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  • Jefferson Adams

    Meet Fonio, the Gluten-Free African Super Grain

    Jefferson Adams
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    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.   eNewsletter: Get our eNewsletter

      Learn all about, fonio, the high nutrition, practically unknown, gluten-free African crop that is set to be the next gluten-free super grain.

    Caption: Here, fonio is served as a stand alone dish. Image: CC BY-ND 2.0--jokkale.communication

    Celiac.com 01/17/2020 - What's fonio and why is it set to take the gluten-free world by storm? In West Africa, fonio is well-known for its great taste and dish nutritional profile. In addition to being a nutritious and great tasting, fonio is a versatile and highly sustainable crop. Fonio does well in dry areas, has low water needs, and grows well without pesticides.

    Fonio is rich in fiber, protein, amino acids, B vitamins, zinc and magnesium. With its slightly nutty flavor, fonio makes good gluten-free flour and can be used in many baking applications. It also be eaten alone like couscous or quinoa. 

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    Outside of Africa, however, fonio is virtually unknown. Among those who do know it, it has a reputation as a difficult grain to harvest. Grown only in the Sahel region of Africa — a narrow belt that runs south of the Sahara and north of the savannah from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, fonio has never been formally cultivated, and is uncommon outside of that region.

    That's set to change. Once a new state-of-the-art processing plant in Senegal in West Africa, coupled with a pasteurization and quality control plant in North Dakota are in operation, annual exports of fonio could quickly climb to thousands of tons, says Peter Carlson, director of Terra Ingredients, a leader in commercial ingredients made from organic and non-GMO grains, pulses and other plants. With processing facilities in the United States, and markets on six continents. 

    Currently, only a few small companies export fonio, which means the price remains high. A company called Yolélé Foods sells three 10-ounce bags of fonio grain on Amazon for $19.95.

    Carlson says that once he learned about fonio, the decision to incorporate the grain into their company offerings was simple. Doing it at scale means the price could come down quickly, as supplies rise.

    Terra Ingredients has been working with a women's co-op, which processes small quantities of fonio by hand. Currently, hand processing takes nearly one-hundred women working full-time two weeks to fill a single commercial barrel with fonio. Soon, however, the fonio will be processed mechanically, while the women will perform other roles in the company, including liaising with growers, ensuring quality, and overseeing some of the processing work. 

    Even though fonio is gluten-free, Carlson points out that fonio is not a niche product. "I think I keep going back to the taste, because that's what we hear from so many people." Carlson said. Because of fonio's great taste, he expects the non-gluten-free market to be big.

    If you're looking for a tasty, nutritious new gluten-free grain to round out your celiac disease diet, keep your eye out fonio at a store near you.

    Read more about fonio at FoodDive.com

    Edited by Jefferson Adams

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,500 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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