Fonio is an African heritage – or ancient grain – considered the oldest grain on the continent (1).
Native to West Africa, it is a staple food most commonly used in the mountainous areas of countries such as Burkina Faso, Guinea, Senegal, Mali, and Nigeria (1).
Other names for fonio are acha, iburura, and hungry rice.
This article explains the cultural significance, nutrients, and health benefits of Fonio – and gives you several recipes for you to try.
In some parts of West Africa, Fonio has a socio-cultural significance.
In Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali and Togo, fonio was traditionally reserved for chiefs and kings and was enjoyed during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan or at celebrations such as weddings and baptisms (2).
In some parts of Togo, Fonio is used to prevent blood clotting after childbirth and to stimulate milk production in breastfeeding people (2).
As a staple food, it plays an important role in ensuring food security, especially in the post-harvest period when food is scarce. It can be harvested within 6 to 8 weeks and can be stored well without the risk of pest infestation (1, 2).
Fonio grows well in drought conditions and poor soils without the need for fertilizers or other equipment (1, 3).
A neglected and underutilized plant species
Despite its rich cultural heritage and nutrient profile, Fonio is considered a neglected and underutilized plant species (NUCS) (1, 4).
NUCS are sometimes referred to as “lost plants”, “smaller plants” or “orphaned plants”. They have not been thoroughly researched, are poorly used and mostly grown on small farms (1, 3, 4).
However, this tide is changing. Today, Fonio is a priority crop for West Africa. Because of its nutritional and environmental properties, as well as its potential to diversify one’s diet, it can be found in specialty food aisles and stores around the world (5).
In addition, Fonio has become an important source of income for smallholders in West Africa (3).
Fonio is a culturally significant grain in numerous West African countries as it is widely used in various ceremonies. Although it is very cultivable, it has historically been poorly used and under-discussed.
As a member of the millet family, fonio is divided into two main types (1):
- Digital head. This white grain has black or brown spikelets and grows mainly in parts of Nigeria, Togo and Benin.
- Digitaria exilis. This white grain grows from Senegal to Chad as well as in central Nigeria. It is the most widely consumed of the two varieties and is more readily available outside of Africa.
The two main species of Fonio are Digitaria iburua and Digitaria exilis, the latter being most common outside of Africa.
1/4 cup (45 grams) of dry fonio – about 1/2 cup cooked – is not only naturally low in cholesterol, sodium, and fat, but also (2, 6):
- Calories: 170
- Protein: 2 grams
- Sugar: 0 grams
- Fat: 0.5 grams
- Carbohydrates: 39 grams
- Fiber: 4% of the daily value (DV)
- Iron: 4% of the DV
Fonio is a good source of B vitamins, including thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin, which are necessary for cell growth, development, and function, as well as for energy production (7, 8, 9).
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) suggests that Fonio has the highest calcium content of any grain. This can make it a great choice for those who don’t consume dairy products, such as vegans or those with lactose intolerance (2, 10).
Fonio also supplies iron, copper, zinc and magnesium (4).
Iron and copper help in the formation of red blood cells, connective tissue, and blood cells, while zinc plays a role in immune function, protein synthesis, and the growth and division of cells. Magnesium supports numerous biochemical reactions and is required for energy production (11, 12, 13).
Fonio contains numerous B vitamins as well as minerals such as calcium, iron, copper, zinc and magnesium. It offers moderate amounts of fiber and protein.
Although Fonio has been around for over 5,000 years, there is a lack of scientific research on this grain (1).
Some studies suggest that climate, soil conditions, and farming practices can affect the nutrient content of certain plant-based foods across Africa (14).
Excellent source of vegetable amino acids
Fonio is a good diet supplement for people who do not eat enough animal or protein foods.
Although its protein composition is comparable to that of white rice, Fonio contains significantly higher amounts of the sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine. Both amino acids are absent in grains like corn, wheat, rice, sorghum, and barley (5).
As an essential amino acid, methionine must be ingested through food as your body cannot manufacture it. It plays a role in skin elasticity, hair growth, nail health, and body tissue growth and repair (15).
Cysteine is a non-essential amino acid that is necessary for protein synthesis and detoxification. It also plays a role in the formation of the amino acid taurine (16).
With the exception of lysine, a typical serving of Fonio can provide around 10% of an adult’s daily need for essential amino acids (14).
Fonio is eaten in its entirety and is therefore considered a whole grain.
Whole grains can aid weight management and gut health. They are also linked to a variety of health benefits, including a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and colon, pancreatic, and stomach cancers (17).
Unlike refined grains, which have germs and bran removed during processing, whole grains include all three parts of the kernel – bran, endosperm, and germ.
According to the Whole Grains Council, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, about 25% of a grain’s protein is lost when bran and germs are removed. Nutrient losses also occur with many other important nutrients (18).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that whole grains make up half of your daily grain intake. Adding 1/4 cup (45 grams) of dry Fonio to your diet can help you achieve this goal (19).
Fonio is naturally gluten-free. It is therefore safe for people with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.
Gluten sensitive people can experience abdominal discomfort and fatigue when they eat foods containing gluten – a group of proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye (20).
In celiac patients, gluten shows the same symptoms as gluten sensitivity, but it also damages the small intestine (20).
Can support blood sugar management
Fonio contains resistant starch that resists digestion and absorption in the small intestine (5).
Resistant starches have many health benefits and can play a role in increasing insulin sensitivity and lowering blood sugar levels (21).
Additionally, this cereal has a low glycemic index (GI), which means it won’t raise your blood sugar levels quickly. Because of this, it can help people with diabetes control their blood sugar (5).
Fonio is a whole grain that is a great source of plant amino acids. Additionally, it can help lower blood sugar levels, and it’s naturally gluten-free.
Fonio is extremely versatile. When cooked, it has an earthy taste that easily absorbs the flavors of the foods it is prepared with.
In West Africa, fonio is traditionally cooked as couscous, made into porridge and included in local beverages. Like other grains, it can be ground into flour and used in baked goods such as bread, cookies, and cakes (22).
In the kitchen, it’s so quick and easy to do that the Bambara in Mali say Fonio never embarrasses the cook.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with it in your kitchen. Here are some recipe ideas:
- Replace any grain with fonio, including rice, couscous, millet, sorghum, quinoa, and barley.
- Use it in porridge the same way you would use oats.
- Add it to soups and stews.
- Sprinkle with salads.
- Use fonio flour in baked goods such as bread, cookies, cakes, and bars.
How to do Fonio
- Quickly bring 1 cup (240 ml) water to a boil.
- Add salt if you like.
- Add 1/4 cup (45 grams) of dry fonio, stir gently, and cover.
- Turn the heat on low and cook until all of the liquid is absorbed.
- Turn off the heating and shake the Fonio with a fork.
- If the dish stays moist, keep steaming it.
Fonio is a versatile grain that is often cooked like couscous or porridge. It is also available as a flour that you can use in baked goods.
Try some of the following recipes for delicious, healthy meals with Fonio.
Recipes that use fonio include Ethiopian sweet potato tacos, mango fonio salad, and fonio balls in African peanut sauce.
Fonio is an African grain, also called ancient grain, that is mainly consumed in West African countries.
It’s naturally gluten-free and offers a robust amino acid profile as well as other potential health benefits like improved blood sugar management.
Fonio is easy to prepare and has a wide range of culinary uses, making it ideal for numerous hearty dishes.
Types of Chocolate, Explained:
You’ve seen these numbers on fancy candy bar packaging, but what do chocolate percentages mean and which one should you choose? We’ll break it down so you can make the best chocolate choice possible.
When it comes to chocolate, I used to be part of the high cocoa cult. My favorite was 70 percent, with an 82.5 percent shot every now and then. However, the more I learned about chocolate, the more I realized that the percentage had nothing to do with quality: I had greasy 85 percent bars and fantastic 40 percent bars.
That’s because the cocoa percentage is the percentage of the bar that comes straight from cocoa beans. Take my beloved 70 percent bar as an example: 70 percent of this bar is made from refined cocoa beans, and 30 percent is made from all the other ingredients like sugar, vanilla, sea salt, pop rocks, whatever.
Just because you’ve tried a 70 percent bar doesn’t mean you’ve tried them all. Everyone has a unique mouthfeel and taste. (A genius came up with the fancy sounding “mouthfeel” to describe how things feel in the mouth. In practical terms, this means whether the chocolate is grainy or smooth, melts quickly or slowly, etc.) One reason is that one chocolate bar contains significantly more cocoa butter than another. Both cocoa solids and cocoa butter are included in this 70 percent.
As I write in my book, “Bean-to-Bar Chocolate: America’s Craft Chocolate Revolution ”,“ A 70 percent bar could contain 50 percent cocoa mass and 20 percent cocoa butter; another could have 30 percent cocoa mass and 40 percent cocoa butter (that would make a very smooth, buttery bar!). To make it even more complicated, different types of beans naturally contain different amounts of cocoa butter. Some are leaner, others fatter. The natural “butteriness” of a bean changes the consistency of the resulting chocolate. “
Milk chocolate generally has a fairly low percentage, usually around 40 percent or less (Hershey’s is 11 percent). I’m in love with Zotter’s 40 percent bar diluted with “Bio Tiroler Bergmilch” and Frans smoked salt.
Dark chocolate has no legal definition in the United States (it comes under the umbrella term semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate). It’s usually at least 55 percent, but most dark chocolate lovers enjoy 70 percent or more. I’m obsessed with a new variety called dark milk chocolate, a high-proof milk chocolate that combines the best of both worlds: you get the intense flavors of dark chocolate with the creaminess of milk chocolate. My favorite right now? Chocolate Naive’s 62 percent dark milk with porcini mushrooms. (Yes, you read that right: mushrooms!)
Then there are some dark candy bars that stamp in at 100 percent. That said, they only contain ground and refined cocoa beans, and the trick for the chocolate makers is to bring out the natural flavors of these beans to make them not only edible but also enjoyable. The best – like those from Fruition and Pralus – are far from making chocolate. I urge you to try a 100 percent bar for Valentine’s Day: you might find your true love.
But don’t forget the white chocolate either.
Best Food Podcasts 2021
Thanks to the development of some very good culinary podcasts, today’s food freaks are asking, “What are you listening to?” as much as they are “What shows do you watch?” and “What books do you cook from?”
Right now we may be on a temporary break from commuting to work or exercising at the gym, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up listening to podcasts. (I mean, there is only so much TV that you can watch in a day, right?). There’s a diverse buffet of quality, audible food content, with programs covering everything from the latest industry news and the impact of food on identity and culture to the whimsical stories behind the most mundane foods. Below is a list of some of our favorites in case you need entertainment (not to mention a sense of social interaction and community) during these isolating times.
This podcast by Samin Nosrat and Hrishikesh Hirway came at exactly the right time and is the perfect listening pleasure during quarantine – it covers cooking with simple ingredients from the pantry (the first episode is all about beans), but also goes against anxiety, that we’re all feeling right now. You are encouraged to submit your own questions, stories, and experiences, but even if you just tune in, you’ll feel reassured. The original four-part run was so popular that it was expanded to include the latest episode (which only released July 22nd) featuring Nadiya Hussein from “The Great British Baking Show” and Netflix’s “Nadiya’s Time to Eat”.
Listen to home cooking.
At this age of “If you didn’t post every item of your meal on Instagram, did you even eat there?” this podcast for anyone curious about the interface between food, art and design is particularly interesting and relevant. This program, hosted by award-winning photographer and cookbook author Michael Harlan Turkell, takes the standard interview with chef / food personalities and presents it through a new lens where the conversations are likely to be immersed in the artistry of a culinary technique (e.g. cutting fish for sushi or whole animal butchering) or the development of the materials chefs use for work today. And best of all, with over 400 episodes, you have tons of listening material to help you tackle all of the thorough projects that you promised yourself to be.
Listen to the food seen.
Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I have a hard time imagining the effectiveness of a cooking class without the visual element. That was until I discovered this podcast and was forced to gobble up my words. Most of the episodes follow moderator Roger as he guides the audience step by step in real time through a recipe. It might not be something you just want to hear out of context, but if you want to feel like you’re in a real cooking class with someone to guide you along the way, it’s a great tool. He has a knack for breaking things down in a practical, easy-to-understand home-style way, and these are the kind of basic building block recipes you will come back to again and again. (And yes, don’t worry, he has an accompanying blog with pictures of the key steps in case you’re looking for a point of reference.)
Listen to The Kitchen Counter.
In this young podcast, veteran cooking authority America’s Test Kitchen deviates from their usual tried and true recipe test format. Admittedly, the episode themes don’t have a lot of street appeal: In the 30-minute debut episode, you’ll learn everything about celery; another focuses on ketchup. But rather than conveying best cooking practices or running brand reviews side by side, the show addresses the infinitely more interesting backstories (the “it” vegetable status of celery in the Victorian era) and big questions (does ketchup go with a burger?). Not at all straight forward and clinical at all, the tone of the show is rather light-hearted fun mixed with real nerd curiosity (especially the LOL-inducing episode about taste; I won’t spoil it, but there are dirty sock-flavored jelly bellys in it). .
Listen to evidence.
If you are looking for a food podcast that meets all of the criteria, “The Splendid Table” is for you. Hosted by esteemed and easily relatable food writer / personality Francis Lam, this diverse program almost feels like listening to the audio version of the best newspaper food section. There are interviews with experts, short stories, history lessons, opinion pieces, recipes and cooking tips, audience Q & As, whatever. The episodes last about an hour and thematically range from “Eating in the Age of Social Media” and “The History of Sauces” to “The Art of the Sandwich” and the “Power of Scent”.
Listen to The Splendid Table.
Food is so much more than just what happens on your plate. It’s a powerful insight and formative force on everything from history, science, culture, politics and, as this podcast explores, people. The James Beard Award-winning program, hosted by Dan Pashman, has been described as a show that is “not for foodies, but for eaters.”
Listen to Sporkful.
In the podcast world, comedy has been successfully applied to all sorts of topics (e.g. real crime, American history) so why not food? If you need something to break up the serious, cerebral food conversations in your library, this long-running show from writers / comedians Molly Wizenberg and Matthew Amster-Burton should be on the rotation. Each week, the two fun friends take about half an hour to discuss whatever comes to their mind over an all-over-the-map assortment of food topics (from hot pockets and movie candies to beets, mayonnaise and “Sick food” from childhood). . It’s a simple, satisfying palate cleanser for non-food lovers that is guaranteed to make you smile.
Hear spilled milk.
The history and culture of southern food is rich. And not just because of the kitchen’s well-documented relationship with butter and anything fried. In this intelligently produced series from the Southern Foodways Alliance, the culinary landscape of the American South is explored through stories that go beyond the obvious and expected. Such as Montgomery, Alabama’s burgeoning Korean food scene; or the fact that chili powder, a staple of southern cuisine, was invented by a German immigrant; or how a Texas winemaker helped save French vineyards in the late 19th century.
Hear about sauce.
If you’re craving high quality culinary audio, the Brooklyn-based Heritage Radio Network has a veritable food court of options. For story seekers there is “Evolutionaries”, a documentary series in which industry giants share their experiences that have shaped them and their careers. In another corner, you’ve got scientific (and infectiously animated) chef Dave Arnold answering your nerdy, bizarre culinary problems in Cooking Issues. And let’s not forget “Radio Cherry Bomb” – even more relevant in this era of the #metoo movement – with interviews with the women who shape today’s food world. But if you’re looking for a snack rather than a full meal, do yourself a favor and subscribe to Meat + Three. Each episode, over 20 minutes long, uses the traditional southern “meat and three sides” model to discuss the week’s most important food news: one topic is treated as a protein star, while three short stories round out the audible plate. Where so many great food podcasts need a longer, in-depth look at the food for thought format, it’s nice to add something quick and easy to digest to the mix.
Hear Meat + Three.
“Eating through the Lens of Science and History” may sound more like heady food studies classroom feed than an entertaining podcast, but hosts Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilly do a great job keeping the investigation on the accessible and friendly side of geeky curiosity . I imagine this show will appeal to people who love to see shows like Food Network’s Unwrapped and anything hosted by Alton Brown.
Listen to gastropod.
If you’re thirsty for great content on this oh-so-important food-wine-topic, subscribe to I’ll Drink to That hosted by ex-NYC sommelier Levi Dalton. The show’s interviewees roster is a veritable who’s who of the big-ticket industry talent, from sommeliers and importers to legendary winemakers themselves, and Dalton has the kind of ease and comfort at eye level to coax some really good stories.
Stop it, I’ll drink to it.
Rolled Oats vs. Steel Cut Oats vs. Quick Oats: How to Choose
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Have you ever gotten yourself stared at all the different oatmeal in the store? Should you be getting steel cut oats, oatmeal, or old-fashioned oats (or are some of them the same)? Which one is healthier and can they all be used interchangeably? Here’s what you need to know.
If you want to eat oatmeal, you might as well have the variety that is not deprived of its nutrients. Especially if you are feeding it to children. But hey, you are important too. So what’s the difference between Steel Cut, Scottish, Irish, Rolled, Quick Cooking, Old Fashioned, and Instant Oats?
Short answer: some are milled differently, others are exactly the same but are named differently.
Speaking of which, what’s the difference between oats and oatmeal? Technically, oats refers to the whole grains themselves and oatmeal to the pulpy dish often made from them and / or the processed form of the whole grains – but now the terms are often used interchangeably.
With any type of oatmeal, the oats are first cleaned, peeled, and conditioned, which removes the outer shell (called the peel) and leaves the inner core or grits behind. The groats are then brushed clean in scrubbing machines. Next, an oven heats the grits to about 215 degrees Fahrenheit to deactivate their enzymes, which limits the oils in the germ from reacting with oxygen, making the oats shelf-stable and giving them a slightly toasted taste. Chelsea Lincoln, a representative of Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods says this is important because “oats go rancid very quickly if not stabilized”.
From there, the whole oat groats are processed differently, depending on the type of oat flakes they are made into:
Steel-cut oats (also known as Irish oats)
Lincoln says that to make steel cut oats (also known as Irish oats), the groats are crushed with steel blades. “This allows for a tougher oatmeal,” says Lincoln. It takes about 30 minutes to cook.
Stone milled oats (also known as Scottish oats)
With stone-milled oats (also called Scottish oats), the groats are ground into a meal, creating an “oat porridge with a nice, creamy texture”. Like Irish oats, Scottish oats take about 30 minutes to cook.
Oatmeal (also known as old-fashioned oats)
Oatmeal (also known as old-fashioned oats) takes less time to cook and is less coarse and chewy in texture. To make them, the groats are softened by steaming and then passed through metal rollers to flatten them. Lincoln says that Bob’s Red Mill’s regular oatmeal is flattened to 0.024-0.032 inches.
Quick cooking oats
Quick-cooking oats are rolled even thinner – about 0.017 to 0.022 inches – so they cook in less than five minutes.
Instant oats are also rolled thin, but then “boiled and then dried again,” says Lincoln. Just add hot water and stir.
All oatmeal is pretty healthy for you; They are full of soluble fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Compared to other breakfast cereals and many other grains, they also have a low glycemic index, which means they are digested longer and have less of an impact on blood sugar levels (they are considered good carbohydrates). The less processed the oats are, the more nutrients they retain. And you should watch out for added sugars and preservatives in instant oatmeal.
Oats are naturally gluten-free, but are often processed in flour-handling operations, so cross-contamination can be a problem. If you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, look for a certified gluten-free label.
Most recipes that call for oatmeal indicate oatmeal or old-fashioned oats (which, remember, are the same), but you can also use quick-cooking oats interchangeably. There may be minor changes to the texture, but it’s usually not so noticeable that it’s a deal breaker.
In a pinch, instant oatmeal can also be used in place of the above in things like oatcakes (where they are completely mixed into the batter), but the texture will be even softer and the cooking time can be significantly shorter, so make sure you get it sooner check the degree of doneness. They’re not a good substitute for homemade granola or recipes that use the oats for a crumbly, crispy topping.
Irish and Scottish oats will not work in place of other types of oats because they are much tougher and stronger. So, look for steel cut oat recipes if you want to use them in particular.
You can add oats to smoothies in some recipes and even replace flour with ground oats, but here are nine of our favorite ways to enjoy all types of oats in a starring role:
1. Simple homemade granola
Making your own granola to top up yogurt or just to snack on is usually much healthier and sometimes more economical than buying it in the store (but it depends on what you want to add). Get our Easy Homemade Granola Recipe.
2. Apple and oatmeal bars
These are tough, sweet, soft and a little crispy on top with the oat crumble. And they’re easy to make using ingredients that many of us already have on hand, so you don’t have to hunt for a random ingredient in the store. Get our recipe for apple and oatmeal bars. (Also try our recipe for apricot and oatmeal bars.)
3. Slow Cooker Steel-Cut Oatmeal
Throw the ingredients in your crock pot before you go to bed and wake up to a creamy, hot breakfast. Just add vanilla, nuts and fruits – fresh or dried. Get our Slow Cooker Steel-Cut Oatmeal Recipe.
4th No-bake oatmeal cookies
Wait what Oh yeah. These are especially great in summer when you don’t want to heat your kitchen any more than it already is. Preparation takes 15 minutes plus cooling time. These cookies taste like chocolate and peanut butter too, and we love that. Get our no-bake oatmeal cookie recipe.
5. Peach Melba Cake
This is what your summer is missing: peaches and raspberries wrapped in a crust and topped with an oat-brown sugar sprinkle. Serving this cake with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream is a must. Get our peach melba pie recipe.
6th Do-Si-Do copycat cookies
These are perfect if you’re calling for Girl Scout Cookies out of season. We’re calling for quick-boiling oats here to keep the texture nice and soft. Get our Do-Si-Do Copycat Cookie Recipe. (For more upgrades to the common oatmeal raisins, check out our Tropical Oatzravaganza Biscuit Recipe and our Chewy Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Biscuit recipe as well.)
7. Overnight oats with summer fruits
You don’t even have to cook this! The oatmeal absorbs the milk and becomes soft over time. It’s very easy now. Put the ingredients in a bowl or glass the night before, put them in the refrigerator and take them out the next morning, cover them with fresh fruit and eat them. Get our Overnight Oats with Summer Fruit Recipe.
8. Hearty oatmeal
Who says oatmeal has to be sweet? Steel-cut or stone-ground oat flakes in particular take on hearty flavors, and you can also cook them in the slow cooker. Get our recipe ideas for hearty oatmeal.
9. Oat honey vodka
Another unusual thing about oatmeal? Soak it in vodka for a toasty-sweet drop! Get our Oat Honey Vodka Recipe. (If you don’t drink alcohol, you can try making oat fortified milk … not to be confused with non-dairy oat milk, but still delicious.) Drink it straight or try it with cream in our Quaker Shaker recipe.
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