What Is Fonio?
It may not be the next “it” grain, but it’s a good thing to know about
Have you tried fonio yet? At times, the ancient grain has been touted as “the next quinoa,” but it hasn’t really taken off. This is pretty surprising, considering that it's naturally gluten-free, easy to cook, and has a pleasant, slightly nutty flavor that bends to both sweet and savory recipes.
Technically a type of millet native to West Africa, white fonio is incredibly nutritious, with significantly more fiber, protein, and iron than rice. Fornio is often used as a pearled grain, typically in porridge or ground into flour for bread. It’s also a relatively fast-growing and drought-resistant crop, making it ideal for both native growers and consumers, as well as importers of the grain.
Of course, there are always contextual elements to consider with imported grains like fonio, quinoa, or teff. Issues from food security in the area where the grains are grown, to impossible market demands, to simply not wanting Americans to take everything for themselves have often troubled people living in places where these grains are grown.
However, others believe that awareness about this particular West African crop can actually do plenty of good for the area. Pierre Thiam, a Senegalese chef and author, believes that popularizing the grain in the United States will help West Africa prosper, as he explained in this Guardian article from 2014. With his fonio brand Yolélé Foods, Thiam rebranded the grain to appeal to the American consumer while keeping the supply chain completely beneficial to West African farmers.
If you’re going to try fonio, the best way to do so is to purchase it from companies like Yolélé Foods, where the flow of money from the consumer to the exporters to the West African farmers is clear. Once you’ve gotten a bag of the grain, it couldn’t be easier to cook: simply boil 1 part fonio to 2 parts water with a bit of salt and oil, then cover, remove the mixture from the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes before giving it a fluff with a fork.