Monday, August 14, 2006

Sorghum Vs Quinoa

Do you want the short story, or the long story? Several people have asked me what the nutritional content of Sorghum is. I have always had to answer that I thought it was pretty good, because it is related to millet, but that I don’t know for sure. Until now, that is. The short answer is that protein-wise, it is as good as or better than Quinoa, which is currently being touted in the media as a sort of super-grain for its protein content. That’s the short answer.

Do you want the long answer? OK. Here come a few numbers… One warning before you start, I didn’t count significant figures in any of the math that I did.

There are several amino acids that the Human body is not capable of producing, for which we depend upon our diet to supply. These are known as the Essential Amino Acids. I went to for these numbers, comparing whole Sorghum (S), All-purpose enriched wheat flour, bleached (W), and whole quinoa (Q). My unproven assumption in this comparison is that sorghum and quinoa are ground whole into flour, so the nutritional data of the whole grain and the flour are identical.

For the essential amino acids, in mg/cup:
Trp 238 (S), 159 (W), No data (Q)
Thr 664 (S), 351 (W), 780 (Q)
Ile 831 (S), 446 (W), 803 (Q)
Leu 2863 (S), 888 (W), 1336 (Q)
Lys 440 (S), 285 (W), 1248 (Q)
Met 324 (S), 229 (W), 445 (Q)
Cys 244 (S), 274 (W), No Data (Q)
Phe 1048 (S), 650 (W), 913 (Q)
Tyr 616 (S), 390 (W), 624 (Q)
Val 1077 (S), 510 (W), 1001 (Q)
His 472 (S), 288 (W), 534 (Q)

Total Protein in g/cup:
21.7 (S), 12.9 (W), 22.3 (Q)

Total Carbohydrates in g/cup:
143 (S), 95.4 (W), 117 (Q)

Total Fiber in g/cup:
12.1 (S), 3.4 (W), 10.0 (Q)

The Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board has set targets for essential amino acid levels for an “ideal food”. These are, with the values for sorghum calculated, in mg/g total protein:
Trp 7 11.0 (S), 157%
Thr 27 30.6 (S), 113%
Ile 55 38.3 (S), 69.6%
Leu 25 132 (S), 528%
Lys 51 20.3 (S), 39.8%
Met+Cys 25 26.2 (S), 105%
Phe+Tyr 47 76.7 (S), 163%
Val 32 49.6 (S), 155%
His 18 21.8 (S), 121%

So Sorghum is deficient in Ile and Lys. We make up for it in total protein content, compared to Quinoa, in Leu,
Ala, Glu, and Pro, of which only Leu is essential. lists 999 foods that you can include in your diet that have a higher Lys/Leu ratio, to compensate for the Lysine you are missing eating Sorghum. This list is headed by turkey and mushrooms, and includes pretty much any meat or cheese, burdock root, and oranges. I thought that was great, because of course everyone loves burdock root, and oranges are a great way to supplement your protein intake. Actually, a mushroom-turkey melt on bread made with Jowar would be perfect.

I didn’t look up foods high is Isoleucine, and didn’t suggest any, because Ile is not the “limiting” amino acid.

Compared to all-purpose enriched wheat flour, bleached, sorghum is by far the champ protein-wise. It even has one-and-a-half times as much Lys, which is supposedly the big deficiency that sorghum has. It appears to be less of a problem with wheat, because the targets for “ideal foods” are set by ratio with the total protein, which is also lower for wheat.

The only area that sorghum appears to have a significant lack is in the area of minerals. Enriched wheat flour is, of course, enriched. As a result, it is chock full of minerals that don’t really belong there. Quinoa appears to be naturally high in all minerals, and is OK on most vitamins. Sorghum has good levels of only of iron, potassium, and phosphorus. It is also good in thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin. It is missing manganese, zinc, copper and selenium. So, keep taking your multi-vitamin with minerals, but don’t worry so much about amino acid levels.

One final note for any non-chemists who may read this, who may also care to know and who don’t already, (I realize that the intersection of those three demographics may be vanishingly small) the abbreviations for amino acids mentioned above are:
Trp tryptophan
Thr threonine
Ile Isoleucine
Leu leucine
Lys lysine
Met methionine
Cys cystine
Phe phenylalanine
Tyr tyrosine
Val valine
His histidine
Ala alanine
Glu glutamate
Pro proline


  1. Grant5:09 PM

    Thanks so much for the information, my wife and I are going on a low-oxalate diet and are trying to stay healthy while on this. I'm really hoping that Sorghum flour is a good alternative to wheat flour. We're new to the whole bread-making thing but we're trying to figure out a way of making our own low-oxalate breads and pizza dough by using Sorghum flour. E-mail me if you have any more information that might pertain to this subject!

  2. Anonymous5:09 PM

  3. Can you tell me what your source for the Phenylalanine content in Quinoa was? Also, was that content for the raw or cooked amount?


  4. Can you tell me what your source for the Phenylalanine content in Quinoa was? Also, was that content for the raw or cooked amount?


  5. That is a good question! I got all my information from the website listed above. When I wrote this post, it was all there. Now, I don't see ANY amino acid content listed for Quinoa. I don't know where it went or why.

  6. Okay, thanks. is a nice-looking front-end to the USDA database - they just query it for data.... So, in checking USDA, the data for the amino acids is missing from there too.

    Thanks for the response!

  7. One more thing - if you go to USDA and search for the previous database - SR19 - instead of using the most recent, all the amino acid data is present. The only difference is that in the previous database version, there is only one record of Quinoa, it doesn't specify cooked or uncooked. Soooo, comparing the SR19 and SR20 databases for Quinoa vitamin counts, the SR19 database must reflect the COOKED version (the numbers from SR19 match closely with the SR20 cooked version). Just thought I would pass this along in case other people are googling for the same thing and getting stuck:)

  8. Anonymous2:34 PM

    Hi, can you please tell me the amount of oxalates in sorghum flour?