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fonio

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Fonio is a gluten-free ancient
African grain that’s good
for you, for others, and the planet.

Stovetop

Makes 2 cups.
In a pot with a fitted lid, coat ½ cup Yolélé fonio well with 1 tablespoon oil. Add 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Add a pinch of salt, stir, cover, and turn heat to low for 1 minute. Turn off the heat and let sit covered, 4 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

Microwave

In a microwaveable bowl, stir one tablespoon of oil into 1/2 cup Yolélé fonio until grains are well coated. Add a pinch of salt and 1 cup water and stir well.
Cover tightly with a fitted lid and cook for 2 minutes. Let it sit for two minutes, covered. Fluff with a fork.

People say “Fonio never embarrasses the cook.” Unlike rice, fonio is forgiving. If it comes out too soggy, cook off the remaining liquid. If it’s dry, add a spoonful of water, cover, and cook a minute more. Fonio always recovers.
01

Cooking

Fonio is light + fluffy, and has a slightly nutty, earthy flavor. It soaks up spices and sauces beautifully, making it a perfect base to just about anything.

“At Mamma’s we ate fonio the way others would eat rice. She often served it steamed, accompanied with a variety of offerings: a freshly pounded, bright red palm nut sauce; a generous and creamy peanut and root vegetable topping; a rich caramelized onion and lime relish; a red palm oil and sweet potato leaves stew; or a gooey okra sauce with lamb, fish, seafood, or vegetables.”

– Pierre Thiam, “The Fonio Cookbook”

02

Nutrition

Fonio has been a treasured source of nutrition across West Africa for generations.

In West Africa, fonio is prized by pregnant women + nursing mothers, and often fed as a first solid food to babies. It’s light yet satiating, and chock-full of important micronutrients.

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.)

Fonio is a good source of fiber, iron, B-vitamins, zinc, and magnesium as well as antioxidant flavonoids. And fonio is particularly high in two amino acids— methionine and cysteine— which promote hair, skin, and nail growth, and are deficient in all other grains.

Academic research on the nutritional profile of fonio is still in its early days, but we understand that its nutritional composition varies based on variety, soil, and growing conditions.

Fonio has a similar amino acid composition to that of an egg: considered to be the perfect protein.

03

Culture

To the Dogon People of Mali, fonio is known as, "the Seed of the Universe," the grain at the root of all existence.

In fonio-growing regions of West Africa today, fonio is served to guests as a sign of honor. It even has a nickname, ñamu buur, “food for royalty.”

Before the agricultural colonization of Africa, fonio had a long and celebrated history on the continent. Fonio has been grown for over 5,000 years, making the oldest cultivated grain in Africa. It has even been found entombed in Ancient Egyptian pyramids, so valued that people believed it should be brought with them to the afterlife.

In West Africa, fonio is good luck charm, and moms are known to put some fonio in children’s bags on the first day of school.

04

Agriculture

In a region where little can grow due to the intensifying effects of climate change, fonio flourishes.

Fonio grows across the Sahel, the semi-arid band between the Sahara desert and lush forests to the south. The region’s hot, dry climate and poor sandy soil do not support most crops. But drought-resistant fonio flourishes in that setting. Its extensive roots help it draw water from deep underground and secure the topsoil from erosion.

Farmers in West Africa have always valued fonio not only for its nutritional properties, but also for its reliability. No matter what happens with the weather, even in a season where other crops fail, farmers can always rely on fonio. It’s also quick-growing. Fonio is the first crop to be harvested in the “hungry season,” when the stores of last year’s harvest have run out but no other crops have come in yet.

As the Sahel Region experiences the damaging effects of climate change, fonio has become even more important to the ecosystem.