EU approves commercialisation of gluten-free ancient grain that could aid food security

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

The European Commission has given Obà Foods the go ahead to market Fonio, an ancient grain from West Africa. Pic: Obà Foods
The European Commission has given Obà Foods the go ahead to market Fonio, an ancient grain from West Africa. Pic: Obà Foods

Related tags Ancient grains Oba Food Fonio Food security

Italian firm Obà Food has received the green light from the European Commission to market the West African ancient grain called Fonio on the continent.

Fonio belongs to the millet family, closely related to quinoa and couscous, which can be milled as a gluten-free alternative to wheat flour.

It can also used as an egg replacement in vegan burgers, for example, due to its high starch content, which enhances the ‘tightness’ of the dough.

Almost a year after filing the scientific dossier, Obà has been granted permission to continue with the commercialisation of decorticated (where the bran is removed) grains of Digitaria exilis (Kippist) Stapf ​within the European Union.

Grown throughout sub-Sahara and eaten for over 5,000 years by Africans, the tiny grain – which has a slightly sweet flavour – is rich in protein and essential amino acids absent in other grains. It is also a good source of fibre, B-vitamins and minerals, including iron, magnesium, zinc and phosphorus.

Additionally, cultivation and commercialisation of the grain brings with it environmental and possibly food security benefits.

Sustainable agriculture

“Obà’s commitment for the introduction of Fonio in Europe fits within the wider company’s mission, supporting biodiversity and sustainable agriculture,” ​a spokesperson for Obà told BakeryandSnacks.

“It is extremely drought resistant and tolerates poor soil with little water, thriving where nothing else will grow. It is ready for harvest in six to eight weeks, which makes it always available when other crops are not yet ready.

“It embeds some natural anti-parasitic substances, which make it a perfect fit for an organic and sustainable agriculture. High digestibility and low glycemic index supplement the health benefits,”​ he said.

He added Obà expects the grain to share a similar success story as quinoa and has already been working with several partners to develop products like pasta, baked goods and gourmet dishes.

Outstanding properties and flexibility

Grani Fonio2 Jpg

According to the company, it is comparable to the workability of maize flour and technically a very ‘strong’ flour, the best results coming from a 30% addition to other flours, like rice and maize.

Milled into type 1 wholemeal flour as opposed to a refined flour, Fonio has shown to have ‘outstanding’ pastries properties and ‘flexibility’, always turning out a stretchy dough.

The nature and structure of the starch – characterised by excellent gelatinisation properties and high viscosity values on heating – fundamentally ‘offset’ the absence of gluten, naturally providing a dough of outstanding rheological quality.

Consequently, asserts Obà, there is no need for additional injections of starches from other refined flours – like cornstarch – nor thickeners or stabiliers to obtain naturally leavened products.

Additionally, Fonio overcomes the typical ‘sandiness’ of rice flour, while its delicate taste makes it extremely versatile.

“Among the best applications we, and our customers, have been producing there are pasta, snacks such as breadsticks, tarts and even the Italian panettone,”​ said Obà’s spokesperson.

“All the products have been appreciated by the consumers looking for 100% natural, gluten-free and highly nutritious ingredients.”

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