Fonio, scientifically is known as Digitaria Exilis and also known as Acha in Nigeria. Fonio is a tiny ancient whole-grain cereal grown in the savannah regions of the Sahel in West Africa. Today it is being hailed as the next superfood which can be used in most recipes in place of rice, quinoa, oatmeal, or other gains.
Easily grown without the needed fertilizers or pesticides, fonio represents one of the most low-maintenance and organic cereal grains in times when Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) have become a controversial norm in the food industry.
Fonio is, in fact, noted for its ability to thrive in nutrient-poor, sandy soils and acidic clay with high aluminum content where other cereals like sorghum, pearl millet, rice or maize would struggle to grow. The grain has low water requirements and is drought-resistant thanks to its highly developed root system.
That is why fonio has been considered as a coping strategy during hungry seasons and critical periods when food reserves are low in households. By using short-cycle varieties or ecotypes, producers can meet the food needs of their family pending the harvest of other cereals like millet, sorghum, maize or rice.
The grain generally suffers few pest attacks during storage because of its very small size. If it is correctly dried to a moisture content of less than 10 or 11%, it can be kept for years even in traditional storage structures.
These attributes ultimately give fonio the potential to be an important crop with regards to food security, climate change and socio-economic development in drought-prone regions such as the Sahel.
Fonio looks similar to couscous when steamed but with a nuttier flavor. It can be used in most recipes in place of rice, oatmeal, or other grains.
In the southern region of Senegal, they eat fonio like rice or couscous, while Malians most often pair it with peanuts to make a traditional staple called Djouka.
People in Guinea, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Benin, and Togo make starchy fonio side dishes in the form of polenta or cakes, while in Ghana they eat it as porridge in the morning.
SUKUMA WIKI & FONIO SALAD
Fonio is gluten-free and low in calories, fat and sodium. It contains greater dietary fiber, protein and amino acids, carbohydrates, and fiber content compared to other cereal crops.
It also contains a good amount of minerals such as iron (nearly twice as much as in brown rice), calcium, magnesium and potassium, and vitamins such as vitamin B3 and zinc, a mineral that is essential for the proper growth and development of children before and after birth.
Fonio's carbohydrate content is slightly lower than other grains but its composition makes it slower to digest and reduces its glycemic index, or GI.
This means the body absorbs it slowly, which ensures fewer fluctuations in blood glucose and insulin levels, providing beneficial protection against diabetes.
In addition, the relatively high fiber content and low-calorie content of Fonio also contribute to its low glycemic index that makes fonio a good substitute cereal for diabetics.
Fonio has an intermediate level GI at 66. In comparison, short-grain white rice, a high-GI grain, has a GI of 83.
Unlike many other cereals, fonio contains high amounts of essential amino acids that are needed for the body’s vital processes like the building of proteins, synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters, as well as skin, hair and nail health.
Fonio is abundant in Cysteine and Methionine, which lack in other cereal grains such as barley, maize, rice, wheat and sorghum. The Methionine in fonio is twice the amount compared to corn or millet and three times compared to rice.
The quality of these amino acids is also higher in fonio than in other cereals such as rice, wheat and maize, with the quality of 4 of the 9 essential amino acids in fonio being nearly 100%.
The amino acids found in fonio help the liver function properly and remove unwanted toxins from the bloodstream, making fonio pertinent for professional athletes and fitness enthusiasts.
WHAT KIND OF FONIO
DO YOU NEED?
Chereponi District, North East Region, Ghana
Like rice, fonio is only consumed when hulled, and, most often, whitened. Eliminating the hulls yields a naked grain called a caryopsis. Anatomically, these hulled fonio grains are similar to wheat, maize or millet grains, which are naked grain cereals.
Eliminating the bran (pericarp and germ) from the caryopsis yields whitened fonio; the form in which fonio is most often consumed.
Like pebbles in lentils, the presence of grit and other impurities represents one of the main quality problems in fonio and the quality of separation depends primarily on the know-how of the operator, who repeats the operation several times until they consider it satisfactory before drying the grains.
Whitened fonio washed and dried in this way is then ready to be cooked, most often steamed, and prepared using various recipes. In order to guarantee the quality of the process, we wash and dry our raw grains before they are processed in order to reduce the presence of various impurities and particles that look like fonio.
The women from fonio-producing communities usually handle the washing, such as in our case where we work with the most experienced experts from our farming communities that have long maintained the fonio tradition.
For more on fonio, we kindly refer you to our main source of scientific information Fonio: An African Cereal and its author and fonio expert, Jean François Cruz.