Meet the Ethiopian Super Grain: Teff

By Lynnda Laurie, Boardmember

Are you familiar with the tiny, gluten-free and super nutritious grain called Teff?  A relatively new introduction to U.S. grocery stores, teff is believed to have been cultivated in Ethiopia and Eritrea before 1000 BC! The word teff originates from the Amharic word “teffa” which translates as “lost”, due to its very tiny size. Three thousand grains weigh just one gram (1/28 of 1 ounce!), or 150 teff grains equal 1 kernel of wheat!

Unlike many other grains, teff can be grown at elevations from sea level to 3000 meters. It can tolerate water laden soil or dry conditions. Packed with protein and calcium, teff is a perfect grain for a country plagued by food insecurity. One pound of teff seed can plant one acre of land whereas it would take one hundred pounds of wheat to plant the same acreage.

Ethiopian marathon runners attribute their success, in part, to their diet, which includes the staple, injera, made from teff. Those who enjoy Ethiopian food certainly know injera, the pancake-like bread served as both plate and utensils.  Because of the small size of the grain, the bran and germ cannot be separated, allowing the color of the flour to range from light tan to red to brown.

Many of the farmers in the Project Ethiopia area of Dangla grow teff. Not only is the grain an important food source, but the straw is a main component in the building process for both schools and homes. Once the building frame is created using eucalyptus branches, a mixture of mud and straw is made using teff straw after harvest is complete. The mud is mixed together and then must “rest” for a few weeks to age properly. This process is repeated a few times before the plaster is ready to be applied to the walls, both interior and exterior.

Are you interested in experimenting with teff flour? It can be purchased on-line or at local Ethiopian markets. I’ve been using the flour in traditional sugar cookie recipes, substituting teff for up to one third of the wheat flour.  The flavor change is subtle, somewhat nutty, the color is light brown and there are never any left overs! Here is my recipe:

  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ cup teff flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 stick butter
  • ½ c sugar
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 T yogurt

Cream butter and sugar. Add dry ingredients, then yogurt. Roll out on floured surface and cut with cookie cutters. Bake at 350 for 12 minutes.

Note:  Much of my information came from “The International Footprint of Teff: Resurgence of An Ancient Ethiopian Grain” by Annette Crymes, 2015, Washington University in St. Louis.

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