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Fonio Grain (Digitaria exilis)

Under-utilised Ingredients: Fonio Grain (Digitaria exilis)

Walking through central Berlin you can recognise more and more cafés, offering gluten-free cakes and other pastry. A trend, which is not just observed in German cafés, but also in the German retail markets. Here the gluten-free category grew by around 40% in turnover from 2016 to 2017. In 2016 230.,8 Million Euros were spent on gluten-free products in German retail markets in 2017 this turnover already grew to 324,51 Million Euros (Source). Compared to other categories the gluten-free category is still relatively small, but fast-growing and shouldn't be neglected and should be seen as new and promising business opportunity for food companies.

To give companies a hint how they can jump on this trend, without copying everyone else, I want to present today an in my eyes still under-utilised gluten-free grain, which is I think has a great potential. Its name is Fonio. It’s an ancient grain variety related to millet and is described to be already cultivated 5.000 years ago. It is indigenous to the western Sahel-zone, where it is used as the staple and is often cooked to couscous or used to bake bread. Some people are also using it to brew beer or use it to make popcorn. It has a rich flavour and character, which can be described as a mixture of normal millet and brown rice. It doesn’t need much water to thrive and can be harvested up to three times a year. In addition, it has very good nutritional values, which is why it is often referred to as a super grain. It has twice the amount of iron, four times the amount of protein and thrice the fibre of brown rice. In addition, it has as well as a low glycemic index.

As a plant, which is cultivated since thousands of years on arid land, it is in addition cultured to develop long root systems to soak water from deep down in the soil, which today supports farmers to prevent soil erosion and secure the quality of the soil.

Eating, buying or manufacturing Fonio can, therefore, help farmers of the western Sahel zone to protect their soils and to make a livelihood. Wholefoods in the US already tried to sell Fonio in New York and it was a great success. In the first three hours, the first shipment was sold out. Maybe a start of a new superstar in the gluten-free product world.

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