Quantcast
Food

Move Over, Quinoa, a New Superfood Grain Is in Town

For quinoa fanatics tired of eating quinoa burgers, quinoa pasta and quinoa porridge, fonio may be the answer. It's been called the grain you've never heard of and yes—it may even knock quinoa out of its throne.

Fonio grains. Credit: fonio-bio.com

Fonio, an ancient West African cereal, closely resembles a type of millet. It's rich in amino acids like methionine, cysteine and leucine and because it's low in sugar it's popular among diabetics (some studies show it's an excellent grain for treating diabetes). It's also high in iron and contains no gluten. 

New York chef Pierre Thiam is hoping with a few marketing adjustments, fonio will be as popular as quinoa. Thiam was recently profiled in The Guardian for his efforts to launch fonio into American cooking. In 2009 he published Yolele! Recipes from the Heart of Senegal, and in 2011 he launched the AfroEats festival to celebrate Senegal’s rich food culture. He hopes he can popularize Senegalese cuisine the way Mario Batali did for Italian food or Bobby Flay did for Mexican and Southwest cuisine. West Africans eat fonio for breakfast as porridge, or mix it in with vegetables like we do with couscous.

While some farmers are trying to grow quinoa in the U.S., fonio crops in the U.S. are practically non-existent. Fonio is primarily grown in West African countries like Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Senegal. It's a desert grass that can resist high heat and desert storms and can be cultivated in poor soils, making it a great crop to fight hunger in drought-ridden nations. It requires no pesticides, making it organic as well.

Still there are some who worry a surge in fonio’s popularity could cause problems. In “The Dark Truth Behind The Popular Superfood, Quinoa” Jill Richardson writes that quinoa’s popularity "spawned a growing source of controversy, following reports that high global quinoa prices put the crop out of reach for the people who grow it.” Tanya Kerrsen, a Bolivia-based researcher for Food First, told Richardson, “… whichever way you press the lever (buy more/buy less) there are bound to be negative consequences, particularly for poor farmers in the Global South.”

It's possible fonio could have a similar problem. But Thiam has already begun the process of importing fonio for mainstream markets by the end of this year, and says his business is fair trade in the sense that "They trust me and I trust them."

While Thiam works on bringing fonio to a mainstream consumer base, today's customers will still need to visit a specialty store specializing in West African foods or order fonio online.

Although some varieties can grow in a short growing cycle (70–85 days) the harvesting is labor intensive and can take hours to process by hand, with women typically carrying the brunt of de-husking fonio. One gram of fonio contains roughly 2,000 grains. Two hours of work results in roughly 5 pounds of fonio.

Because the small grain takes hours to harvest by hand, fonio fell out of favor with African locals for years. Many in the city would instead eat rice or wheat. Then engineer Sanoussi Diakite invented a de-husking machine in the 1990s. His invention could de-husk 11 pounds of fonio in eight minutes. In 2013, he was awarded the African Innovation Prize for his service. Diakite's machine has provided jobs to the local economy in terms of making the machine but also in processing fonio, where in some cases now "demand far outstrips supply."

Regardless of fonio's growth in the natural foods aisle, its potential as a driver of local economies and a crop that can feed hunger-stricken countries is paramount. 

The Environmental Development Action in the Third World is attempting to expand fonio in Sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, the U.S. African Development Foundation awarded a $190,000 grant to Koba Club, a group of female fonio producers who are "well-positioned to become large-scale agro-processors of pre-cooked fonio in Senegal’s economy."

Other FONIO initiatives can be found with UCODAL and CIRAD.

You Might Also Like

10 Indigenous Foods You Should ​Be Eating

10 Best Ingredients to Include in Your Superfood Smoothies

11 Proven Health Benefits of Quinoa

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Animals
An adult bush dog, part of a captive breeding program. Hudson Garcia

A Rescue Dog Is Now Helping to Save Other (Much Wilder) Dogs

By Jason Bittel

Formidable predators stalk the forests between Panama and northern Argentina. They are sometimes heard but never seen. They are small but feisty and have even been documented trying to take down a tapir, which can top out at nearly 400 pounds. Chupacabras? No.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
RoNeDya / iStock / Getty Images

What Is Mead, and Is It Good for You?

By Ansley Hill, RD, LD

Mead is a fermented beverage traditionally made from honey, water and a yeast or bacterial culture.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
U.S. Army member helps clear debris from Tyndall Air Force Base following Hurricane Michael. U.S. Army

Pentagon: Climate Change Is Real and a 'National Security Issue'

The Pentagon released a Congressionally mandated report (pdf) that warns flooding, drought and wildfires and other effects of climate change puts U.S. military bases at risk.

The 22-page analysis states plainly: "The effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to Department of Defense (DoD or the Department) missions, operational plans, and installations."

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Protesters interrupt the confirmation hearing for Andrew Wheeler on Capitol Hill Jan. 16 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

5 People Calling Out EPA Acting Head Wheeler for Putting Polluters First

This week, people across the country are joining environmental leaders to speak out against the nomination of former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to lead the the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As Scott Pruitt's hand-picked successor, Wheeler has continued to put polluters over people, most recently by using the last of his agency's funding before it expired in the government shutdown to announce plans to allow power plants to spew toxic mercury and other hazardous pollution into the air.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Great white shark. Elias Levy / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Marine Biologists Raise Flags About Viral Great White Shark Encounter

By now you might have seen Ocean Ramsey's rare and jaw-dropping encounter with a great white shark in waters near Oahu, Hawaii.

Ramsey, a marine biologist, said on the TODAY Show that it was "absolutely breathtaking and heart-melting" to be approached by the massive marine mammal.

Keep reading... Show less
A tree found severed in half in an act of vandalism in Joshua Tree National Park. Gina Ferazzi / Los AngelesTimes / Getty Images

Wall Before Country Takes Mounting Toll on Americans Everywhere

By Rhea Suh

One month on, the longest and most senseless U.S. government shutdown in history is taking a grave and growing toll on the environment and public health.

Food inspectors have been idled or are working without pay, increasing the risk we'll get sick from eating produce, meat and poultry that isn't properly checked. National parks and public wilderness lands are overrun by vandals, overtaken by off-road joyriders, and overflowing with trash. Federal testing of air and water quality, as well as monitoring of pollution levels from factories, incinerators and other sources, is on hold or sharply curtailed. Citizen input on critical environmental issues is being hindered. Vital research and data collection are being sidelined.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Energy
The W. A. Parish Power Plant, owned by NRG Energy, is one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the U.S. Roy Luck / CC BY 2.0

All Coal-Fired Power Plants in Texas Found Leaking Toxins Into Groundwater

Power plants across Texas are leaching toxins into groundwater, according to new research. A report released this week from the Environmental Integrity Project found that all of the state's 16 coal-fired power plants are leaching contaminants from coal ash into the ground, and almost none of the plants are properly lining their pits to prevent leakage.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. NPS

MLK National Park to Re-Open Despite Shutdown, Thanks to Delta

Hats off to Delta Air Lines. The company's charitable arm awarded the National Park Service an $83,500 grant to help reopen the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta from Jan. 19 through Feb. 3 in honor of Dr. King's legacy.

The Atlanta-based airline was inspired to act after learning that some of the park's sites, including Dr. King's birth home, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Fire Station No. 6 and the visitor center, were closed due to the partial government shutdown, now on its 28th day, according to LinkedIn post from Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!