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All About Teff, the Ancient Grain Gaining Popularity

Teff is a gluten-free and lectin-free grain, rich in nutrients, which can be found on the market as grain, flour, or flakes. Like millet, sorghum, and fonio, teff is a gut-healthy grain that is better tolerated than other common grains and pseudo-grains. It is a staple food crop for millions of people and is most commonly used to make flatbread, sourdough bread, and porridge.

What is teff?

Eragrostis tef, or teff, also called lovegrass, is one of the earliest plants cultivated, originating from 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 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.

Teff comes in a variety of colors, from ivory to dark 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 dark; 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.

Teff is sold on the market today mainly as:

  • grain
  • flour
  • flakes

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 – is probably the most popular way to use it in the Western world.

Grain – is maybe less popular than flour; these small grains are easy to cook and can be used to replace any other grains or pseudo-grains. Great to make porridge.

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

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, 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.

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

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. While it is easier to digest and healthier 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.

Does teff have lectins?

Luckily, teff is naturally gluten-free and lectin-free, which makes it a great alternative to grains for those sensitive to gluten and 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
The 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, sweet taste, with a slight taste profile difference depending on the type. Brown teff has a rich and robust, earthy hazelnut flavor, while ivory is milder, with a slightly sweet, chestnut-like flavor.

How to cook it

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 this Green Banana Teff Flour Muffins.

Teff-Hazelnut Banana Bread
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 to make a sourdough starter.

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

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

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 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 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

*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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