We encountered gofio on our very first night in La Gomera, when the proprietress of Imada‘s lone restaurant set down a bowlful next to our soups. And we’ve encountered it every day since. Gofio is the most Canarian of foods, used in soups, breakfasts, desserts, main dishes, candies, and drinks. We suspect that some eat it by the spoonful. The people of the Canary Islands just can’t seem to get enough.
There’s no great secret to gofio. It’s finely-ground flour, made from a variety of toasted grains and cereals, most commonly wheat. It thickens soups, adds nutritional value to breakfasts, and has as many uses as regular flour. It’s not uncommon for gofio to be served on the side, as we learned in Imada, so that the diner can sprinkle it upon any dish of their choosing. Or all of them.
Gofio originates from the time of the guanches, the aboriginal inhabitants of the Canary Islands. Toasting the grains before grinding them has practical benefits, such as destroying mold (which is especially important in a moist climate like that of the Canaries), and improving flavor, to say nothing of its hearty nutritional kick. Thanks to the influence of the Canary Islands, its use has spread to the Caribbean, although strangely not to the rest of Spain.
On our initial walk through Las Mercedes, we were thrilled to find a traditional gofio mill just minutes from our house. We entered, and were immediately greeted by the owner, Tito, as though we were long-lost friends. In between serving customers, Tito and his sister explained the milling process and described all the uses and benefits of this amazing product.
Las Mercedes’ Molina La Concepción is one of a handful of traditional mills remaining on Tenerife, as production has modernized and largely moved into factories. But to judge by the steady stream of customers entering the shop, all of them ordering massive bags of gofio, La Concepción doesn’t have anything to worry about. The mill has been in Tito’s family for over eighty years, and when I asked if his children would someday take over from him, he looked surprised by the question. “Of course! It’s what we do!”
At first, we didn’t understand the appeal, but it didn’t take long for Jürgen and I to catch the gofio bug. We brought home a couple bags from La Concepción, one made from wheat, the other from hazelnut, and have taken to mixing it into our cereal every morning. By the end of our 91 days on Tenerife, we might be gobbling it up by the spoonful.