Fonio – A Super Grain to Try

I bumped into a social media thread about fonio early this year. Shelved at the back of the pantry, I had forgotten about it, until today. And oh boy, it made a perfect lunch! Believed to be one of the oldest African cereal grains, this ancient gluten-free plant-based protein has obviously been around for a long time. It’s gotten attention as a “climate crisis-ready” crop as it can grow in nutrient-poor soil and drought conditions. Eaten in Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, and Guinea, fonio is also known as acha, fundi millet, afio, and acca.

What is Fonio?

From the Yolele website,

Fonio is a source of complex carbohydrates that are digested slowly and sustain the body with energy throughout the day. It is low-glycemic, making fonio a great alternative to white rice, pasta, or couscous for those watching their blood sugar levels (including people living with diabetes). Fonio is gluten-free, ideal for people with celiac and gluten intolerances. It is also a low calorie-density food. One cup of cooked fonio contains ~140 calories. (One cup cooked brown rice has 210 calories; pasta: 220 calories, quinoa: 222 calories.)

Part of the Panicoideae family, fonio is a millet that is fast-growing and does well in soils that many other cereal grains don’t thrive in. The type I purchased is white fonio, which is the most common and available type, though there is also other types such as black and raishan. As a whole grain, it is a good source of nutrition and provides amino acids necessary for metabolism, detoxification, muscle function, and skin health, for example, more protein and fibre as brown rice, as well as iron, zinc, phosphorus, and B vitamins. Plus it is also low glycemic index.

Based on Dr Axe‘s reliable research, fonio provides:

  • 160 to 170 calories
  • 37 to 29 grams carbohydrates
  • 2 to 3 grams protein
  • 0 to 1 grams fat
  • 1 to 2 grams fiber
  • 1.7 milligrams iron (10 percent DV)

How I made My Fonio

As per my 1/3 cooking style, how I made my fonio was an experiment. Lucky for my tastes buds and closed taste, this concoction turned out delicious!

  • pumpkin puree
  • onions
  • garlic
  • fresh bean curd (the type for miso soup and inari)
  • water
  • himalayan sea salt
  • olive oil

According to the Yolele package instructions, I first coated 1/2 cup of fonio with one tablespoon of oil before boiling it with one cup of filtered water. Once it is boiling, I stirred in some salt and put it on low heat for a minute. Then I left the pot stand for five minutes with the cover on.

White the fonio was boiling, I sautéed some onions and garlic. I added the bean curd and poured some of the pumpkin puree that never materialized as a Thanksgiving pie, adding more water to get the consistency I like. When it was ready, I folded my “sauce” into the fonio. It appeared a bit dry, so I put in some calamansi dressing for more creaminess.

For someone who is closed taste, I’m not very open to trying new things. I feel a pull towards certain food and this particular combination was what I wanted to try, already tasting its yumminess. Like all good experiments, I had to wait for the results.

Other Ways to Make Fonio

Because of how I made it, I didn’t actually taste fonio in its pure form. Dr Axe describes it as nutty like couscous and “creamy yet crunchy consistency of quinoa”. You can also substitute it for rice, sprinkle it onto salads, ground it into flour for baked goods, have it as porridge for breakfast, and a base for anything as it takes up spices. According to Yolele, fonio is often fed as the first solid food to babies and enjoyed by pregnant women and nursing mothers.

For recipes with this gluten-free super grain, check out Yolele’s recipes.

What recipes will you try?