by Karen Railey
Teff is an intriguing grain, ancient, minute in size, and packed with nutrition. Teff is believed to have originated in Ethiopia between 4000 and 1000 BC. Teff seeds were discovered in a pyramid thought to date back to 3359 BC.
The grain has been widely cultivated and used in the countries of Ethiopia, India and it’s colonies, and Australia. Teff is grown primarily as a cereal crop in Ethiopia where it is ground into flour, fermented for three days then made into enjera, a sourdough type flat bread. It is also eaten as porridge and used as an ingredient of home-brewed alcoholic drinks. The grass is grown as forage for cattle and is also used as a component in adobe construction in Ethiopia. At this time it is not widely known or used in the U.S., though it is cultivated in South Dakota and Idaho and is available in many health food stores.
The word teff is thought to have been derived from the Amharic word teffa which means “lost,” due to small size of the grain and how easily it is lost if dropped. It is the smallest grain in the world, measuring only about 1/32 of an inch in diameter and taking 150 grains to weigh as much as one grain of wheat. The common English names for teff are teff, lovegrass, and annual bunch grass.
Because the grains of teff are so small, the bulk of the grain consists of the bran and germ. This makes teff nutrient dense as the bran and germ are the most nutritious parts of any grain. This grain has a very high calcium content, and contains high levels of phosphorous, iron, copper, aluminum, barium, and thiamin. It is considered to have an excellent amino acid composition, with lysine levels higher than wheat or barley. Teff is high in protein, carbohydrates, and fiber. It contains no gluten so it is appropriate for those with gluten intolerance.
The color of the Teff grains can be ivory, light tan to deep brown or dark reddish brown purple, depending on the variety. Teff has a mild, nutty, and a slight molasses like sweetness. The white teff has a chestnut-like flavor and the darker varieties are earthier and taste more like hazelnuts. The grain is somewhat mucilaginous. It is interesting that documents dated in the late 1800’s indicate the upper class consumed the lighter grains, the dark grain was the food of soldiers and servants, and cattle consumed hay made from teff.
Teff is a fine stemmed, tufted annual grass characterized by a large crown, many shoots, and a shallow diverse root system. The plants germinate quickly and are adapted to environments ranging from drought stress to water logged soil conditions. It is a reliable low risk crop. There are 250 known species of Eragrostis, or love grasses, but only a few are of significant agricultural value.
Teff is a very versatile grain. Teff flour can be used as a substitute for part of the flour in baked goods, or the grains added uncooked or substituted for part of the seeds, nuts, or other small grains. Due to it’s small size, only 1/2 Cup of teff is needed to replace 1 cup of sesame seeds. It is a good thickener for soups, stews, gravies, and puddings and can also be used in stir-fry dishes, and casseroles. Teff may be added to soups or stews in either of two ways: 1) Add them, uncooked to the pot a half-hour before serving time. 2) Add them cooked to the pot 10 minutes before serving. Cooked teff can be mixed with herbs, seeds, beans or tofu, garlic, and onions to make grain burgers. The seeds can also be sprouted and the sprouts used in salads and on sandwiches.
To cook teff place 2 cups purified water, 1/2 cup teff, and 1/4 tsp. sea salt (optional) in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 15 to 20 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand covered for 5 minutes.
Teff should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place in tightly covered containers such as glass jars. Cooked Teff can be kept in the refrigerator, but should be used within a few days.
This grain would be a worthy and healthful addition to your diet. Be creative, use your imagination, and enjoy this wonderful nutritious grain.