Ingredient Intelligence

Fonio Cooks in 5 Minutes Flat (and It’s My Favorite Grain Ever)

updated Mar 8, 2021
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someone is holding fonio in a spoon over a bowl of fonio
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Grains like quinoa and couscous have become more common in American kitchens over the past several decades and are staple parts of many people’s diets these days. If you’re a quinoa or couscous lover, allow me to introduce you to your new favorite grain: fonio. Not many Americans are familiar with fonio, let alone use it in their cooking, but we all absolutely should be. My family is Nigerian, and while I didn’t grow up eating fonio at home as a kid here in the States, I tried it for the first time during college when I went to Nigeria for a summer to stay with my mom who had recently relocated there. It was a summer full of learning about, and eating, many different foods for the first time, and fonio was one of them.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

What Is Fonio?

Fonio is a grain native to West Africa that has been cultivated in the region for thousands of years. It’s sort of like if quinoa and couscous had a baby. Fonio has a delicious nutty flavor, and it’s a naturally gluten-free superfood packed with tons of vitamins and nutrients. There are 12 grams of protein in just one cup of fonio (quinoa has 8 grams per cup and couscous has 6). However, as much as I love the health benefits of fonio, I have to say it really holds a special place in my heart because of how quick and simple it is to cook. You can have fonio cooked and ready to throw in a grain bowl or resting underneath a delicious stew in just about five minutes. It tastes great, is full of nutrients, and is easy to cook. Can you really ask for more than that?

How to Cook Fonio

To cook fonio, you’ll heat olive oil in a small saucepan over high heat until shimmering. Then add the fonio and stir to coat in the oil before adding water and bringing it to a boil. Next you’ll cover the saucepan and cook the fonio over low heat for about a minute. Finally, remove the saucepan from heat and let sit covered for five minutes.

While you can cook it simply like the directions above, fonio is so versatile that you can use it in so many different ways. You could substitute the water for milk, and add a bit of sugar to make a porridge, or experiment with it in your baking as an easy way to add protein and a bit of fluffiness.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Where to Find Fonio

Fonio is not yet as widely available in the U.S. as other grains, but as more and more people learn about it and it continues to grow in popularity, I can only imagine that it will become just as readily available as many of our other favorite grains. That being said, my absolute favorite brand of fonio is Yolele, co-founded by Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam who has done more than just about anyone to introduce the rest of the world to this ancient grain. The company was founded in 2017 to support small farming communities and to share the beauty of fonio with the world. Yolele is currently available in stores at Whole Foods and The Fresh Market, as a well as at a number of online retailers

Want to try fonio? Start here: Fonio Pancakes