When it comes to cereals, our choices have been changing and searching for tastier, easy to cook, gluten free and nutritious variety of cereals. Many millets and other grains are fast becoming popular in Europe and America. Quinoa, sorghum, amaranth are popular amongst others. One name which is not so popular in America is Fonio. It is touted that Fonio would “defeat quinoa as king among foodies.” This quinoa competitor – Fonio is native to West Africa region.
Fonio grains are part of millet family. In fact, fonio has the smallest seeds in millet speicies. The name is derived from Wolof name foño. Digitaria exilis or Fonio has long history of cultivation in Africa. This millet is harvested within 6-8 weeks since cultivation, making it world’s fasted maturing cereal. During summer season when there is no other grain to make food, fonio grains becomes “grain of life” to destroy hunger. That is why it is called ‘hungry rice’.
This grain which was once grown for sustenance, is now eaten for its taste and nutritional qualities. Fonio has a nutty flavor and texture and is easily cooked. In Africa it is used in various forms in salads, stews, porridges, bread or other recipes made from fonio flour. Once rejected and neglected crop of Africa is once again gaining attention. Thanks to the mechanization which has made its dehusking of the small grains easier and affordable. Today Fonio is available in markets in France and other parts of Europe. This grain which was meant to solve food security problem in Africa is now one of the fastest growing cereals in other parts of world.
Three varieties of Fonio are popular globally. White fonio (Digitaria exilis) is the most common variety. Black fonio (Digitaria iburua) is a similar crop grown in parts of Africa including Jos-Bauchi Plateau of Nigeria, northern part of Togo, and Benin. Raishan (Digitaria cruciata var. esculenta) is grown in parts of Khasi hill in North east province of India. Its glutinous flour is used for bread and porridge.
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Nutritional facts of Fonio
Like other cereals, Fonio is rich in carbohydrate which makes it good energy food. Fonio composition compared to other cereals. Carbohydrate, protein and fat profile of Fonio can be closely compared to Sorghum. Fonio grains also supply body with good amount of Vitamin B and minerals like calcium, iron and phosphorus. It offers body good amount of amino acids; nearly 10% of the cereal by weight comprises of protein. Protein profile suggests that it offer spectrum of essential amino acids. When compared to amino acid profile of eggs, it shows that while eggs offer more lysine compared to fonio, fonio is superior in other amnio acids like isoleucine, valine, tryptophan, theronine, phenylalanine, leucien, cystine and mentionine. Compared to other cereals, fonio is rich in sulphur containing amino acids – methionine and cystine. All this makes fonio a nutritious cereal. In book – Lost Crops of Africa: Grains by National Research Council, it is mentioned that the proteins in the grain are not easily extractable but is easier to digest compared to other millets. Fonio does not contain any glutenin or gliadin proteins or in other word it is gluten free.
Health benefits of fonio
This ancient grain has been traditionally used in regular food. Its nutrition and health benefits have been known to people. Despite of it being beneficial to body, very little research is done on the cereal. Lets discuss some benefits of this cereal.
Fonio as energy food
Fonio has been used as staple food to meet the daily energy requirement. It offers 3.6 calories per gram of grain, which is comparable to other cereals. Still it is easy to digest and does not sharply increase blood sugar levels. It is becoming popular as breakfast cereal in Europe, as it is filling and easier to cook.
Fonio is Gluten free
Many people across US and other countries today suffer from Celiac disease. This is due to the intolerance to their body towards gluten. Only way of treating this disease is to avoid gluten food. Most of the energy food we eat including wheat, corn etc. contains gluten. Fonio offers a good alternative of gluten free energy food to people.
Fonio aids digestion
Fonio is easier to digest and is recommended for children and elderly people. It has ample amount of fibers which are required to keep digestive tract smooth. It helps in bowel movements and prevents constipation. Fonio is believed to stimulate appetite and secretion of digestive juices. In some parts of Africa, Fonio is offered as food to people suffering from stomach problems.
Fonio aids cardiovascular function
Fonio has small seeds and is generally consumed in dehusked but whole form. Research suggests that consuming whole grain reduces risk of cardio vascular disorders including heart disease and stroke. The barn and germ of fonio are rich in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients which helps to keep our heart healthy.
Fonio is good for diabetes
Fonio has been long used as diabetic food. Fonio has low glycemic index. It is absorbed in body slowly and thus effect on blood sugar is gradual. Fonio is also believed to have insulin secreting properties and aids in controlling blood sugar levels in body. Early lab studies also suggest benefits of fonio in diabetes due to its low GI compared to other daily foods. Fonio also provides body with minerals chromium and sulphur containing amino acids which are believed to reduce inflammation and diabetes.
Fonio as weight loss
Fonio is promoted in west as weight loss food. This energy food offers good amount of fibers and gives feeling of filled stomach. With low glycemic index, it can help body reduce food cravings while providing necessary energy required. Thus it may aid in controlling weight. However no direct evidence is available if it has any impact on fat metabolism or ability to burn fat.
Fonio benefits for women
Fonio is highly rich in essential amino acids, folic acid and iron. Thus it plays important role in iron metabolism. It is good in preventing anemia. This nutritious food is traditionally recommended for pregnant and lactating women in Africa.
Fonio benefits for skin and hair
Methionine is sulphur containing amino acid present in fonio which is important for formation of cartilage. It strengthens your nails and hair. It aids in preventing hair loss. Methionine has also anti-aging effect on your skin and aids in reducing signs of aging. Similarly, amino acid cystine is building block for our skin and hair. It also helps in detoxification and thus keeps our skin healthy. Cystine helps in healing wounds or burns.
Other benefits of Fonio
Fonio offer body with adequate supply of essential amino acids – Methionine and cystine. Together they aid liver function and helps in detoxification process. Some early studies point out to their benefits in preventing liver damage and colon cancers. They are helpful in drug removal symptoms.
Caution over fonio
Like other millets, fonio offers body with phytonutrients which may reduce levels o thyroid hormones in body and lead to hypothyroidism. While this property can be helpful for people with hyperthyroidism, but people suffering from hypothyroidism should avoid fonio.
Other uses of fonio
Fonio grain is used in making animal feed. Fonio straw is generally used as animal fodder or used as filler material in construction. Fonio straw is used as biomass for fuel in rural Africa.
Culinary uses of Fonio
Fonio is considered prestige food for chefs. It is becoming popular for its delicate flavor and taste. Fonio is consumed in various ways like porridge, couscous. Fonio grain is used in a variety of ways. For instance, it is made into porridge and couscous. Fonio flour is used in making breads, desserts or even spaghetti or pasta. Tchakpalo is beer fermented from fonio in northern Togo. Wusu-wusu is couscous made from fonio in many parts of west Africa. Tuwo acha or kunu acha are porridge made from white fonio in Nigeria. Boiled fonio is generally consumed with vegetable stew, fish or meat. Fonio holds special place in Senegalese recipes.
Healthy fonio recipes
Fonio Pilaf – Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a pan and add some chopped onion, garlic, cumin seeds, peeled tomato, pepper, turmeric and meat peices. Add salt as per taste. Once onion is light brown add to this about 10 cups of water. Allow the ingredients to simmer for a while. Add some freshly cut cabbage, cauliflower, peas and carrot to mixture and allow simmering for a while. Remove cooked vegetables aside. Add to the mixture, 2 cup of fonio and cook with meat for 5 minutes. Serve the fonio along with cooked meat and vegetables.
Fonio Cakes – To about 650 grams of sugar add about ½ liter of water and allow it to dissolve. Add 3 eggs, ½ cup of dried milk and ½ cup of margarine. Mix well. Take about ½ kg of fonio flour and ½ kg of wheat flour. Add the flour gradually to mixture and keep kneading with a spatula, till the paste is smooth. Allow this paste to stay for half hour. Then take cake tins and grease it with some butter. Add about 10gram of yeast to the flour mixture and then fill cake tins. Preheat oven at 220°C. Place the cake tin in oven for about 10-15 minutes at 180°C. Allow the cakes to cool and serve with some hot chocolate sauce.
Where to buy fonio
Fonio today is available in many food stores in France and parts of Europe. Check for fonio cereals in local market which keep African food
Fonio is also known as hungry millet or hungry koos. In Senegal it is called fundi, findi, eboniaye or efoleb. Other local African names include fonyo, fundenyo, foinye (Fulani), Fini (Bambara), Acha, iburu, aburo (Nigerian), findo (Gambia), afio-warun, ipoga, ova (Togo), Fani, feni, foundé (Mali), foni (Burkina Faso),pende, kpendo, founié, pounié (Guinea), podgi (Benin), pom, pohin (Ivory Coast).
Having a diverse food in your plate is essential for healthy life. Consider adding fonio to your breakfast and enjoy its taste and health benefits.