Fonio: The Next Supergrain

As a nutritional powerhouse and easy stand-in for couscous, quinoa or fried rice, fonio is a grain guaranteed to make gains.

One of the goals of the street-level research led by Gordon Food Service Corporate Consulting Chef Gerry Ludwig, CEC—which includes visiting 120 top restaurants in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles every year—is to identify menu items and ingredients that are trending in these culinary capitals. In recent years, we’ve singled out such products as green jackfruit, andouille sausage and briole, and brought them to Gordon Food Service customers so they can be first in their market to incorporate these leading-edge foods.  

Fonio is the latest ingredient to rise to the top of our research. Only this ancient African “supergrain” wasn’t discovered on restaurant menus, it caught the attention of eight Gordon Food Service chefs at Worlds of Flavor 2018, the international conference hosted by the Culinary Institute of America. 

Fonio Facts infographic

Our chefs attended a presentation by New York City-based chef Pierre Thiam—a native of Senegal—who touted the many benefits of fonio and prepared a variety of dishes showcasing its incredible menu potential.

Though it’s the smallest member of the millet family, fonio packs a big nutritional punch. It offers three times the protein of rice, an abundance of amino acids and several key vitamins. It’s gluten-free and has a low glycemic index, so it can help satisfy growing demand for these specialty diets.

Menu versatility

As a menu ingredient, fonio is versatile and delicious. It can easily be incorporated into a variety of hot side dishes and cold salads. It can be made sweet or savory. You can substitute it for quinoa or couscous in any recipe in a 1:1 ratio. 

At Worlds of Flavor, Ghanian-born chef Selassie Atadika used fonio to create an authentic African stuffing. It works just as well for American dishes like stuffed peppers. It fries very nicely, so it’s an ideal alternative to fried rice, makes a good bed for entrées and is a wonderful addition to meal bowls. 

Cooking fonio is extremely simple. Just combine fonio and water in a 1:2 ratio, add a bit of oil and salt, and bring the mixture to a boil before covering the pot and removing it from the heat. Let it sit for five minutes and then fluff it with a fork. Cooked fonio is about half the size of bulgur and is often described as looking like “micro” couscous.

Fonio is also a great choice for a hearty breakfast porridge or cereal. The cooking method is the same, but you can vary the texture by changing the amount and type of liquid you use. Add fresh or dried fruit and a sweetener such as agave or honey, then garnish as you see fit. The result tastes as good as its health profile.

A sustainable choice

Fonio has a terrific story to complement its culinary appeal. It thrives where virtually nothing else will grow, even in the extreme heat and drought that afflicts some areas of Africa. What’s more, it can be harvested in as little as two months from the time of planting.

Because of this, Chef Thiam believes fonio can help alleviate hunger on the African continent and boost local economies.

Fonio is a leading-edge ingredient that is adaptable to many dishes and cuisines. Adding it to your menu will mark you as an innovator and distinguish you from the competition.

Finding Fonio

Fonio is among the thousands of products you can order online and have shipped right to your door via UPS. Find it by searching for item 493316.

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