Fonio

Food Type:
Age Suggestion: 6 months +
Nutrition Rating:How nutritious a food is with a focus on the specific nutrients babies need for optimal growth. The more nutritious a food, the more stars it will have.
Prep Time:How much time a food takes to prepare safely for a baby. The more time-consuming a food is to prepare safely, the more clocks it will have.
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Poop Friendly:Whether a food has qualities that help baby poop. Yes
Common Allergen: No
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a pile of fonio grains on a gray background ready to be cooked for babies starting solids

When can babies eat fonio?

Fonio may be introduced as soon as baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age. Fonio is a gluten-free grain that can be offered to those with wheat allergy, celiac disease, and/or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.1

Where does fonio come from?

Fonio, also known as acha, are the tiny seeds of savannah grasses from West Africa, where most of the world’s supply is produced. Across the region, fonio is a common first food for babies and a vital nutrient source for individuals who are nursing or pregnant. A member of the millet family of grains, fonio is an easy-to-cook, gluten-free alternative for recipes that call for barley, bulgur, couscous, and wheat. These qualities are contributing to fonio’s rise in popularity around the world—quite a reversal for the ancient grain. Fonio was previously shunned by European colonizers, who demanded that African farmers grow crops with global commercial appeal, such as cotton, peanuts, and sugar. Fonio persevered thanks to its drought resistance and the efforts of rural communities, who continued to cultivate the staple food.

★Tip: If possible, buy from reputable fonio suppliers who are sourcing responsibly, such as Yolélé Foods. With growing demand worldwide, price hikes for fonio could decrease accessibility of this staple food where it grows.

Aarav, 8 months, eats fonio.
Cooper, 10 months, eats fonio.

Is fonio healthy for babies?

Yes. This gluten-free grain provides good amounts of iron and zinc to support healthy blood, growth, and development, as well as the body’s senses of taste and smell.2 Plus, it offers carbohydrates and protein to provide energy and fuel cell growth. Fonio also contains many phytonutrients – particularly phenols – to help support cellular health, with more in black fonio than in white.3 Black fonio may also contain more protein and carbohydrates, while white fonio appears to have more fiber and some B vitamins, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and iron.4 Parboiling fonio can make its iron and zinc easier for our bodies to absorb.5

Is fonio a common choking hazard for babies?

No. Fonio is not a common choking hazard, though in theory an individual can choke on any food. As always, make sure you create a safe eating environment and stay within an arm’s reach of baby during meals. For more information on choking, visit our sections on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.

Is fonio a common allergen?

No, fonio, which is a form of millet, is not a common allergen. Allergies to millet are rare, but can be severe.6 7 8 Individuals who are allergic to rice may also be sensitive to millet.9 In some cases, individuals with wheat or corn allergies may be sensitive to millet as well; however, more research is needed.10 Fortunately, since millet is gluten-free, it is appropriate for individuals with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity to consume.11

If you suspect baby may be allergic to millet, talk with a pediatric allergist before introducing fonio at home. Otherwise, as with any new food, introduce fonio in small quantities to start and, if there are no adverse reactions, gradually increase the quantity served over future meals.

Can fonio help babies poop?

Yes. Fonio offers a fair amount of fiber, particularly insoluble fibers (which help bulk up bowel movements) and polyphenols. Together, these qualities contribute to overall digestive health and bowel regularity.12 Note that pooping patterns can vary significantly from child to child. Be sure to talk to your pediatric healthcare provider if you have concerns about baby’s pooping and digestive function.

How do you prepare fonio for babies with baby-led weaning?

6 to 9 months old: Make fonio porridge or mix fonio with a soft, scoopable food (such as mashed vegetables, stewed greens, or yogurt). You can also use fonio in oatmeal balls, fritters, meatballs, and patties.

9 to 12 months old: At this age, babies develop the pincer grasp (where the thumb and forefinger meet), which enables them to pick up smaller pieces of food. Use fonio to make oatmeal balls, fritters, meatballs, or patties and break these foods into bite-sized pieces before serving. Of course, you may also continue offering fonio porridge.

12 to 24 months old: Spice it up! Serve fonio cooked into and alongside savory sauces, stews, and stir-fries. If you press the fonio with the back of a fork, it sticks together a bit and may be easier for a child to self-feed. This is also a good time to encourage utensil practice, but try not to apply too much pressure. Using utensils can be exhausting for new eaters, and many children toggle back and forth between feeding themselves with their fingers and utensils. Consistent and accurate utensil use will come in due time, probably between 18 and 24 months of age.

For more information on the most important nutrients for babies, check out our Nutrient Cheat Sheet for Babies.

What are recipe ideas for cooking with fonio?

With a nutty flavor and fluffy texture, fonio tastes delicious in pilafs and salads, but the tiny grain truly shines when soaking up sauces. Use fonio as a base for soups and stews with hearty flavors, like poulet yassa, a lemony chicken stew from Senegal or palaver, a cassava leaf stew enjoyed in Sierra Leone and across West Africa. Fonio works in many recipes that call for couscous, and you can also experiment with fonio flour in baked goods or homemade pasta. Want to keep it simple for baby? Use fonio in your favorite porridge recipe.

Recipe: Fonio Porridge with Banana and Peanut Butter

a square bowl filled with fonio porridge for babies starting solids

Yield: 1 ½ cups (360 milliliters)
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Age: 6 months+

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup (45 grams) dry fonio
  • ¾ cup (180 milliliters) unsweetened full-fat coconut milk (ideally from a BPA-free can)
  • ¼ cup (60 milliliters) water
  • ½ banana
  • 1 tablespoon (16 grams) smooth peanut butter (low-sodium)
  • salt to taste for adults and older children (optional: 12 months+)

This recipe contains common allergens: peanut and coconut (coconut milk). Only serve to a child after these allergens have been safely introduced. While coconut allergy is rare, it’s classified as a tree nut by the United States Food and Drug Administration. 

Directions

  1. Start by washing the fonio to remove any sand or chaff. Fonio grains are so tiny that they fall through the holes of even the finest mesh colander. To wash fonio, place the grains in a bowl of water, swirl to loosen any grit, then tip the bowl into the sink to slowly pour out just the water. Repeat until the water runs clear.
  2. Pour the coconut milk and water into a saucepan, then stir in the fonio. Stir to combine.
  3. Bring the pot to a boil, then lower the heat to create a steady simmer. Cook, stirring consistently, until the fonio starts to thicken, about 5 minutes.
  4. Remove the saucepan from the heat, cover, and let the porridge rest for 5 minutes.
  5. Peel half of a ripe banana and reserve the other half for another use—or snack on it as the child eats.
  6. Mash and mix the banana and peanut butter into the porridge. If you are introducing peanut for the first time, use a scant amount of peanut butter – about ¼ teaspoon (~1 gram).
  7. Scoop some porridge into baby’s bowl. Exact serving size varies. Let the child decide how much to eat.
  8. If you’d like to serve some of the porridge to adults or older children, season it with salt to taste.
  9. Serve and let baby self-feed with their hands. If you’d like to encourage baby to use utensils, pre-load a utensil and place it next to the food for the child to pick up. Alternatively, pass a pre-loaded utensil in the air for the child to grab.

To Store: Fonio Porridge with Banana and Peanut Butter keeps in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days. The porridge thickens as it cools. To reheat, add a splash of coconut milk or water to the porridge before warming on the stovetop or in the microwave.

Flavor Pairings

Fonio pairs beautifully with black-eyed peas, cassava (yuca), lamb, okra, pumpkin, and tilapia.

Reviewed by

J. Truppi, MSN, CNS. Nutritionist.

V. Kalami, MNSP, RD, CSP. Pediatric Dietitian & Nutritionist.

K. Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT. Pediatric Feeding Therapist.

S. Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. Board-Certified Allergist & Immunologist (allergy section).

R. Ruiz, MD, FAAP. Board-Certified General Pediatrician & Pediatric Gastroenterologist.

  1. Comino, I., Moreno, M., Real, A., Rodríguez-Herrera, A., Barro, F., & Sousa, C. (2013). The gluten-free diet: testing alternative cereals tolerated by celiac patients. Nutrients, 5(10), 4250–4268. DOI: 10.3390/nu5104250. Retrieved January 28, 2022
  2. Glew, R. H., Laabes, E. P., Presley, J. M., Schulze, J., Andrews, R., Wang, Y. C., Chang, Y. C., & Chuang, L. T. (2013). Fatty acid, amino acid, mineral and antioxidant contents of acha (Digitaria exilis) grown on the Jos Plateau, Nigeria. International journal of nutrition and metabolism, 5(1), 1–8. DOI: 10.5897/IJNAM13. Retrieved January 28, 2022
  3. Zhu F. (2020). Fonio grains: Physicochemical properties, nutritional potential, and food applications. Compr Rev Food Sci Food Saf. 19(6):3365-3389. DOI: 10.1111/1541-4337.12608. Retrieved January 28, 2022
  4. Zhu F. (2020). Fonio grains: Physicochemical properties, nutritional potential, and food applications. Compr Rev Food Sci Food Saf. 19(6):3365-3389. DOI: 10.1111/1541-4337.12608. Retrieved January 28, 2022
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  6. Rombold, S., Ollert, M., Sbornik, M., Rakoski, J., Darsow, U., & Ring, J. (2008). Immediate-type respiratory allergy to millet-containing seed mixture of bird foodThe World Allergy Organization journal1(8), 135–137. DOI: 10.1097/WOX.0b013e31817833ef. Retrieved January 28, 2022
  7. Takahama, H., & Shimazu, T. (2008). Common millet anaphylaxis: a case of a bird-keeper sensitized to millet via inhalation, who developed anaphylaxis after oral ingestion. Clinical and experimental dermatology, 33(3), 341–342. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2230.2007.02625.x. Retrieved January 28, 2022
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