What you need to know about teff
- Teff (Eragrostis tef) is an ancient cereal crop native to Ethiopia, where it is used to make injera/engera, a sourdough-type flatbread that is essential part of every meal.
- Alternative names for teff are lovegrass and annual bunch grass.
- Teff comes in several varieties, which vary in color from ivory to reddish/purplish brown. The taste also varies with the color. Ivory has a mild, chestnutty taste, while the darker varieties have a more earthy, haselnutty taste.
- It is the smallest of all grains, at around 0.8mm (1/32”) in diameter. Remarkably, this small size leads to teff’s very high nutritional content. Every grain consists of the germ (the future plant), the endosperm (the energy supply of the seed) and the bran (the outer skin of the seed). The germ and the bran are the nutrition-dense parts of the seed, rich in proteins, vitamins, minerals and fiber. The endosperm contains most of the carbohydrates. Because teff grain is so tiny, it is mostly made up of germ and bran, making it a concentrated package of nutrients.
According to the FDA, teff is:
- an excellent source of Thiamin, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Copper, Manganese, Protein and Fiber. The food contains 20% or more of the RDI for these nutrients.
- a good source of Vitamin B6, Niacin, Folate, Calcium and Zinc. This means that the food contains 10% or more of the RDI for these nutrients.
Teff is also:
- high in protein (14% of the grain) and complex carbohydrates (80%), including dietary fiber. Teff proteins are similar to the easily digestible egg-white albumins, and are rich in all 8 essential amino acids of humans (amino acids our body cannot synthesize). They are an especially good source of lysine, an essential amino acid that most people get form meat, dairy and legumes, but which is hard to obtain by those who avoid these food groups.
- 20-40% of the carbohydrates in teff is resistant starch (indigestible starch that functions as dietary fiber), which is being recognized as an important factor in blood-sugar management, weight control, and colon health
- has low glycemic index
- low in saturated fat and sodium
In Ethiopia, where teff-based injera can represent as much 70% of all nutritional intake, the incidence of anemia, osteoporosis, celiac disease and obesity are very low.
Interesting facts about teff
- The name, “teff” is derived from the Amharic “teffa” which translates as lost. Given the size of the grain a fitting name.
- Teff grains dating back almost 4000 years were found in a pyramid.
- 150 teff grains are equal in size to one kernel of wheat. One pound of teff grains can grow an acre of teff, while 100 pounds or more of wheat grains are needed to grow an acre of wheat.
- Three thousand grains of teff weigh just one gram (1/28 of an ounce).
- Teff requires only 36 hours to sprout, the shortest time of any grain.
- 1 pound of teff can produce up to 1 ton of grain in as little as 12 weeks.
- Teff can grow in a large variety of soil types and at a large range of elevations.
- It has few diseases compared to other cereal crops.
- Its tiny size, fast growth and resilience made teff ideal for the semi-nomadic lifestyle of ancient Ethiopia.
- Teff is fermented by a symbiotic yeast living in the soluble fiber on the grain’s surface (like the blush on grapes).
- In Ethiopia, teff is also grown as forage for cattle and also used in adobe construction and is used to make home-brewed alcohol.
More About Ethiopian Food: Teff. Doris Piccinin, D., & Woldetatios, T.
The Ethiopian Cereal Tef in Celiac Disease. Spaenij-Dekking, L., Kooy-Winkelaar, Y., Koning, F. New England Journal of Medicine, 353(16), 2005.
Survey on the nutritional and health aspects of teff (Eragrostis Tef). Arguedas Gamboa P., & van Ekris, L.