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In the last ten years or so, traditionally cultivated grains from remote regions have made enormous inroads into the US natural marketplace.  This has been doubly enhanced by wariness about GMOs and the rising tide of gluten intolerance and celiac disease.  Quinoa and Amaranth are two prime examples of this trend.

Fonio: A Prized Ancient Grain

Lo and behold, a rare ancient grain, prized for its flavor, easy digestibilty, gluten freedom and tolerance by diabetics just so happens to be prominent right in Atacora’s home around Boukombé, Benin!  Fonio (Digitaria exilis, Digitaria ibura) is in the millet family, and is grown on poor soils already tired from the other crop cycles of years passed. It is usually followed by a fallow cycle.  The tiny seeds are broadcast and lightly hoed in.  The grain reaches maturity in about 6 weeks; well before other staple crops like corn, sorghum and rice, and serves to alleviate end-of-season shortfalls.

Ancient_grain_Fonio,_ready_to_harvest

Fonio_harvest
Fonio starts out looking like a nice, green lawn, and at maturity looks a lot like hay.  The seeds are less than a millimeter long and half as wide, and have a husk, necessitating some pretty serious work to make it ready to eat.  Harvest is done BY HAND with HOMEMADE KNIVES. Harvesters make sheaves and set them to dry.

 

They construct a platform where adolescents stomp the sheaves to remove the grain.  It is then winnowed in traditional flat basketry.  Prior to cooking, women pound the grain in traditional wooden mortars to remove the husks, and winnow again.  The grain is then washed three times to remove and sand, redried and cooked.

Fonio_on_Stalk

When I’m in Boukombé, I stay at Executive Director Jacob’s house as a family member.  His wife, Céline is a fantastic cook!  She makes all of the sauces that are traditional to the Otammari people, many with ingredients are entirely unfamiliar in the West.  The sauces are a complement to porridge (la pâte) on most nights, which is a thick paste made from ground corn, sorghum or millet, or whole fonio grains.  She knows that I don’t like corn porridge much, so more often than not, fonio is on the menu.  La pâte du fonio has a texture that really grabs the sauce when you get your hands in there!  It can also be prepared like couscous for a little variety.  I’m thinking about substituting it for bulghur wheat and making taboul

Fonio_with_husks
eh!
Couscous_fonio

Fonio is gluten-free, and according to the literature I’ve read, has a low glycæmic index and is rich in amino acids, especially methionine and cystine, among many nutritional properties superior to most other grains.

NUTRITIONAL PROMISE

Main Components

Essential Amino Acids

Moisture

10

Cystine

2.5

Food energy (Kc)

367

Isoleucine

4.0

Protein (g)

9.0

Leucine

10.5

Carbohydrate (g)

75

Lysine

2.5

Fat (g)

1.8

Methionine

4.5

Fiber (g)

3.3

Phenylalanine

5.7

Ash (g)

3.4

Threonine

3.7

Thiamin (mg)

0.47

Tryptophan

1.6

Riboflavin (mg)

0.10

Tyrosine

3.5

Niacin (mg)

1.9

Valine

5.5

Calcium (mg)

44

Iron (mg)

8.5

Phosphorus (mg)

177

Atacora collaborates with a local Boukombé Women’s Cooperative who produce top-grade fonio, as well as shea butter and other natural products.  Many women find gainful employment for much of the year, and hand-in-hand with Atacora, we are bringing about a local renaissance!  Our container shipment should be arriving in a few weeks, and we’ll have a couple of sacks of fonio to test the market.  From all that I can tell, Fonio is poised for a grand entry to the US market.  Quinoa beware!  Get ahead of the trend, and order some delicious fonio from our first shipment

 

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