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The fonio, super cereal, becomes Novel Food – Italian Cuisine


Traditionally cultivated in West Africa, it is rich in starch and resembles millet and quinoa: gluten-free, it can be used for the production of gluten-free bread and pasta. It requires little water and grows well even in dry soils

It looks like millet and quinoa, it is a "modern, gluten-free, high-value-added" food: the fonio (digitaria exilis) is a super cereal of 5 thousand years, cultivated in West Africa, and now it has been approved as Novel Food by the European Food Safety Commission. For EFSA's food safety experts, who have classified it as "traditional food from third countries under Article 14 of Reg EC 2015/2283 adapted to our diet", there is no doubt about his safety.

The basis of nutrition
For many local African populations, fonio has always been the main food: peeled, can be consumed as couscous, in a mix of fonio and rice or as porridge. But they too had neglected their production: they preferred to import it, because it is so small (the seed is not longer than 1.5 millimeters and tends to detach from the ear to disperse in the ground) that its processing, mortar and pestle, is rather complex, it is long and low yield. So the fonio has been forgotten for a long time, without ever being valued. Now we have introduced new machines that break the grain, but they are not very performing.

The rediscovery

The first in Europe to bet on the fonio was Gabriele Fortunato, founder of Obà Food Srl, who managed the whole process to make it a Novel Food. It started by promoting the development of small local farming communities, improving working conditions, promoting sustainable agriculture and helping producers become more competitive on the world market.

But to value the fonio has also thought about it Pierre Thiam, the «new king of African cuisine, a Senegalese chef who regularly uses it in his exclusive dishes, prepared for his New York customers. And that also presented it as a bulwark in the fight against climate change: resistant to dry weather and drought, the phonio has a limited environmental impactor, it requires little water and grows well even in dry soils, unlike other cereals, such as wheat. Thiam defines it as "the cereal perfect for the lazy farmerbecause it is enough to throw the seeds that grows by itself ". No need for chemicals.

Gluten free

The fonio contains on average 85% of carbohydrates, 10% protein and 4% fat, is rich in starch, has a taste just sweetish, characteristic and integral. Flour, it is added to rice flour or corn flour. It has a triple fiber and double iron compared to brown rice, contains minerals and is a source of vitamin B. It is gluten-free and rich in essential amino acids that are not present in other cereals: they are nutritional characteristics that make it an interesting complete ingredient, suitable for the production of gluten-free foods. Once ground, you can use it to prepare baked goods, such as bread and pasta without gluten. We have to bet: we will hear more about it.