SORGHUM TEA: a steaming cup of sustainable innovation

Rose Otema Baah, Department: Consumer and Food Sciences, University of Pretoria Marguerite Pienaar, agricultural economist, Grain SA Petru Fourie, independent agricultural economist
Published: 5 June 2024

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In a world where diet-related non-communicable diseases are steadily increasing mortality rates, the quest for healthier alternatives is paramount. Enters sorghum tea, a promising product that not only addresses health concerns but also aligns with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This innovative beverage, crafted from sorghum stem sheaths, embodies the culmination of research, passion, and a vision for sustainable agriculture.

Global Sorghum Conference 2023
The Global Sorghum Conference 2023 was the second global conference focusing on sorghum in the 21st century. The conference was attended by more than 400 members of the global sorghum community and included delegates from more than 40 countries and nearly 150 different organisations across the sorghum value chain. It centred on the many challenges for sorghum with a view to developing resilience and sustainability in the face of climate change. From researchers to the private sector, delegates were focusing on strengthening current partnerships, identifying unique or niche collaborations, and exploring the newest and cutting-edge advances in sorghum research. The five-day-long conference showcased the latest science developments while highlighting sorghum’s role as a key solution for numerous challenges, including climate change impacts, evolving nutritional requirements, and a shift in market demands for both food and feed.

Sorghum Idea Challenge (SIC)
Undoubtedly, one of the greatest highlights of the conference was the Sorghum Idea Challenge (SIC). The challenge was that any idea or project related to sorghum development (research, industry, business, technology extension, cooperation work, etc.) needed to be described in a short abstract with a maximum of 400 words. The winner of this challenge was South Africa. The University of Pretoria team consisted of Rose Otema Baah, Emilie Danielle Mbock and Charles Antwi with their exceptional project called ‘Production of tea sachets made of sorghum stem-sheath, enriched with ginger and cloves’. South Africa can indeed be very proud as this was a stringent competition and Rose Otema Baah and the team from the University of Pretoria won this three-minute challenge with flying colours.

Rose Otema Baah accepts the SIC award on behalf of the team.
Photo: 21centurysorghum.org

According to Rose the journey of sorghum tea began with a deep involvement in sorghum during doctoral research. ‘Exploring its potential as a sustainable food source revealed hidden virtues within its grain. Inspired by the abundance of sorghum stem sheaths, often overlooked, the idea of creating a tea sachet emerged. Blending science and creativity, our team embarked on a path of experimentation to craft a refreshing and healthy alternative to traditional teas.’ Research indicates that sorghum stem sheaths possess anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, appealing to health-conscious consumers. She further said, ‘This discovery propelled us to showcase our project at the Global Sorghum Conference in Montpellier. Among hundreds of delegates from over 40 countries, we shared not only our findings but also our vision for the future of sustainable agriculture. Winning the SIC validated our efforts and underscored the potential of sorghum as a versatile ingredient.’

The University of Pretoria team was a prize winner at the Global Sorghum Conference in Montpellier.

When asked what came next, she answered, ‘With the award in hand, our focus shifted to refining our sorghum tea innovation. Intensive research and development endeavors are underway to ensure that taste, nutritional profile, and quality meet the highest standards. Market analysis and strategy are pivotal as we identify our target audience and plan our marketing approach. Regulatory compliance remains paramount as we navigate the path to bringing our product to market.’

The conference served as a platform to connect with like-minded individuals passionate about sorghum advancements. From discussions on sorghum breeding to product development and market opportunities, the conference underscored sorghum’s role in addressing climate change impacts and evolving nutritional requirements.

As we look to the future, sorghum tea stands as a beacon of sustainable innovation in the beverage industry. With its health benefits, environmental sustainability, and versatility, sorghum tea embodies a holistic approach to meeting the challenges of the 21st century. ‘Through passion, perseverance, and a commitment to excellence, we aim to make a meaningful impact by bringing sorghum tea to market, one sip at a time,’ Rose added.