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Discover Teff: Easy Starter Guide and Recipe Ideas

July 18, 2022 (Last Updated: March 6, 2024)

Looking for a nutritious, gluten-free, and lectin-free grain to add to your diet? Look no further than teff, an ancient Ethiopian superfood that has been gaining popularity in recent years due to its impressive health benefits and culinary versatility.

Packed with essential nutrients like protein, fiber, and iron, the teff grain is a great option for those with gluten and lectin sensitivities or anyone looking to incorporate a nutrient-dense grain into their diet.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the many health benefits and creative culinary uses of teff, so you can start incorporating this tiny but mighty grain into your meals today.

What is teff?

Eragrostis tef, or teff, also called lovegrass, is one of the earliest plants cultivated, originating from the Horn of Africa (modern-day Ethiopia and Eritrea).

Like millet, it is technically a seed, part of the Poaceae family. Also called ‘the world’s smallest grain, ‘ teff’s grains are as small as poppy seeds.

At the moment, Ethiopia produces about 90% of the world’s production, but the increase in popularity of this ancient grain has attracted other countries such as Australia and the United States.

Maskal Teff, by The Teff Company, is produced 100% in the US, providing the Ethiopian and Eritrean communities living in the US with their staple grain.

What is teff flour?

Teff flour is made by milling the ripe grain of the teff plant. The flour is naturally gluten-free and lectin-free, high in protein, calcium, and fiber. It is high in resistant starch and comes in different varieties, including brown, ivory, and white, and it has a mild, nutty flavor.

Teff flour is excellent for making gluten-free sourdough bread.

Ivory teff vs. brown teff

Teff comes in a variety of colors, from ivory to brown, so do not get confused if some of the flour or products are darker or lighter than others. The grain doesn’t have a hull, so all teff is whole grain, regardless of color.

According to Teff Tribe, an Australian producer of local teff, there is no nutritional difference between ivory and brown; however, the taste profile is slightly different. Brown teff has a rich and robust, earthy hazelnut flavor. Ivory is milder, with a slightly sweet, chestnut-like flavor.

From my experience working with teff flour to make gluten-free and lectin-free sourdough bread, brown teff is more absorbent than ivory teff, so it would require more liquid.

Ivory teff flour and brown teff flour on a plate.
Ivory teff flour vs. brown teff flour

Teff is sold on the market today mainly as:

  • grain
  • flour
  • flakes

A few other teff products exist, like gluten-free pasta, but it’s not as common as other gluten-free flours yet.

Is teff healthy?

Cooked teff is an excellent protein, dietary fiber, and manganese source. Naturally gluten-free and lectin-free, it is highly nutritious, rich in minerals such as iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, potassium, and selenium, and exceptionally high in lysine.

Due to its high mineral content, it is sometimes used in baby food. It is estimated that 20-40% of the carbohydrates in teff are resistant starches.

Teff has the highest content of calcium of all grains: 123g in a cup of cooked teff.

According to this article in Healthline (citing a PubMed Study), teff is an excellent source of plant-based protein, boasting all the essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein in your body.

Similar to sorghum, millet, and fonio, teff has a lower glycemic index than other more popular grains such as wheat, quinoa, and buckwheat, probably due to its high protein and fiber content. So it might have a milder impact on blood sugar than other starches.

While it is easier to digest and there are more health benefits than other grains and pseudo-grains, we should apply moderation when including it in our diet.

Like other grains and plants, teff contains these two anti-nutrients: tannins and phytates. When consumed in excess, these anti-nutrients will interfere with the absorption of minerals, leading to lower bioavailability of minerals in the gut.

Soaking, heating, and fermentation are proven ways to reduce these types of anti-nutrients.

Is teff gluten-free?

Luckily, teff is naturally gluten-free and lectin-free, which makes it a great alternative to grains for those sensitive to gluten and lectins. If you have celiac disease, make sure you purchase from a brand that is gluten-free certified, as cross-contamination may occur.

Does teff have lectins?

Teff contains tannins and phytates which are decreased during traditional fermentation in bread making using teff flour. Because of the way it’s prepared, teff should be safe. Like sorghum and millet, teff is hull less and should not contain significant lectins. 

Dr. Steven Gundry, MD, author of The Plant Paradox, July 2022
Teff grain in a small bowl and a wooden spoon
Teff grain is lectin-free

What does teff taste like?

If you have ever had injera, the famous Ethiopian fermented bread, you might think teff is sour and quite strong for a Western palate. But it has an earthy, nutty flavor and a sweet taste, with a slight taste profile difference depending on the type.

Brown teff has a rich and robust, earthy hazelnut flavor (to me, it also has a chocolatey flavor), while ivory is milder, with a slightly sweet, chestnut-like flavor.

Where to buy teff?

Like with any grains or pseudo-grains, I prefer to buy certified organic brands, or at least non-GMO. These are some suggestions you find on Amazon:

Flour: Teff, ground into flour, is probably the most popular way to use it in the Western world.

Grain: Is less popular than flour; these tiny grains are easy to cook and can replace any other grains or pseudo-grains. Great to make porridge.

Flakes: Unfortunately not yet easy to find in food stores in the US, but more common in Europe and Australia. You will find them in health food stores, and they are perfect for use in porridge, smoothies, granolas, salads, and much more.

Also, check out our shop site for more lectin-free and gluten-free products.

Note for people with celiac disease: due to cross-contamination, you will still have to make sure these grains are handled in a gluten-free facility and the packaging is labeled gluten-free.

How to cook teff

Lightly toast the grains for about 2 to 3 minutes in a saucepan (with or without oil), then add three times the amount of water, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a gentle simmer, and cook for about 12-15 minutes until all the water is absorbed and you get a creamy consistency. Stir occasionally.

For a sweet version, like a porridge, add sweetener and flavors to taste. Suggestions for add-ons and flavors:

  • Spices: cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla, orange or lemon zest, salt
  • Sweeteners: inulin powder, yacon syrup, raw honey, allulose, monk fruit
  • Nuts and nut butter
  • Coconut milk, coconut oil, coconut flakes
  • Hemp milk, hemp seeds
  • Fresh or frozen berries

You can use cooked teff in savory dishes: polenta, risotto, salads, couscous, meatballs, falafel, Buddha bowls etc.

In my first book – The Living Well Without Lectins Cookbook, I have a delicious bread recipe that is vegan and lectin-free. The texture reminds me of rye bread, only much better tasting, in my opinion: Teff-Hazelnut Banana Bread, page 61.

For a delicious sweet treat, try these Green Banana Teff Flour Muffins.

Teff-Hazelnut Banana Bread
Teff-Hazelnut Banana Bread
Green Banana Teff Flour Muffins
Green Banana Teff Flour Muffins

Making sourdough bread with teff flour

By far, the healthiest way to introduce teff into your diet is by using it to make sourdough bread.

My method for making gluten-free and lectin-free sourdough bread includes a combination of teff, millet, and sorghum flours. Here you find our Beginner’s Guide to Baking Gluten-Free Sourdough Bread.

When you have this starter, you will be able to use any of the three flours, in any combination, to make all types of baked goods and sourdough bread. You can also make only teff bread.

Teff, millet, and sorghum sourdough bread
Teff, millet, and sorghum sourdough bread
Teff, millet, and sorghum focaccia
Teff, millet, and sorghum focaccia
Teff, millet, and sorghum rustic rolls
Teff, millet, and sorghum rustic rolls

Teff Sourdough Bread with Cardamom

This bread is so delicious, with a rich, nutty, almost chocolatey taste. It is made with my lectin-free and gluten-free sourdough starter.

Freshly baked teff sourdough bread with cardamom
Two slices of the teff sourdough bread with butter

Learn to make authentic injera

Injera is an Ethiopian and Eritrean fermented flatbread made using teff flour and a pretty long and intricate fermentation process. I’ve tried once to simplify this process and skip some steps, and it didn’t work well, but I’m planning to try again, using my sourdough starter.

So far, this is the most detailed and authentic recipe for injera I could find on the internet by The Teff Company:

If you are planning to eat injera in an Ethiopian restaurant in the US or another Western country, please ask the chef if their injera is made with 100% teff flour. They usually add buckwheat flour to the mix to adapt to the Western palate, but also because it is cheaper. This is ok if you follow a gluten-free diet but not ok if you follow the plant paradox or a lectin-free diet, as buckwheat has lectins.

If you are lucky, they will have 100% teff injera only for the “connaisseurs” (it happened to me).

Teff flour products

At the moment I’m writing this, there are not many food products made with teff (other than plain flour, grains, and flakes) available on Amazon or other grocery stores in the US. One of the reasons is probably that it is not as readily available as other gluten- and lectin-free grains and is more expensive.

Conclusion

Teff is a great addition to any diet and is especially valuable for those with gluten and lectin sensitivities. It is also low FODMAP (at 2/3 cup serving), is high in protein and fiber, and is particularly rich in nutrients.

While heat will remove some of its anti-nutrients, the healthiest way to consume it is in moderation and when it goes through a fermentation process. It is also suitable for baby food.

As teff grows in popularity, it is important that in the Western world, we acknowledge the important role it plays in Ethiopian and Eritrean cultures and identities and support a sustainable and fair teff trade.

For more information on lectin-free and gluten-free grains and flours, you can check these articles:

Teff grain, flour, and flakes
Teff grain, flour, and flakes

*This post contains affiliated links, which means I get a small commission if you choose to purchase something via one of my links, at no extra cost to you.

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Almaz Desta Zewde
    December 6, 2023 at 3:10 pm

    Great review.

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