Sorghum bicolor subsp. bicolor
Origin: El Salvador
Improvement status: Cultivar
Seeds per packet: ~50
Germination tested 11/2023: 95%
Life cycle: Annual
'Dorado' means "golden," and we're certain we've struck gold with this one, our first Latin American sorghum offering — though it seems clear this variety only reached Central America in the 1980s. From everything we can tell, this is likely the same variety released in El Salvador as 'ISIAP Dorado', which was selected from breeders' nurseries by an in-service trainee from El Salvador at the main research farm in Patancheru, India, of ICRISAT (the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, the main international consortium dealing with semi-arid tropical crops) in 1979 and 1980. We haven't been able to learn that trainee's name yet, but we — and many others — nevertheless owe them a debt of gratitude. Since its introduction, 'Dorado' has spread and become popular among Latin American farmers from Mexico to Paraguay, and it's even become widely grown in Egypt, where by 1992 it was planted on some 50,000 hectares, or roughly 10% of all sorghum acreage in Egypt at the time. This is clearly a special sorghum.
'Dorado' came into the USDA's National Plant Germplasm System via Texas A&M professor Dr. Fred R. Miller in 1989. As befits its name, 'Dorado' has pale golden-yellow medium-sized round grains. It is the shortest-statured sorghum in our catalogue, topping out at just under 4 feet tall. This makes it an excellent variety for large-scale production and harvesting with a combine. The pale seeds mean it's a low-tannin variety, which makes it great for both animal and human food. We've only eaten a bit of it, but found it to be quite delicious. Some other sorghum varieties from Central America are known to be nixtamalized and made into tortillas, just like corn, and we wouldn't be surprised if this one is sometimes treated the same way.
As with many dwarf sorghums, this is a highly productive variety. It also has a dry stalk, so the plant puts all of its energy into seed production. A comparative evaluation conducted in 2004 by the USDA on the island of St. Croix in the Virgin Islands verified that this is an exceptional sorghum. It was found to be resistant to both anthracnose and rust, two common diseases in sorghum, while also being uniform in height and free from both basal and nodal tillers (secondary shoots that ripen seed later, if at all), qualities that also make this variety excellent for mechanical harvesting. Further, the seeds exhibited no sprouting tendency on the plants, and seedling vigor in the field was noted to be above average. Finally, yield potential was considered "high" and the overall desirability of this variety was judged to be "excellent."
As with all sorghums, this is a nutritious, gluten-free grain that's easy to grow and process at the home or small-farm scale. It's easily hand-threshed and cleaned. While we haven't had much of a chance to experiment with it in the kitchen, we think there's a strong chance it's a good popping variety, and we're sure it will prove good for flour and use as a whole grain. We found one source that says it's also good for brewing and malting.
We're proud to have successfully introduced quite a few sorghums to the US seed trade — including at least 'Coral', 'Korjaj', 'Kassaby', 'Allu Jola', 'Kawanda', and 'Nerum Boer', all sold by multiple other seed companies now — and we have no doubt 'Dorado' is soon to join that list.
GROWING TIPS: Start in flats around last frost or direct sow after all danger of frost has passed (when you might plant green beans or corn). Sow seeds one inch deep and space plants between 10 and 16 inches apart. Plants should only need to be watered while being established, unless you have an unusually extended drought. Seeds are ready for harvest when a broken seed (we use our teeth or fingernails) is dry and floury inside.