipid fraction was 86.2 percent, glycolipid 3.1 percent and phospholipid 10.7 percent in sorghum fat. Finger millet appeared to contain less fat in the kernel than other millets.


The mineral composition of sorghum and millet grains (Table 3) is highly variable. More than genetic factors, the environmental conditions prevailing in the growing region affect the mineral content of these food grains. Except for very high calcium and manganese content, the mineral and trace element composition of finger millet is comparable to that of sorghum. Some high-protein (8 to 12.1 percent) and high-yielding varieties of finger millet were also rich in calcium (294 to 390 mg per 100 g). Studies conducted in nine- to ten-year-old girls showed that replacement of rice in a rice-based diet with finger millet not only maintained positive nitrogen balance but also improved calcium retention. Thus, finger millet can be used to overcome the calcium deficiency of a rice diet.

TABLE 3: Mineral composition of sorghum and finger millets (mg%) a


Number of cultivars





















Finger millet











a Expressed on a dry-weight basis.


Sorghum and millets in general are rich sources of B-complex vitamins. Some yellow-endosperm varieties of sorghum contain ß-carotene, which are converted to vitamin A by the human body. Isolated carotenoids from sorghum, has identified lutein, zeaxanthin and ßcarotene. Several varieties of sorghum have been analysed for their ß-carotene content. The variations were very large, with values ranging from 0 to 0.097 mg per 100 g of grain sample. Detectable amounts of other fat-soluble vitamins, namely D, E and K are found in sorghum grain. Sorghum is not a source of vitamin C.

Among B-group vitamins, concentrations of thiamin, riboflavin and niacin in sorghum were comparable to those in maize . Wide variations are observed in the values reported, particularly for niacin. The highest niacin content reported is 9.16 mg per 100 g sorghum. Ethiopian high-lysine sorghum varieties were also very high in niacin; values per 100 g were 10.5 mg and 11.5 mg, as against 2.9 to 4.9 mg in normal sorghum. Other B-complex vitamins present in sorghum in significant amounts are vitamin B6 (0.5 mg per 100 g), folacin (0.02 mg), pantothenic acid ( 1.25 ma) and biotin (0.042 ma)..

Available data are very meagre regarding the vitamin content of finger millet. In thiamin and riboflavin content, finger millet differed little from sorghum.  Niacin content is lower. Bread prepared from millet flour by a traditional method is significantly lower in thiamin, pantothenic acid and folic acid than the flour itself. Millet flour is relatively high in pantothenic acid.

Nutritional quality of foods prepared from sorghum and millets

It stands to reason that when a grain is processed, some nutrients must be removed and that the removal of any but an exactly proportionate part of any constituent of a seed will affect the nutritional quality of what is left. Consequently, the nutritional effect of milling probably depends as much on the amount of material removed as on the method used to remove it. Whether the removal of nutrients and the so-called anti-nutritional factors is on balance beneficial is a question that must always be analysed carefully. What is actually done is not always nutritionally for the best, and what is best in one type of diet is not always best for another.

In many West African countries, sorghum and millet grits are steamed to produce a coarse and uniformly gelatinized product called couscous. Couscous can be consumed fresh or can be dried. In its dried form, it can be stored for more than six months. The dried product is reconstituted in water, milk or sauce.

Porridges are the major foods in several African countries. They are either thick or thin in consistency. These porridges carry different local names. Thick porridges are called uguli (Kenya, United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda), to (Burkina Faso, the Niger), tuwo (Nigeria), aceda (the Sudan), bogobe, jwa ting (Botswana) and sadza (Zimbabwe).  The biological value of sorghum ugali was superior to that of the raw grain. In Mali, parts of Senegal and Guinea, to is alkali-treated and has a pH of 8.2. In Burkina Faso, it is acid- treated to a pH of about 4.6. In other regions of Africa, the to is neutral. These treatments have implications in the taste preferences and nutrition of the people.

Thin porridges are called uji (Kenya, United Republic of Tanzania), ogi or koko (Nigeria, Ghana), edi (Uganda), rouye (the Niger, Senegal), nasha (the Sudan), rabri (India), bota or mahewu (Zimbabwe) and motogo we tiny (Botswana). Sorghum flour, sorghum malt, pigeon pea and groundnut are mixed in different proportions to improve the nutritional value of traditional porridges.

In Uganda, a sour porridge called bushera is prepared by boiling ungerminated millet flour to produce a thick paste. Flour made from freshly germinated millet is then mixed into it. This sweetens the porridge and lowers its viscosity. Bushera can be kept for three to four days before it starts to ferment. Ultimately, it will become a strongly alcoholic drink.

Fermented porridge is made in several regions in Africa . Changes that occur during fermentation result from the activity of microorganisms such as bacteria, yeasts and moulds. Fermentation processes have evolved largely, as a result of practical needs. The palatability and the texture of foods can be changed and their shelf-life can often be improved by fermenting them. In eastern Africa , a suspension of maize, millet, sorghum or cassava flour in water is fermented before or after cooking to make a thin porridge. . Fermented porridges are thought to promote lactation and to be unsuitable for young children. The shelf-life of fermented porridge is quite short, usually less than 30 hours.

In the Sudan, a thin fermented porridge called nasha is prepared with sorghum. Some of the bacteria and moulds identified in nasha are also described in a fermented porridge called ting from Botswana. Ogi, a popular fermented porridge in Nigeria, is prepared using sorghum, millet and maize in various proportions. The predominant volatile and non-volatile acids in ogi are lactic and acetic acids, respectively. Traces of formic acid are also detected. These give ogi its characteristic aroma and its sour taste. Light-coloured ogi with mild sourness is preferred. However, in Kenya, brown uji is preferred. Maize ogi contains more energy (calories) than sorghum ogi. However, the protein, fat and minerals on a dry-weight basis are higher in sorghum ogi than in maize ogi.

The chibuku beer consumed in southern Africa , basically a thin fermented porridge, usually made from sorghum.

Breads and other baked products

Flat breads are made by baking batters made with flour and water on a hot pan or griddle. Almost any flour may be used. The batter is based on sorghum, millet or any other cereal and it may or may not be fermented. These flat breads are  known by many local names: roti and charpatti in India, tuwo in parts of Nigeria, tortillas in Central America , etc.

Unfermented breads include roti and tortillas. Roti and chapatti made from sorghum or millets are common foods in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Arab countries. More than 70 percent of sorghum grown in India is used for making roti.

Tortillas, which are prepared in Mexico and Central America, are similar to roti except that the grain is lime-cooked and wet milled. Although corn is the preferred grain for making tortillas, sorghum is widely used in Honduras. Sometimes tortillas are made by mixing sorghum and corn. White sorghum is the preferred sorghum for making tortillas.

Injera (Ethiopia) and kisra (the Sudan) are the major fermented breads made from sorghum flour. Teff is the preferred cereal for injera preparation. However, sorghum and teff can be mixed, and sorghum alone is often used. The quality of injera is determined in part by the extent of fermentation. In general, children are given lightly fermented injera with mild sourness. Kisra is a traditional and staple food of the Sudan, prepared from sorghum and millet. It is made with a fermentation starter, which shortens the time required for fermentation to less than 16 hours.

A comparison of sorghum and millet flours and bread (roti) made from them indicated that baking did not affect the chemical composition including the fatty acids. A slight increase in tyrosine, lysine and methionine content is observed when sorghum flour was made into fermented bread.

Many studies have been done to explore the potential for making loaf bread with composite flours that include either sorghum or millet, and there are no technical difficulties in using any of these flours. Bread made with part millet flour had excellent texture and a flavour similar to that of whole wheat bread. There is always a steady deterioration of bread quality as the percentage of non-wheat flour is increased. If the flour is coloured, it is usually the extent of discoloration that limits the amount of non-wheat flour that can be used. In most other cases, the limiting factor is the density of the loaf. Cakes and biscuits can be made using flour with much higher levels of non-wheat flour, but again, as with bread, the quality of the product deteriorates as the substitution level increases. Composite flour has been used commercially in bread in several countries.

Pasta products (noodles) such as spaghetti and macaroni are usually made from semolina or from flour of durum wheat or common wheat or a mixture of both. Wheat has a unique property of forming an extensible, elastic and cohesive mass when mixed with water. Sorghum and millet flours lack these properties when used alone. Sorghum is inferior to wheat for making pasta, both because it contains no gluten and because its gelatinization temperature is higher than that of wheat. A composite flour consisting of 70 percent wheat and 30 percent sorghum produced acceptable pasta. Noodles made with 20 percent prove millet flour is acceptable. Pasta can also be made from mixtures of sorghum, millet and wheat.

Traditional Beverages

Though beverages are not major foods, they serve as a source of energy in several countries. Thin fermented porridges are commonly prepared and used as a drink in African countries. They are considered foods and provide important nutrients. Traditional beer, amgba, and a wine, affouk, prepared from sorghum in Cameroon, are found to be nutritionally superior to sorghum flour as they provide additional riboflavin, thiamine and lysine. It is found that iron absorption from maize and sorghum beer was more than 12 times higher than that from the constituents that were used to prepare the beer. In traditional sorghum beer, most of the thiamine and about half of the riboflavin and niacin are associated with beer solids, which contain the yeast. Sorghum beer with the highest total solids contained the highest amounts of minerals and trace elements. Thus, sorghum beer is a source of vitamins, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and calcium and contained 26.7 g starch and 5.9 g protein per litre.

Lager beer can also be produced from sorghum. In Nigeria, sorghum has been tested as a barley malt substitute for producing beer. Beer is produced successfully by blending equal amounts of sorghum and barley. Lager beer is brewed from sorghum malt using the three-stage decoction method and 30 percent sucrose as an adjunct. In Rwanda, a new type of beer is being produced using local sorghum and barley. Up to 40 percent sorghum mixed with barley malt makes acceptable beer.

Distilled alcohol can also be produced with suitable modifications and sorghum may have good potential in the industry. Distilled spirits are produced from sorghum in China, where the alcoholic beverage industry is a major consumer of sorghum grain.

Traditional opaque beer, for which sorghum and millets are valuable raw materials, is a popular beverage in several countries in Africa . It is called chibuku in Zimbabwe, impeke in Burundi, dolo in Mali and Burkina Faso and pito in Nigeria. The main attributes of this product are short shelf-life of about one week, low alcohol content, acidic nature, suspended solids and a characteristic taste and colour. Opaque beer is more a food than a beverage. It contains high proportions of starch and sugars, besides proteins, fat, vitamins and minerals. In its manufacture, white sorghum with less polyphenols is preferred, although red and brown sorghum varieties are also used. Red sorghum imparts a pinkish-brown colour to the beer. Malts are also sources of lactobacilli and essential nutrients.

Nutritional inhibitors and Toxic Factors

As with other foodstuffs, certain nutritional inhibitors and toxic substances are associated with sorghum and millet grains. Anti-nutritional factors classified broadly, as those naturally present in the grains and those due to contamination, may be of fungal origin or may be related to soil and other environmental influences. These factors modify the nutritional value of the individual grains, and some of them have very serious consequences. The following is a brief account of some of the anti-nutrients and toxic substances associated with sorghum and millets.


Phytate represents a complex class of naturally occurring phosphorus compounds that can significantly influence the functional and nutritional properties of foods. Although the presence of these compounds has been known for over a century, their biological role is not completely understood. Phytic acid, myo-inositol 1,2,3,4,5,6-hexakis (dihydrogen phosphate), is the main phosphorus store in mature seeds. Phytic acid has a strong binding capacity, readily forming complexes with multivalent cations and proteins. Most of the phytate-metal complexes are insoluble at physiological pH. Hence phytate binding renders several minerals biologically unavailable to animals and humans.


Widely distributed polyphenols in plants are not directly involved in any metabolic process and are therefore considered secondary metabolites. Some polyphenolic compounds have a role as defence chemicals, protecting the plant from predatory attacks of herbivores, pathogenic fungi and parasitic weeds. Polyphenols in the grains also prevent grain losses from premature germination and damage due to mould and protect seedlings from insect attack.

Phenolic compounds in sorghum can be classified as phenolic acids, flavonoids and condensed polymeric phenols known as tannins. Phenolic acids, free or bound as esters, are concentrated in the outer layers of the grain. They inhibit growth of microorganisms and probably impart resistance against grain mould. Flavonoids in sorghum, derivatives of the monomeric polyphenol flavan-4-ol, are called anthocyanidins. The two flavonoids identified to be abundant in sorghum grains are luteoforol and apiforol. The latter compound is also found in sorghum leaves. Though low-molecular-weight flavonoids from other plant sources were found to be anti-nutritional, so far there has been no evidence that sorghum flavonoids have similar properties.

Tannins are polymers. Sorghum tannins are referred to as procyanidins because it is thought that cyanidin was usually the sole anthocyanidin involved. During grain development, flavonoid monomers are synthesized and then condense to form oligomeric proanthocyanidins of four to six units.

The nutritional significance of the enzyme inhibitors present in sorghum and millets is not clearly understood and more research on enzyme inhibitors of cereal grains is needed. However, when we look at the function of flavonoids and phenolic acids and polyphenol compounds with respect to melanin, we find these foods to be extremely compatible to the biological makeup of Afrikan people and to other people of colour and has been for centuries.


Like other cereals, sorghum and millets are susceptible to fungal growth and mycotoxin production under certain environmental conditions. Mycotoxins not only threaten consumer health but also affect food quality, causing huge economic losses.




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