What is Teff?

A popular staple food in Ethiopia for centuries, teff is a cereal grain native to northeastern Africa and southwestern Arabia.

Teff, or tef, is a cereal grain native to northeastern Africa and southwestern Arabia. Although it has been used in Ethiopia in particular for centuries, this grain was not widely known in other parts of the world until the late 20th century, when farmers in the central United States and Australia began experimenting with the grain. Growing demand for alternative grains has made them more readily available, especially in urban areas. Typically, health food stores and large grocery stores stock flour or whole grains of teff.

Teff grains are extremely small.

The word comes from the Amharic language. Teff means “lost”, a reference to the fact that the beans are so small that the beans that have fallen will be impossible to find. The fine grains grow on long, delicate stalks of an annual grass of the lovegrass group, the genus Eragrostis. In fact, the grains are so small that enough seeds to sow an entire field can easily be held in your hand or in a small bag, making it an extremely portable crop.

Teff can be used to make bread.

Many plants in the lovegrass group are grown for use as animal feed. Normally, the animals graze in the grass fields, although some farmers may also cut and bale the grasses. Teff has been eaten by humans and animals for thousands of years, with botanists suspecting that it may have been domesticated as far back as 4,000 BC. It is a staple in Ethiopian cuisine.

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Teff can be used as a substitute for gluten-free flour.

The grain has a very mild nutty flavor and also has a strong nutritional impact. Teff has an excellent balance of amino acids and is also rich in protein, calcium and iron. Along with other alternative grains like quinoa and millet, this grain has become well known in the health food community due to its great nutritional value.

There are several ways to use teff. In Ethiopia, it is the main ingredient in injera, a type of leavened bread served with most meals, much like naan in India. It can also be ground into flour to make an excellent alternative to gluten-free flour and can be used to make crusts for pies, cookies, breads, and a variety of other baked goods. Teff can also be eaten whole and steamed, boiled or roasted as a side dish or main dish.

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