Hawassa Food Processing

Advancing Improved Functionality and Protein Quality Sorghum Hybrids for Food Applications in Ethiopia


More families in Ethiopia are purchasing their injera from local vendors instead of preparing it at home due to increased disposable income and the rise of the middle class. While teff has traditionally served as the base for injera, sorghum is commonly incorporated into injera fabrication, thanks to both its affordability and availability. However, due to its physio-chemical traits, sorghum tends to underperform in the making of injera, which limits its use as a base ingredient and keeps the price of injera higher with the dependence on teff.


In an effort to improve the functionality of sorghum in commercial grain-based food products, improved highly digestible (IHD) sorghum lines have been developed and have displayed improved performance in food processing. These IHD lines are being tested in Ethiopian environments in order to evaluate production constraints and opportunities for local farmers. Food scientists have worked with food product development labs and local entrepreneurs to assess the performance of the IHD sorghum. Consumer preference studies show that injera made from blends with these improved sorghum lines performs as well as 100% teff injera and is equally preferred.


Award Amount

$1,857,564 (2013 - 2023)

Research Team

Joseph Awika
William Rooney       Kebede Abegaz
Abadi Mezgebe       Tadesse Teferra

U.S.A. collaborating institutions

Texas A&M University
Kansas State University

International collaborating institutions

Ethiopia - Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), Hawassa University
South Africa - University of Pretoria

Principal Investigator

Dr. Joseph Awika

Texas A&M University
Professor and Head
Food Science and Technology
Phone: 979-845-2985
Email: awika@tamu.edu

Regional Impact

Ethiopia – Sidama

Project Description

New sorghum hybrids under development combine high protein digestibility (HPD) mutation with waxy and heterowaxy (WX/HX) starch traits in hard endosperm and show a lot of promise for various food applications due to superior functionality and improved protein nutritional quality. This project aims to advance the use of these new sorghums for food and nutrition security in Ethiopia.

The research team is developing commercially viable technologies to successfully incorporate the improved sorghums in various food processes and products in Ethiopia and establishing improved HPD sorghum hybrid seed and grain production in Ethiopia. Researchers expect that the improved sorghum hybrids can be successfully incorporated in mainstream food processing value chain to produce commercially competitive products that meet quality expectations of a broad consumer base in Ethiopia. They also expect to demonstrate that the improved sorghum hybrids will compete favorably with local hybrids in both high input and low input environments in Ethiopia. This will likely lead to a more rapid incorporation of these hybrids into local sorghum breeding and seed production systems targeting specific market applications.

Addressing these objectives will lead to development of commercially viable, superior quality sorghum-based food products that will open new markets and enhance sorghum value chain. This will benefit small-scale farmers who dominate sorghum production, and small- and medium-scale food enterprises (a large portion are owned by women). Additionally, increased utilization of HPD-sorghums in local products would significantly contribute to reduced malnutrition in children from regions that rely on sorghum for sustenance.

Progress and Impact

Sorghum flours of smooth, uniform particle size were shown to perform better in different products, especially batter-based products like injera and pancakes. This indicates that mills that produce a more uniform, narrow particle-size sorghum flour would be more appropriate for commercialized sorghum products due to the more predictable product quality they provide. In general, roller and disc mills produced better quality products than hammer-milled flour. Eleven industry partners committed to working on product testing in the next period. Sorghum malting and quality testing protocols were also developed to produce consistent results. The improved functionality HD sorghums were successfully grown in Ethiopia. Three varieties were grown; two of these have produced enough grain for the food science team to test industry processing partners.

A novel finding was that the HD sorghums produced stronger gels during cooking than their wild-type counterparts, for both normal and waxy starch backgrounds. Interestingly, the stronger gels of the HD sorghum also had lower syneresis (water separation) during one-week storage at 4oC than the wild-type sorghum gels. This behavior was unexpected because strong gels during storage generally indicate more starch retrogradation, which is typically accompanied by more syneresis. The evidence suggests that the stronger HD sorghum gels are stabilized by starch-protein network, which makes them less prone to retrogradation (which normally leads to product staling). Thus, the HD trait could lead to novel sorghum application in various foods where strong, stable gels are desirable.

Country Coordinator

Dr. Alemu Tirfessa

Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR)

September 27, 2022

Advancing Improved Functionality and Protein Quality Sorghum Hybrids for Food Applications

The functionality of sorghum in commercial grain-based food products through the development of highly digestible (IHD) sorghum lines has been evaluated and developed through the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum and Millet (SMIL) global research program for the last seven years.


Presentations and Publications

Effect of High-Digestibility (HD) and Waxy Starch Traits on Sorghum Functionality in Chemically Leavened Batter System

Scott, G., & Awika, J. (March 2021). Effect of High-Digestibility (HD) and Waxy Starch Traits on Sorghum Functionality in Chemically Leavened Batter System. Presentation at SMIL 2021 Annual Conference, Virtual.

Advancing Improved Functionality and Protein Quality Sorghum Hybrids for Food Applications in Ethiopia

Awika, J.M., Rooney, W., Abegaz, K., Teferra, T.F., Mezgebe, A.G., & Tirfessa, A. (March 2021). Advancing Improved Functionality and Protein Quality Sorghum Hybrids for Food Applications in Ethiopia. Presentation at SMIL Administrative virtual meeting, Virtual.