What's In Season

Now Is the Time to Stock Your Pantry with Sorghum

It just might become your favorite condiment

Illustration: John Burgoyne

From hot sauce to rémoulade to Old Bay, smearing, drizzling, and sprinkling our way to bonus flavor is a Southern sport. And if you’re looking for a hit of sweetness, chefs like Rob Newton, the executive chef at the Capital Hotel in Little Rock, consider sorghum syrup the MVP of the pantry. “I think of sorghum as the workhorse you can use in a lot of different ways,” he says. “It’s not as delicate as maple syrup, which you don’t want to cook with. And it doesn’t have that burnt sugar, bitter quality blackstrap molasses can have. It’s sort of right there in the middle.”

Sorghum grows similarly to corn—tall and in rows—with a cone-shaped seedpod at the top. In sweet varieties, pressing the stalk releases a juice that producers can cook down into syrup. Sweet sorghum grows happily in much of the South, where it’s been cultivated since the 1850s. It’s generally harvested in the fall—after summer heat has waned but before the frost settles in—and you can spot fresh syrup at farm stands and markets (or find it bottled at specialty stores year-round). Stash a bottle in the pantry and use it as a sub for molasses in most any recipe, or get creative: Add a dash in an old-fashioned, drizzle it over roasted carrots or sweet potatoes, or try it in a marinade, as Newton does for sweet and sticky ribs (see recipe). When in doubt, pair it with something buttery. “My first memory of the dark syrup is drizzling it over biscuits at breakfast,” Newton says. “Butter and sorghum are just really special together.”  

The Chef Recommends:
Crispy-Sticky Sorghum-Soy Spareribs

Yield: 6 servings 

3 tbsp. soy sauce
3 tbsp. sorghum syrup 
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. ketchup
1 tsp. mustard
2½ to 3 lb. spareribs (cut into individual ribs) 
2 tbsp. benne or sesame seeds


In a large bowl, mix soy sauce, sorghum syrup, vinegar, ketchup, and mustard. Add ribs and toss. Cover and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours. To cook: Preheat oven to 250°F. Place ribs on a baking sheet lined with foil (leave enough extra to fold over them). Pour any remaining marinade over the ribs. Fold sides of foil over ribs, seal tightly, and place in oven. Check after 1 hour; when ready, they should be falling off the bone (this could take as long as 2 hours). When they’re done, remove from oven and turn broiler to low. Line another baking sheet with foil and spray or rub it with oil. Carefully transfer ribs to the foil-lined sheet, and reserve juices in a small bowl. Brush ribs with juice, and place under the broiler for 5 to 10 minutes, continuing to baste with juice until golden and crispy. Sprinkle with benne or sesame seeds and cook about a minute more (be careful not to burn them!). Serve with slices of cucumber, shredded cabbage, dilly beans or pickled okra, hot sauce, and white sandwich bread.