Guinea pigs and sorghum
Guinea pigs and sorghum Helen Young 30.10.97
RE: Guinea pigs and sorghum Ellen Muehlhoff 30.10.97
Re: Guinea pigs and sorghum Pieter Dijkhuizen 30.10.97
Guinea pigs and sorghum -Reply Rae Galloway 30.10.97
RE: Guinea pigs and sorghum Linley Chiwona Karltun 03.11.97
RE: Guinea pigs and sorghum Anna Verster 02.11.97
Guinea pigs and sorghum -Reply Janak Upadhyay 06.11.97

From: Helen Young <>

Subject: Guinea pigs and sorghum

Date: Thu, 30 Oct 97 10:55:00 G


Dear NGONUT'ers,

I have two unrelated queries; first, the value of red versus white sorghum, and second, the value of keeping guinea pigs, both arising from experience in Burundi.

First, what is known about the digestibility of red versus white sorghum, particularly as an ingredient in a blended food for use in supplementary and therapeutic feeding programmes? Oxfam is using a locally produced blended food called 'tomix' in Burundi . Tomix consists of a blend of 30% maize; 20% sorghum; 5% rice; 20% soya +cake+ (fat extracted); 16% sugar and 4% dried skimmed milk. Tomix is produced by grinding the whole grains and soya cake together and mixing with the other ingredients. Only the soya cake is +pre-cooked+ (autoclaved at 120oC for 1.5 to 2 hours). Tomix is expected to have a shelf-life of at least 6 to 8 weeks. At the moment red sorghum is used rather than white sorghum.

I remember reading years ago in a paper about the development of CSM (or was it the local production of extruded blended food?), that white sorghum was preferable to red sorghum because of indigestible tannins in the seed coat of red sorghum. Field observations are contradictory; in Red Sea Hills, North Sudan in the late eighties, mothers said they swapped the red sorghum given as food aid for locally grown white sorghum to feed their children (they did not mind eating the red sorghum, but did not like to give it to their chidlren). In contrast, more recently among Burundian refugees in Tanzania mothers consider red sorghum to be be better for them than white sorghum (comments about it being 'good for the blood').

Second, a point of interest, a mother in Burundi, who kept up to 300 guinea pigs before the crisis (pre '93), explained to me that that her way of preventing kwashiorkior among her younger children was to reserve the few guinea pigs she now kept (she was down to 3) for the children . What is known about the food value of guinea pig meat or indeed about keeping guinea pigs as a source of food?

I particularly would be interested in hearing from NGONUT'ers in Latin America, as I have since found out that Oxfam has been supporting guinea pig re-stocking programmes in Peru. According to our Lima office...

... 'raising guinea pigs in Andean villages is an ancient practice which has been lost or destroyed by the era of violence which affected extensive zones of the Peruvian highlands. The present project will contribute to resuming the practise of raising guinea pigs, on the part of women in their family units. ...the guinea pig is a small animal which reproduces abundantly and has ahighly accelerated life cycle. Depending on the species, in two or three months they can be eaten or are ready for reproduction. The guinea pig is of Andean origin (?). Areas higher than 2,500 metres are the ideal environments for raising these animals, which do not need significant veterinary attention. They are attacked by few diseases, as opposed to larger grazing animals such as cows and alpacas. Guinea pigs can be fed with waste from the family kitchen and supplemented with a small amount of food such as alfalfa. Kitchen waste such as potato peelings or grenery not used for human consumption can be fed to guinea pigs. The cost of feeding them (in rural zones) is minimal.'

Perhaps this latter query seems a little obscure and is obviously not at the forefront of advances in nutritional science, but nevertheless it could represent a useful initiative to strengthen food security, which would automatically focus on a source of food for which women are responsible.



Helen Young, Food and Nutrition Adviser,

Oxfam Emergencies Department

Date: Thu, 30 Oct 1997 14:35:00 +0100

From: "Muehlhoff, Ellen (ESNP)" <>

Subject: RE: Guinea pigs and sorghum


Dear Helen,

On the issue the issue of tannin in red/brown sorghum and its effects on nutritional quality. I shall send you a copy of the FAO Publication "Sorghum and Millets in Human Nutrition" published in 1995 which provides a good overview of the history and nature of sorghum and millets, and extensive information on the nutritional value, chemical composition, storage and processing of these foods.

Specifically with regard to the antinutritional factors in red sorghum, I quote relevant extracts from the book: "... Some varieties of sorghum containing high tannin in the grain were found to be bird-resistant.

Tannins are the most abundant phenolic compound in brown bird-resistant sorghum. During maturation the brown sorghum develops astringence which imparts resistance against birds and mould attack. This quality is important in arid and semi-arid regions where other crops fail.

Tannins, while conferring the agronomic advantage of bird resistance, adversely affect the grain's nutritional quality. Several studies in rats, chicks and livestock have shown that tannin in the diet adversely affects digestibility of protein and carbohydrates and reduces growth, feeding efficiency, metabolizable energy and bioavailability of amino acids. There is no direct evidence regarding antinutritional effects of dietary tannins in human subjects, although dietary tannin may have a carcinogenic effect. Studies in India showed that iron absorption in Indian women was lower when they were fed porridge prepared from bird-resistant high-tannin sorghum in place of porridge prepared from tannin-negative sorghum. On the other hand, studies in normal and anaemic subjects have shown that availability of iron was affected more by phytic acid than by the tannin content of the grain.

Different methods have been tried to inactivate or detoxify the tannins in bird-resistant sorghum to improve their nutritional quality.

Moisturising the grains with alkali several hours prior to utilization, including treatment of the whole grain with dilute aqueous ammonia, was found to be quite effective. In traditional processing of high-tannin sorghums, prior treatment of the grain with alkalis is an important step. In making sorghum beer, the grains are soaked overnight with moistened wood ash; the alkalis released from the ash were found to inactivate the tannins. This observation is very important, since the product before fermentation is used for feeding children in certain parts of eastern Africa. It has also been found that treatment of high-tannin sorghum with a soda solution was effective in detoxification of tannins. Supplementation of high tannin diets with orthophosphoric acid or dicalcium phosphate or sodium bicarbonate also had a positive effect in terms of detoxification of tannins."

There is plenty more information in the book on sorghum and its use in weaning foods, attempts at improving nutritional quality of sorghum-based diets and products which may be of interest.

Best regards,


Ellen Muehlhoff

Food and Nutrition Division, FAO

Via delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy

email:, Tel: 0039-6-5705 4133, Fax: 0039-6-5705 4593

From: "Pieter Dijkhuizen"<>

Date: Thu, 30 Oct 1997 15:06:45 +0100

Subject: Re: Guinea pigs and sorghum


Dear Helen,

In the various manuals for local weaning food processing as well as in the relevant Codex Alimentarius section (Guidelines on Formulated Supplementary Foods for Older Infants and Young Children CAC/GL 08-1991) it is emphasised that red sorghum should only be used after thorough decorticating. The red out layer rich in tannin should be removed to prevent the interaction of the tannin with protein digestion and mineral absorbtion (particularly iron). There is quite a literature about the interaction of tannin with iron.

This requirement of decorticating makes red sorghum an undesirable ingredient for weaning foods; in the decorticating process 20-25% of cereal weight is lost, the process requires considerable energy and decorticating equipment is not cheap. (Low-cost decorticating machines are manufactured in several countries in Africa, the machine from the Applied Technology Centre in Gaborone, Botswana functions very well).

White sorghum is as a raw material often somewhat more expensive than red sorghum, however after pre-processing it is much more economical. It needs no decorticating or dehulling. Therefore if available white sorgum should be preferred over red sorghum for weaning foods.

Actually I am surprised, that in Burundi red sorghum is used for weaning foods, as over there it should be well known from the "MUSALAC" experience (Musalac is the original low-cost weaning in Burundi, developed under auspices of the Ministry of Health with assistance from the Royal Tropical Institute from the Netherlands and the Agricultural University in Ghent from Belgium), that either maize, white sorghum or decorticated red sorghum should be used as ingredients for weaning food.

Decorticating is required for red sorghum, millet and wheat, as do millet and wheat. However maize, rice, soya, chick and cow peas do not need to be dehulled before processing into weaning foods according our present knowledge.

More information is available in Burundi about this subject from the MUSALAC project of the Ministry of Health, Musaga, Bujumbura.

Best regards,


Pieter Dykhuizen, WFP Rome

From: Rae Galloway

To: Helen Young

Subject: Guinea pigs and sorghum -Reply Date: 30 October 1997 13:16



I can't speak to the inhibitors in red or white sorghum but I did look up food composition (although my sources are old ones) of both varieties of sorghum and guinea pigs and found the following:

>From the Food Composition Table for Use in Africa (US Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare and FAO, 1968): whole grain red and white sorghums are about the same in most of the nutrients listed except iron of which red has 15.6 mg./100 g and white has 5.8 mg./100 g. Red also contains 10 mcg of beta-carotene.

>From the Food Composition Table for Use in Latin America (INCAP, NIH, 1961) per 100 g: 96 kcal; 19 g protein; 1.6 g. fat (15% of kcal from fat!); 29 mg calcium; 253 mg phosphorus; 1.9 mg. Fe; 0.06 mg. thiamin; .14 mg. riboflavin; 6.5 niacin.

>From a quick look at other meats (chicken, rabbit) it appears guinea pig meat is much, much leaner but looks about the same for all the other nutrients.

I hope that's useful. If you receive more current information, I would appreciate being copied as I never know how reliable my sources are on food composition since they are rather old.



Date: Mon, 3 Nov 1997 09:58:34 +0100

From: Linley Chiwona Karltun <>

Subject: RE: Guinea pigs and sorghum


Dear Ellen,

I see similarities on the issue of tannin in red/brown sorghum with our work on "the importance of bitter and toxic cassava in farming systems with food insecurity in Malawi".

>"... Some varieties of sorghum containing high tannin in the grain were found to be bird-resistant Tannins are the most abundant phenolic compound in brown bird-resistant sorghum. During maturation the brown sorghum develops astringence which imparts resistance against birds and mould attack. This quality is important in arid and semi-arid regions where other crops fail.

We have found that farmers in Malawi, prefer to grow bitter and toxic cassava because they provide food security, since there is minimal risk that they are stolen, destroyed by vermin and other pests, and by virtue of the fact that they have to be extensively processed(by women) to be rendered safe all harvesting has to be thoroughly planned. On the other hand, we found that the most vulnerable families, especailly female headed households, preferred to grow the bitter and toxic cassava that at the same time put them at a higher risk of getting intoxciated with improperly processed cassava. Since this group is usually food insecure, the tendency to ineffectively shorten the processing was inevitable therefore an increased exposure to intoxications that were sometimes fatal.

We have submitted our work for publication and continue to study and understand the mechanisms of the use of toxic plants in farming and food systems in communities with food insecurity. To this end, we would be much obliged if you could send us a copy of the FAO publication on "Sorghum and Millets in Human Nutrition" published in 1995.


Linley Chiwona-Karltun


Linley Chiwona-Karltun

Uppsala University, Department of Nutrition

Dag Hammarskjold vag 21, S-752 37 UPPSALA, SWEDEN

Telephone: + 46 18 471 2220 Secretary: 471 2210, Fax: + 46 18 559505

From: "Verster, Dr Anna" <>

Subject: RE: Guinea pigs and sorghum

Date: Sun, 2 Nov 1997 08:50:19 +0200


As many people have already replied to the issue of red versus white millet, I will no comment very much on that. I would however like to comment on the Tomix composition as a whole. Recently the WHO Regions for Africa and for the Eastern Mediterranean have held 2 inter-country workshops on complementary feeding, 1 in French in Alexandria, Egypt and 1 in English in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Many issues were raised of course, but 2 major questions were energy density and micronutrient-density of complementary foods. The formula for Tomix has as far as I can see no extra fat added, on the contrary you seem to use fat-free soya and skimmed milk. This will make it very difficult to ensure that the cooked porridge has enough energy, it should at least provide the same as breast-milk, but preferably more. Several solutions have been put forward at the two meetings cited above, especially the possibility of using amylase, either preformed or through malted grains. In addition to increasing the energy-density, malting can increase the bio-availability of micronutrients such as iron. As was correctly stated in another reply, red millet contains more iron than white, but the iron in red millet will be bound to phytates and not be very bio-available.

Based on the various mixes described in our 2 meetings and elsewhere, I am concerned that many of the complementary food mixes that are promoted as "improved" mixtures are too low in energy and far too low in micronutrient content.

I have some copies of the reports of the meetings above for those who are interested and send me their mailing address. An English language joint report including information and country reports from both meetings is currently under preparation.



Anna Verster

Date: Thu, 06 Nov 1997 17:37:54 +0100

From: Janak Upadhyay <>

Subject: Guinea pigs and sorghum -Reply



A few comments on the Tomix,

It is true that white shorgum would be better than red sorghum as you rightly said because of higher level of tannin in red sorghum. Tannin binds protein and makes it unavailable for the body. Now the question of local preference of red vs. white sorghum is purely psychological.

For e.g. preference of brown vs. white eggs etc. (or the other way round) without any scientific basis.

I am surprised to know that Tomix has lot of different ingredients. My understanding of blended food production in the field is to make the process simple and cheaper. When too many ingredients are used I wonder what would be the cost of production compared to imported CSB.



Janak Upadhyay, Head of Food Unit

UNHCR HQs, Geneva