Is Fonio the Next Superfood?

Veggie of the Week

Is Fonio the Next Superfood?

A friend, and fellow foodie, recently asked me about fonio, a grain originating out of West Africa. I hadn’t tried it yet, but we discussed the articles that compare it to quinoa and talked about it as a potential superfood. We also looked at the nutritional composition, talked about its flavour and ease of use in food.

Back in 2014, Senegalese restauranteur, Pierre Thiam wanted to make his mark on the New York food scene. It was his goal to put fonio on the map as a supergrain. This grain is actually considered one of the oldest in the world, dating back over 5000 years ago.

Since then I’ve tried it researched it and this is what I found…

What is Fonio?

Fonio is mainly eaten in Senegal, but feeds 3-4 million people all across Western Africa, including parts of Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Nigeria.

Fonio is known by other names, such as acha or acca or hungry rice. There are different varieties that grow at different rates (6 weeks up to 180 days), meaning that farmers that have both, will be able to supply fonio year-round. It only grows to knee height, has a lacy appearance on the plant and the seeds are a type of millet. The seeds may be white (Digitaria exlilis) or black (Digitaria iburua).

It has a slightly nutty taste and a texture somewhere between quinoa and couscous.

The Nutrition of Fonio

Fonio is a wholegrain making it rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals, protein and anti-inflammatory compounds. It is rich in methionine and cystine, sulphur-containing amino acids that are important for our health. They tend to be deficient in today’s major grains of wheat, rice, maize, sorghum, barley and rye. It also contains valine, leucine and isoleucine. Amino acids like these contribute to bone health, detoxification, healthy muscle function, exercise recovery, skin health and a healthy metabolism.

Sulfur-containing amino acids are also beneficial for supporting a normal metabolism and growth, as well as healthy liver function.

Overall, fonio contains 2-3 times as much fibre and protein as brown rice. Fonio is also gluten-free.

So this is great from a nutritional perspective, if you can tolerate grains. In reality, we need a LOT more VARIETY in our diets, as most of us eat wheat all-day-long. It’s a great way to make our bodies inflamed.

The Ethics of Eating Foreign Grains

If you have been following me for a while, you’ll know that where our food comes from (the soil, but also how far away it is grown) contributes to its health benefit and also the environmental health.

The Pros

An article on fonio, recently published in The Guardian, pointed out that this grain is more resistant to drought than the more commonly eaten grains of wheat, rice and maize (which are largely imported). As these grain prices skyrocket with rising inflation, African countries would do well to be able to grow their own grains that are naturally adapted to the environment.

The Cons

Quinoa was a grain that became popular in the west in the ‘naughties. It quickly became too expensive for the locals who ate it most (the poorest of the poor) to afford it any longer. The Economist reported in 2012, that Bolivians fought over the limited ‘quinoa-appropriate’ farmland resulting in 34 people being injured.

Could this happen with fonio as well? What do you think? How could we eat this grain ethically?

Put your comments in the box below.

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