Fonio: The “New Quinoa”


Photo credit: GAIA

Fonio, quinoa – what’s next?!

Quinoa, unknown to many just five years ago, is a grain many American families now consider a weekly staple. But the cost of our food fads can impact the very farmers that bring us those crops. Spikes in demand run up prices for grains like quinoa and corn and the result is that farmers can’t afford to buy their own crops to feed their families. (frowning)

And then along comes fonio: “The most nutritious grain you’ve never heard of“.

Not only is that phrase true, it’s the name of a short documentary by GLP films and National Geographic (which you can watch below). They dive into the story of an unknown grain from West Africa that is one of the healthiest, easiest to grow and drought-resistant crops out there.

As it turns out, I ate fonio (pronounced phone-yo), unknowingly when I visited West Africa in 2003. I didn’t know what grain I was eating, but it was a staple at every single meal.

Fonio is amazing because it’s:

  • Drought-resistant, making it easier to grow in climates facing increased water scarcity
  • Incredible healthy, having properties to help combat diabetes and obesity
  • Gluten-free
  • Rich in minerals like magnesium, zinc and manganese
  • Doesn’t require the use of pesticides or fertilizers (!!)
  • High in amino acids
  • Been around for over 5,000 years (that’s how long yoga has been around to give you some perspective)
  • Aids in fighting malnutrition of women and children
  • Low on the glycemic index
  • More resilient than modern day crops
  • Prepping fonio is labor intensive and creates jobs in West Africa
  • And… it grows in poor soil

Fonio farming family in northern Mali

In Mali mythology fonio is called “the seed of the universe” and after learning about it, I’d have to agree.

The documentary “The most nutritious grain you’ve never heard of” interviews Dr. Salimata Wade, Professor of Physiology and Human Nutrition at University of Dakar. She states that fonio is a key to help combat world hunger, the crop can be planted and grown several times in one year and it’s organic in production which is “what people want these days”.

How do you buy fair trade fonio?

Thanks to the team at GLP films, they pointed to the only fair trade fonio company called Ethiquitable where farmers are getting paid well for their hard work.

The good news is you can buy fonio in most African marketplaces and some speciality shops.

How do you prepare fonio?

Fonio is a type of millet and according to the Guardian it’s,

a cross between couscous and quinoa, in both appearance and texture” with a nutty flavor.

To cook fonio you simply put 1 part fonio to 3 parts water. I would use a rice cooker like I do for all my grains, but if you make it on the stovetop, bring it to a boil, then let simmer until fluffy and soft. For a fancier spin you can try the Seasame Fonio recipe from Splendid Table.

I predict fonio will become the next best thing, and it’s my hope that the popularization of this grain will help West African farmers, combat global malnutrition and disease and will spark a movement to discover more “orphan crops” that can help us feed our growing population.

Watch the five minute documentary.

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(Photo credit: gaia website, modern_nomad – Flickr CC) 

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9 Responses to Fonio: The “New Quinoa”

  1. Tiffany (NatureMom) December 2, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

    Sounds interesting. We try to avoid grains but I do like Quinoa on occasion.

  2. Lori Popkewitz Alper December 2, 2014 at 4:46 pm #

    I’m on the hunt for fonio! I hope our local Whole Foods carries it. We eat a lot of couscous and quinoa over here. It will be nice to add another healthy grain to the mix.

  3. Betsy (Eco-novice) December 2, 2014 at 5:07 pm #

    I would love to try this. Sounds like an amazing crop.

  4. Anne December 2, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

    It fascinates me that each time an ancient grain is rediscovered it is found to be much better for us than modern wheat.

  5. Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green December 3, 2014 at 8:25 pm #

    I’ve never heard of this, very interesting! I love that there is a fair trade option.


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