We all know the story of the famous heartthrob Romeo. But, have you heard of Fonio? Some say Fonio is Romeo’s brother but only a handful of people know that Fonio isn’t human. 

Fonio is an ancient African grain that holds the pride of being the oldest cultivated cereal in the Dark Continent. Skim through this article to know more about this foreign grain and its benefits and uses. 

What is fonio?

Digitaria or Fonio is an ancient heritage grain, which has been cultivated in West African countries such as Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, and Nigeria since time immemorial. It is a perennial grass plant that reaches maturity in six to eight weeks, which means that it can be harvested very soon. It has linear or tapering leaves that grow up to 6 inches with an alternate stick arrangement. The grains grow in the spiky panicles of the racemes. 

Fonio is classified into two different types:

  • White Fonio or Digitaria exilis: Also known as “hungry rice”, white fonio is popular in the savannahs of West Africa.
  • Black Fonio or Digitaria iburua: Black fonio has brown spikelets and is popular in West African countries such as Nigeria, Benin, and Togo.

Fonio is consumed entirely including the bran, endosperm, and the germ and hence it is considered as a whole grain. It assists in weight management and gut health. It is also cooked into different recipes and hence has replaced many grains such as rice, wheat, sorghum, and barley. 

Nutritional breakdown of fonio

The nutritional value of 45 grams of dry fonio grain is listed below.

  • 170 calories
  • 39 grams of carbs
  • 2 grams of protein
  • 0.5 grams of fat
  • 1.12 gram of fiber
  • 0 grams of sugar
  • 0.72 milligrams of iron

Fonio is loaded with nutrients that are vital for energy release in the body. It is a rich source of iron, phosphorus, copper, zinc, magnesium, and B-vitamins such as thiamine (Vitamin B1) and niacin (Vitamin B3). 


Iron and thiamine content in fonio helps to dwindle tiredness and fatigue. Adding fonio to your morning porridge provides you with the day’s energy. Iron and copper are significant for the formation of red blood cells in the body. 

Zinc aids in cell development and protein synthesis and magnesium assists biochemical reactions in the body cells. The B-vitamins are essential for psychological and neurological processes and hence nourish the nervous system. They also improve the cognitive function of the brain. 

6 Fonio benefits you should know about

Fonio has a plethora of health benefits that we are hardly aware of. It is considered the best cereal option for people suffering from lactose intolerance and gluten sensitivity, and for vegans who do not consume milk. It reduces the risk of heart ailments, Type 2 Diabetes, pancreatic cancer, colorectal cancer, and stomach cancer. 

1. Regulates blood sugar levels

Fonio has a low glycemic index (GI) of 35 which is comparatively lesser than that of couscous and brown rice. Glycemic index is a measure of the rise in blood sugar levels due to carbohydrates. A GI less than 55 does not affect the blood sugar levels much and hence fonio is safe for patients with Type 2 Diabetes. 

It absorbs into the blood very slowly and does not cause an elevation in glucose levels. Fonio also contains elements such as sulfur and chromium that help in managing the glucose levels in the blood.

Fonio also contains resistant starch that impedes digestion and absorption of sugar in the intestine. Thus, it lowers blood sugar levels and increases insulin sensitivity

2. Provides gluten-free nutrition

Gluten belongs to the family of proteins and is found in cereal grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. Some individuals experience several side effects due to gluten intolerance and celiac diseases. The side effects include abdominal discomfort as gluten interferes with the intestinal lining, constipation, smelly feces, tiredness, and seizures. 

Fonio is the best grain option for gluten-sensitive individuals and patients suffering from celiac diseases since fonio is naturally gluten-free. 

3. Promotes cardiovascular health
what is fonio

Fonio is a whole grain and is not refined. It contains immense heart-friendly vitamins and minerals. The iron content in fonio is essential for the formation of red blood cells and the transport of oxygen throughout the body. Fonio improves heart health and gets rid of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and myocardial infarction. 

4. Aids in weight loss

Many people out there require modern, tried, and tested strategies for weight loss. Following a low-carb diet has become popular to diminish the intake of carbohydrates. Fonio is one such cereal that aids in weight loss due to its low glycemic index and high fiber content. It keeps you full for a longer time and avoids frequent food cravings.

5. Rich in plant-based amino acids that have major roles

Fonio is packed with several plant-based amino acids comparable to white rice. It contains sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine in larger quantities. 

  • Strengthens hair and skin: The amino acid methionine is responsible for strengthening hair, skin, and nails. It improves the skin’s elasticity, promotes hair growth, prevents hair loss, and enhances the nails. Methionine from Fonio is vital because your body cannot make methionine of its own.
  • Assists in detoxification: The amino acid cysteine is highly essential for protein synthesis in the body. Along with methionine, cysteine flushes out all the toxins in the bloodstream and ameliorates the liver’s function. Cysteine also engages in the formation of amino acid taurine.
6. Improves digestive health

Fonio is rich in fiber, making it easily digestible and easily movable through the alimentary canal. It eases the peristaltic movements of the esophagus (food pipe) and bowel movements in the large intestine. Thus, it alleviates constipation and promotes digestive health

Fonio uses: How to incorporate it in your diet?

fonio uses

Fonio is a versatile grain, which is relished as a breakfast with oatmeal and a drizzle of milk by many. It possesses a nutty flavor and has a texture similar to couscous, a cereal. Boiled fonio can be consumed as a soup, or a stew, or a creamy cereal, or a pilaf. It can also be consumed as a side for fish, as a stuffing in vegetable burgers, and as a porridge with nuts and bananas.

Adding Fonio to your vegetable salads enhances the taste of your salad. You can also prefer to use fonio flour in your baked products such as cakes, cookies, and muffins. Some of the popular fonio recipes are:

  • Fonio Breakfast Porridge
  • Fonio Pilaf
  • Mango Fonio Salad
  • Turmeric Coconut Fonio
  • Fonio balls in African peanut sauce
  • Ethiopian sweet potato & fonio tacos
  • Risotto

Well, we hope this article helps you in some or the other way.