Sweet sorghum is a grass of Old World origin. The name "sweet sorghum" is used to identify varieties of sorghum, Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench, that are sweet and juicy. A United States patent officer introduced sweet sorghum to American in 1853. It is a native of Africa, a drought-resistant, heat-tolerant member of the grass family.
The Department of Agriculture conducted numerous experiments on the extraction of sucrose from sorghum and on crystallization of sorghum syrup. It was hoped to reduce reliance on cane sugar imports and on slave-hungry sugar plantations. Farmers in the South and lower Midwest welcomed the cheap, local alternative to extract dry sugar from the syrup. But, it proved too difficult to extract dry sugar from the syrup.
The syrup was an important sweetener for many small communities well into this century and even today is still locally important. In the 1860's sorghum cultivation was concentrated in the Midwest, but by the 1890's it had become predominately a southern crop. Production reached a peak of 24 million gallons in the 1880's and then declined over the next century in the face of competition from glucose syrups. By 1975, the U.S. Agricultural Census reported just 2,400 acres producing less than 400,000 gallons of syrup. There has been a recovery from this low production with 25,000 to 30,000 acres planted for syrup today. Kentucky and Tennessee are the states with the largest acreage.
This information is supplied by the National Sweet Sorghum Producers and Processors Association. Used with permission