Fonio is the smallest grain in the Millet family. It is an ancient, unmodified grain, which has not been changed by selective breeding over recent years.
Fonio is one of Africa’s oldest cultivated cereal crops; this naturally occurring gluten free grain is a source of iron and Zinc.
As a grain that is highly resistant to drought conditions, and extremely fast growing, it’s very well-suited for climate change resiliency. With a rich and earthy flavor, much like couscous; Fonio is prized for its distinctive taste. A nutritious alternative to oat, rice, quinoa, or couscous, its nutty texture makes for a distinctive rich taste!
Fonio (Digitaria exilis Stapf) is regarded as the oldest indigenous cereal in West Africa.
In 1905, L. Renoux and P. Dumas specified that Fonio, along with Rice was the staple food of the population, and that “the early appearance of certain varieties remedied the food shortage” at the time. Famous French agronomist Roland Porteres also wrote a monograph dedicated to Fonio and its importance.
Outside Africa, Fonio is grown in the Dominican Republic and is locally known as “funde”. Like rice, Fonio gets hulled before consumption.
Anatomically, hulled fonio grains are similar to wheat, maize or millet grains, which are naked grain cereals. It measures just 1.4 – 1.5 mm long, 0.8 – 0.9 mm wide and 0.6 mm thick. Fonio is known as a “health food”, attributed to its host of nutritional virtues. Fonio is also a meal preferred by diabetics mainly due to its low glycemic index of around 57 (the benchmark, white bread is 100).
To learn more about Fonio as a grain, view this TED Talk.