Note: I started this post a few months ago. I was inspired by Andrew Zimmern and the elusive idea of itty bitty popcorn. I just got swept up in stuff I had to get done, uploading the photos became a bother, and there you go. I've finally gotten around to posting it.
Ever since Andrew Zimmern stuffed his face with freshly-popped sorghum kernels in his Ethiopia installment of Bizarre Foods, I have been eager to try doing this myself. If you've never heard of this: apparently, whole sorghum can pop in much the same way that whole popcorn can. The problem: it's not that easy to find pop sorghum in the US, even in such a centrally located area as Baltimore.
In my internet research, I have found out a few interesting recipes and factoids:
- Pop sorghum is very popular as a snack in many parts of East Africa and South Asia. In India, it's called jawar (also spelled jowar).
- You can pop sorghum in a few different ways, both reminiscent to how you pop popcorn. You can either heat about 5 mL (a little less than 1/2 teaspoon) of oil, heated in a covered pot until it's smoking, and then add about 50 g (3 T + 1 tsp) of sorghum seeds until fully popped. Some recipes call for shaking the pot, others don't. The other way to do it is to dump about a cup of sorghum seeds into a hot air popper.
- Apparently, not all types of whole sorghum work for popping. One scientific article - and my own experimentation - showed that some strains of sorghum don't really pop at all. Or perhaps it's the way mine was packaged.
- sorghum, whole
- covered pot
- covered pan
- cooking oil (vegetable or canola)
- hot air popper
Note that not all "whole sorghum" is "pop sorghum". Also note that most "sorghum" sold in this area is in powdered, flour form. The Natural Market in Timonium carries four score varieties of Shiloh Farms products, but their Sorghum Grain is not one of them. Whole Foods doesn't even know what I'm talking about. The only place I could find it was at - you guessed it - H-Mart. Surprisingly, they had one and only one provider, Choripdong. Theirs is vacuum packed. I don't know if that affects anything or not.
Experiment 1: Popping sorghum in a pan
Zimmern's experience with pop sorghum had him watching Ethiopian women popping it on a large, hot surface, with all the little popped kernels flying up and down as they burst open. My omelette pan, which I bought in a fit of Julia Childish omelette-making hysteria, looked like it would fit the bill. I tried putting a little oil in the pan and once it was hot, pour in about 1/4 cup of whole sorghum.
After shaking it vigorously, I got a bunch of toasted grains of sorghum. Nothing popped.
Experiment 2a: Popping sorghum in a pot (while still)
My next experiment involved trying to pop the sorghum in a pot much like popcorn used to be popped. This recipe from the ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics) website is similar to many that explain how to pop sorghum in this fashion:
Pop sorghumInitially, I would have shaken it. But since the recipe specifically calls for you to leave it alone, I did. After following these directions to a tee - twice - the results were just not pretty. And the whole apartment smelled of burnt sorghum for two days.
50g sorghum grain
5ml cooking oil
- Heat the cooking oil in a covered container (pot) until smoking hot.
- Add the sorghum grain and leave to pop at low heat until all grain is popped.
Experiment 2b: Popping sorghum in a pot (while shaking)
Since leaving it alone didn't work, I resorted to shaking it the next time, covered. I still used the same amounts of oil and sorghum - 50 g (a little under 1/4 cup) of whole sorghum added to 5 mL (not sure how that translates, but I found something with milliliters on it to measure it out) of smoking vegetable oil, then shaken vigorously.
The results were almost as bad. They would have been as bad had I not gotten about three or four kernels of sorghum popped. Success? Not when you consider that there are hundreds of sorghum kernels in one quarter cup.
Experiment 3: Popping sorghum in a hot air popper
My last trick was to try it with a hot air popper. I did remember reading about one blogger, Loztnausten, and her attempt to pop sorghum on her blog Everything Free Eating, which sees how you can eat while eliminating whole food groups (an intriguing concept for a blog). She recommended using more sorghum kernels than popcorn kernels - if the recipe called for 1/2 cup of popcorn, add 3.4 of sorghum, since it's so tiny that you'll need more just to keep it in place. I may have remembered the advice, but not the measurement, as I think I put in at most 1/2 a cup (thinking I had upped it from 1/4).
So, I dumped about a half cup of sorghum into the popper, most of which came flying violently back out at me, spraying all over my countertop. What's worse, almost none of it had popped. But this technique did yield the most popped kernels of all - about twenty or thirty, but again, out of literally hundreds. It also didn't help that I had to keep stopping it to re-add many of the kernels that flew out at me.
Was the experiment necessary?
Imagine my surprise when I stopped by the Punjab grocery by the Waverly Farmers' Market, looking for a different variety of pop sorghum - or jowar, only to find a big-ass bag of already popped jowar!
My jaw dropped, as it seemed that all of my work was for nothing, since this nice big bag of already-popped sorghum was sitting right in front of me. I asked one gentleman who works there where I could find the unpopped variety (Punjab doesn't sell it). He suggested H-Mart ("the place on Route 40"), where I got this seemingly unpoppable Korean variety, and then maybe some other Indian groceries, or even a Latin market. Plus, in the back of my mind I was thinking an Ethiopian or African grocer might have it, so I will have to stop in one of those places to see for myself. So this experiment is already half-way done. Next step: to try other varieties of sorghum, to see if it's just this variety that doesn't pop well, or if I just don't know what the hell I'm doing.
I have no clue when I will get around to that. For now, I'll just eat the already-popped stuff.
UPDATE: February 22, 2013: Want to see my second and more fruitful (er, grainful) attempt at popping sorghum (and amaranth, too)? Here you go.