Fonio is a cereal making a gradual come back into society. This time, it would probably come bearing the term ‘super food’ as it is already being compared to Quinoa. It would creep into our markets and become a designer food like Ofada. I am not kidding. I noticed that although Fonio is an ancient crop, in recent years, a lot of researchers are looking into it and have seen the goodies sitting in there. There really is renewed interest in it. So watch out for it.
Let me take you back a bit. Like our local rice Ofada, Fonio is not new to Nigeria. In fact, it is common in the northern part of Nigeria. It is called Acha and that is the name I will call it hence forth. It is common in some other West African Countries like Burkina Faso, Guinea and Togo. This Acha is actually the White Fonio as there is a Black Fonio called Iburu and is easily found in Plateau state.
Acha is classified as an underutilized crop and for some reason, Europeans named it hungry rice, a misleading name for such a great cereal. Acha is so old there is scanty record of its ancient heritage. Yes, foods also have their history. It is a very hardy crop that can grow even on rocky soil and they can start producing grains 6-8 weeks after planting (some great food security potential).
Although research works have been done in the past, more scientists are looking into Acha because of the renewed interest. Acha has been compared to other cereals in the market like maize, wheat, rice and is coming out the winner. It has got a good amino acid profile (but it does not contain the essential lysine) when compared to other cereals and the glycemic index is low (this means that diabetic patients can eat it). It also contains phytosterols which have been shown to lower LDL Cholesterol (and is therefore good for your heart health) and has an appreciable amount of dietary fibre being a whole grain. I think those into weight loss can explore this too.
Another great thing about it is that Acha is a nice addition to foods for infants and toddlers and mothers, guess what? It cooks quickly. As a composite flour (mixing Acha flour into other flours), it would work well with wheat if the percentage of Acha is low. Once there is an increase in the Acha flour percentage, the quality drops. Bread baked from 100% Acha flour is not the best bread experience.
The downer is that it is not so easy to process; the grains are so tiny that they can pass for large sand granules. This is where technology comes in; there is already available equipment that can handle the processing. I however just have some issues with the sand that comes with it. With due diligence though, one can successfully remove them. Also, there are packaged products that are super clean.
Acha also contains some antinutrients – which are compounds that bind the great nutrients in them and make them unavailable for use by those who consume it. Other cereals contain them too but during processing, the antinutrients are reduced greatly.
A study revealed that if you ferment the grain, you can reduce some of the antinutrients and increase the nutrient composition making it more available for our bodies to utilize. Cooking also reduces the antinutrients and increases some nutrients availability too.
- Anuonye, J.C., John, O., Evans, E., Shemelohim, A. Nutrient and antinutrient composition of extruded acha/soybean blends. J. Food Proc. Preserv. 2009.
- A. Echendu, I.C. Obizoba, J.U. Anyika and P.C. Ojimelukwe, 2009. Changes in Chemical Composition of Treated and Untreated Hungry Rice “Acha” (Digitaria exilis).Pakistan Journal of Nutrition, 8: 1779-1785.
- Glew CL, Laabes EP, Presely MJ, Schulze J, Andrews R, Wang Y, Chang Y. 2013. Fatty acid, amino acid, mineral and antioxidant contents of Acha. Int. J. Nutr. Metab. 5(1):1-8.
- Igyor, M.A.(2005), “Substitution of wheat flour with acha (Digitaria exilis) for bread making”, Botswana Journal of Technology, Vol. 14 No. 2, pp. 51‐7.
- Jideani IA. 2012. Digitaria exilis (acha/fonio), Digitaria iburua (iburu/fonio) and Eluesine cora‐ cana (tamba/finger millet) – Non-conventional cereal grains with potentials. Scientific Research and Essays 2012;7(45): 3834-3843. http://www.academicjournals.org/SRE DOI: 10.5897/SRE12.416