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Discovering Acha – Fonio

by on February 28, 2016
 

The first time I hear about Acha, its 2014, and from a doctor friend of mine in Port Harcourt. She has gorgeous red hair and used to live in the North of Nigeria. We talk about my love for ‘Arewa cuisine’ and she tells me about ‘hungry rice’, how she loves it.

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Its 2016 when I taste it. In all that time, I haven’t forgotten it, so when C, offers to send me some, I’m game. At first glance it looks like couscous but….it isn’t. This is a grain, whereas couscous is a product from durum semolina.  

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When I cook it though, it also reminds me of a slightly earthier couscous.

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So what is Acha? It is a cereal/ grain found in sub-saharan African from Senegal to (Northern) Nigeria and Cameroun. It bears a resemblance to couscous except it is a grain versus a milled durum wheat product, which couscous is.

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Common names: Fonio, Acha

Botanical name: Digitaria exilis (White fonio)  Stapf and Digitaria iburua Stapf (black fonio)

Family: Millet. 

Provenance: 

The white fonio (Digitaria exilis) is found from Senegal to Chad. In Nigeria, it is grown in the central upland plateau

The other species, black fonio (Digitaria iburua), is restricted to the Jos-Bauchi Plateau of Nigeria as well as to northern regions of Togo and Benin.

Culinary Uses

I’ve made it ‘pilaf’ style –  like couscous. I’ve had a pap made from it, and I’ve read about porridges, pudding -like cakes, pancakes and other sorts of things made out of the grains and flour.

‘In the Hausa region of Nigeria and Benin, people prepare a couscous (wusu-wusu) out of both types of fonio. In northern Togo, the Lambas brew a famous beer (tchapalo) from white fonio. In southern Togo, the Akposso and Akebou peoples prepare fonio with beans in a dish that is reserved for special occasions.’ Source

 

I look forward to exploring Acha.

Have you tried it before?