By Alice in Dairyland Katie Wirkus

As the winter presses on, don’t get bored with the same old meals. Incorporate sorghum syrup into your meals for a delicious change. Sorghum, a specialty crop, has been grown for syrup or silage in Wisconsin since the state was settled and is part of the state’s $59 billion agriculture industry.

Sorghum is a tall grass with leaves similar to those of corn, but instead has clusters of grain atop its tall stalks. These grains can be cultivated to feed animals or as a gluten-free mix. The stalks themselves contain a high sugar content that can be made into delicious syrup.

Richard and Brenda Wittgreve, owners of Rolling Meadows Sorghum Mill of Elkhart Lake, grow approximately one percent of the nation’s crop of sorghum made into syrup. This is all accomplished on just 20 acres. While smaller operations cultivate with hand tools, such as a machete, the Wittgreves’ operation is large enough to utilize modified equipment in all aspects of the growing and processing of sorghum for syrup.

To start a new sorghum crop at Rolling Meadows Sorghum Mill, seeds are planted in rows using a modified corn planter in late May or early June. The plants grow between 10 and 12 feet tall which makes them susceptible to the wind knocking them down. To prevent this, in August the tops of the sorghum plants are removed in a process called deheading. The Wittgreves have found that deheading also helps to increase the sugar levels in the stalks. A few rows are left with the tops intact to produce the seeds for next year’s planting.

Harvest typically occurs from September through October. Using a modified chopper, the stalks are cut into six-inch pieces and blown into a wagon. After the pieces are unloaded into the sorghum press, four cast iron rollers process the pieces to squeeze out a green juice. At this point the juice is between 14 and 18 percent sugar. The sorghum juice is preheated overnight to help separate the impurities. The clear juice, the color of iced tea, is then run through a filter press to remove any residual impurities. This juice is cooked in a large pan with steam coils by a high-pressure steam boiler using scrap wood as fuel. The steam keeps the syrup from burning, but heats the syrup to remove excess water. The use of a refractometer is needed to check the final syrup. While finishing the syrup, a temperature of 230 degrees Fahrenheit is reached. Once the syrup has reached a sugar content between 80 and 81 percent, a 20-foot cooling tube, similar to a cooling plate used to cool milk, chills the syrup to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Finally, the syrup is placed into 55 gallon barrels for storage.

One acre of sorghum typically produces 100-150 gallons of syrup. To make one gallon of syrup, 10 gallons of juice is needed. During the process of cooking the juice down to syrup, all of the natural sugars and nutrients are retained. The syrup is 100 percent natural with a composition of approximately equal thirds of glucose, fructose and dextrose.

The thickness and color of sorghum syrup is similar to that of molasses, but with a milder taste. Molasses is a byproduct when producing white sugar which comes from the perennial sugarcane plant, whereas, sorghum syrup is the primary product that comes from the sorghum plant, an annual. After opening, sorghum syrup needs no refrigeration. Similar to honey, if it becomes crystallized, warming the jar in a pan of warm water will dissolve the crystals.

Sorghum syrup can be used on toast, pancakes, ice cream and in squash, baked beans, barbeque sauce, pumpkin pie, ginger cookies, breads and so much more. It can be substituted cup for cup in any recipe that calls for honey, molasses, corn syrup or maple syrup.

The glycemic load is a ranking system for the carbohydrate content in a food. The smaller the number the healthier the food. Sorghum syrup has a glycemic load of 4, while maple syrup, honey and sugar have a glycemic load of 7, 9 and 19, respectively. In addition to the low glycemic load, sorghum syrup is high in calcium, potassium and iron, is very high in antioxidants, and is gluten free.

As the temperature drops keep the flavor high by using sorghum syrup. To learn more visit

Alice in Dairyland Katie Wirkus is Wisconsin’s agriculture ambassador. She travels more than 40,000 miles throughout the state, promoting Wisconsin agriculture to various audiences. Alice in Dairyland can be reached by writing to Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), 2811 Agriculture Drive, PO Box 8911, Madison, WI 53718.

To schedule Alice for an upcoming event, contact the Alice in Dairyland Program Manager at 608.224.5080 or by e-mail at

To learn more about Wisconsin’s $59 billion agricultural industry visit her travel blog at or become a friend on Facebook (Alice Dairyland), follow on twitter (Alice_ Dairyland) or LinkedIn (Alice in Dairyland).

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