Get the nutrition scoop on fonio, a tasty ancient West African grain, and try it in my easy & delicious gluten-free power bowl recipe!
What is Fonio?
Although technically the seed of two types of millet grass cultivated in West Africa, fonio is often referred to as an ancient grain, a whole grain, and a gluten-free grain. There are two types-white and black. (1)
The technical name for white fonio, the most common type, is Digitaria exilis. It’s also referred to as “hungry rice’ in Europe. Black fonio, Digitaria iburua, is also grown in West Africa, including Nigeria, Togo, and Benin.
Dried fonio grain is very tiny, somewhat like sand. And, many people say it looks like couscous.
Growth and Sustainability
While not the oldest cultivated grain, fonio has been cultivated for over 5,000 years in West Africa, including the Sahel region, a semi-arid region of Africa that includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Senegal, Sudan, and five other countries.
Fonio is a quick-growing crop that grows well in poor soils and dry conditions. It also doesn’t need a lot of inputs, like fertilizer or water. As a result, it’s a great option for food security and smallholder farmers who want to help preserve agricultural biodiversity and cultural identity in these West African countries. (2)
What Does Fonio Taste Like?
I’m going to start by saying I REALLY like the taste of fonio. Some people describe it as having an earthy taste or nutty flavor, which I agree with. However, I also think it tastes a little bit like cream of wheat. I haven’t baked with it yet, but I’m curious to see if it imparts the flavor of wheat in gluten-free baked goods. Also, unlike quinoa (which I like), fonio has no bitterness, and you don’t need to rinse it before cooking.
Nutrition & Health Benefits
- Naturally gluten-free. This makes it an excellent choice for anyone with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
- Intermediate glycemic index (GI). While fonio doesn’t have a low glycemic index (GI), it falls in the middle range and has a lower GI than brown rice. Pair it with high fiber legumes and veggies, as I do in my Power Bowl recipe, and you’ll have a satisfying meal that supports healthy insulin sensitivity and keeps you energized!
- Nutritional information. 1/4 cup of dry grain (makes 1/2 cup cooked) provides 170 calories, 2 grams of protein, 39 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, and 0.5 grams of fat. Additionally, it’s a good source of B vitamins and provides 4% of the daily value for iron. (3)
- Plant-based amino acids. Fonio provides sulfur-rich amino acids methionine and cysteine-two amino acids lacking in many grains. (4)
- Health benefits. Fonio is considered a whole grain. Potential health benefits of consuming whole grains include a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, inflammation, and colorectal cancer. (5)
- Gut healthy. Fonio contains resistant starch, which is vital in gut health and digestive disorders.
How to Cook Fonio
One thing I love about fonio is how quickly it cooks. Use 1 cup of fonio for 2 cups of water/liquid—boil water (or broth) in a pot with olive oil (optional). Remove from heat and stir in dry fonio. Cover with a fitted lid for 5 minutes. Remove lid and fluff with a fork before serving.
Brands and Where to Buy
I purchased Yolélé fonio at my local Whole Foods grocery store in Del Mar. However, chances are, at least for now, you won’t find it at most of your local grocery stores. Hopefully, this will change as it increases in popularity. But, for the time being, you can buy fonio online at Amazon and Thrive Market.
How to Use in Recipes
The great thing about cooking with fonio is its versatility. It has somewhat of an earthy flavor yet still has a delicate taste making it delicious in both sweet and savory recipes, including
- Grain bowls
- Breakfast porridge
- Yogurt parfait
- Gluten-free baked goods
Prepare a big batch to enjoy in multiple easy meals throughout the week!
An easy, tasty fonio recipe to try
This protein and fiber-packed Fonio Pilaf Power Bowl recipe is a tasty marriage of leftover pilaf Mr. Spicy and I enjoyed for dinner one night, plus crispy, herby chickpeas, crunchy purple cabbage, yogurt, & fresh herbs-parsley and dill. Seriously easy, super nourishing, and SO delicious!
Easy Fonio Pilaf Chickpea Powerbowl
- 1/2 cup fonio
- 1 cup water
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups frozen peas
- 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 can garbanzo beans, 15-ounce can, rinsed and drained
- 1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
Fonio Pilaf Power Bowl
- 1/2 cup fonio pilaf
- crispy chickpeas
- 1 1/2 cup chopped purple cabbage
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
- 1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
- 1 lemon , Cut into wedges.
Make the Fonio Pilaf
- Add fonio and water to a small-medium size pot. Heat on high and bring to a boil.
- Add salt and turn heat to low for 1 minute. Remove from heat and cover with a lid for 5 minutes. Remove lid and fluff cooked fonio with a fork.
- Add frozen peas to cooked fonio along with minced garlic. Stir well to combine and set aside.
Make the Crispy Chickpeas
- While fonio is "cooking", heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a skillet on medium heat. Add chickpeas and toss to coat in oil. Season with salt and Herbs de Provence and saute until crispy, ~ 3-4 minutes.
Assemble and serve the Fonio Pilaf Power Bowl
- Put 1/2 cup each fonio pilaf into 2 large bowls (you will have leftover fonio pilaf). Divide crispy chickpeas between 2 bowls.
- Divide remaining ingredients between the 2 fonio power bowls: 3/4 cup each cabbage, 1/2 cup each yogurt, 1/4 cup each dill and parsley. Serve with lemon wedges.
- Oil. Avocado oil or another high-oleic (monounsaturated fat) oil can be used in place of olive oil.
- Grain. Don’t have fonio? I highly recommend you try it, but in the meantime, you can swap the fonio with quinoa or another gluten-free grain.
- Yogurt. Try coconut, cashew, or soy plain unsweetened yogurt for a vegan version.
- Spices and Herbs. Get creative and use any spices and fresh herbs you have on hand in place of the Herbes de Provence, dill, and parsley.
- Vegetables. Purple cabbage adds a dose of cruciferous veggies and a satisfying crunch. Feel free to swap (or add) any raw or cooked vegetables you have on hand.
- Make the fonio pilaf and crispy chickpeas ahead of time. Store in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for up to 3 days and reheat before preparing your fonio pilaf power bowl.
Craving more nourishing gluten-free recipes?
Gluten-Free Whole Grain Recipes
Let’s Chat! Have you tried fonio or have you heard of it? Tell me how you would use it in your own recipes. And, if you enjoyed this post, please pin, tweet, or share it on Facebook. Thank you so much for your support!