Ancient grains such as sorghum, fonio and teff are trending. As are tasty moringa and the equally versatile but lesser known tamarind. “From indigenous superfoods to rich, earthy dishes, traditional West African flavors are popping up everywhere in food and in beverage,” reads Whole Foods’ report on Food Trends for 2020. “The 16 nations within West Africa share similar foods, but each have their own specialities, based on subtle influences from the Middle East and Western Europe.” Packed with vitamins, minerals and micronutrients, the African grass sorghum is a gluten-free grain that is currently the 5th most commonly grown crop in the world…behind wheat, rice, corn and barley. Sorghum grains are milled into flour and used in porridge, unleavened bread, cookies, cakes, couscous and malted beverages. Eating the whole grain will ensure the most nutrition; all that’s required is to soak in water overnight and boil as rice. Fonio has a nutty aroma and pebble-like texture, like a cross between couscous and quinoa. The grain is naturally vegan, gluten-free and packed with vitamins. It’s also rich in methionine and cystine, both essential amino acids, and boasts 12 grams of protein per cup. Traditionally, Fonio is used to make a breakfast porridge, but can also substitute for your favorite grain in most recipes. Moringa has two times the protein of yogurt, 4 times the Vitamin A of carrots, 3 times the potassium of bananas, 4 times the calcium of milk and 7 times the Vitamin C of oranges! Need we say more? Add moringa pods to soups, stews, gravies, stirfry — they’re highly versatile. You can also cook them as you would okra or green beans. The tart tropical fruit tamarind improves digestion, helps reduce weight, prevents ulcers, fights cancer and helps manage diabetes, all while adding an appealing pucker to your favorite dishes and drinks. Tired of eating the same thing all the time? Go West African.
A staple in the Ethiopian diet, Teff is the size of a poppy seed, yet packs a serious punch of calcium, iron, copper, aluminium, and more. It can be used as an alternative to wheat. It came to national attention in the U.S. after an article in The New York Times quoted Boston runner Laura Ingalls: “Teff is like a runner’s super food,” she said. “It’s great as a pre-race meal. It’s high in iron and it’s a whole grain so it provides a slow release of energy, which is exactly what I need.” Due to its high mineral levels, Teff has long been beloved by endurance athletes, as well as Ethiopia’s legendary long distance runners, including 1996 and 2000 Olympic Gold Medalist Haile Gebrselassie.