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Discovering Teff

I really thought that it might be time to have my eyeglass prescription renewed. There seriously couldn’t be a grain called “teff,” could there?

            I had just run into my health food store to pick up a few necessities: buckwheat groats, spelt pasta and my favourite over-priced (according to Jordan) marigold and hemp shampoo. There it was; one bin over. A grain labelled “teff.” Even now, looking at the word, it doesn’t seem like a real word. Despite my nearly obsessive need to know everything, I had to leave this one for another day; I had promised the kids macaroni and cheese and if I wanted to sneak in the spelt pasta, I had to beat them home.

            I truly thought that when I entered the word “teff” into my search engine, I would end up with either the dreaded “Your search-teff-did not match any documents. No pages were found containing-teff.” Or, alternatively, I was expecting references to the manufacturing of a stick-resistant coating for pots and pans.

            I was partially right. I did get a lot of information on a product called “TefCoat”. But I also found an overwhelming number of articles on teff, the food. Teff is just one of the ancient grains, along with spelt, kamut, quinoa, and amaranth, which had been “lost” but has been rediscovered by North Americans.

            It really amazes me how our civilization has managed to lose foods that were important sources of nourishment for thousands of years. Was it due to laziness, a lack of enthusiasm and creativity in the kitchen or purely economic dictates. For whichever reason, we should feel lucky that there are growers and environmentalists who have made it their mission to improve the biodiversity of our food resources.

            Teff, unlike other ancient grains, never really disappeared. It has just been hiding out in Ethiopia, where it is a staple in the diet. Ethiopians use the ground grain to make their flatbread, injera, which is eaten with every meal.

            Teff has the distinction of being the tiniest grain known. The name comes from the Amharic word for “lost,” because if dropped, the grain would be impossible to find.

The more common English name for the grain is “Lovegrass.” The explanation for this word escapes even me. Teff is from the grass species Eragrostis. Because the grain is so tiny, it is difficult to remove the bran from the grain and therefore it is always eaten whole. This makes teff one of the most nutritious grains. Teff retains all of its iron, is high in all of the amino acids, is a good source of calcium, and is gluten-free. It is thought that this may be the reason why Ethiopians do not suffer anemia. Due to religious and cultural dietary restrictions, they do no consume much meat.   

I have not tried teff yet; I am biodiversifying my family one grain at a time. It is described as having a sweet, nutty flavour and is said to be very good as an addition to cereals, baked goods and veggie burgers. It can be cooked until soft and eaten like porridge, or added uncooked or slightly moistened to other foods. It can be used as a thickener for stews and gravies or fermented to make an alcoholic beverage.

            It seems timely that teff should be re-discovered by North American farmers. Not only is teff highly nutritious, but also the fact that it has been the staple crop in Ethiopia for thousands of years attests to its high drought resistance. Teff is an important forage crop for cattle and its straw is used to reinforce plaster buildings. Teff thrives well with little rain, but it will also grow where there is too much rain! Farmers in South Dakota and Idaho are already starting to grow this resilient grain.

            I hope that for the future of our children, the trend to assimilate these dynamic grains into our culture continues.



Wouldn’t you just know it. When I actually tried to get my Internet search to fail, in order to recall the message it gives (Your search…did not match…) I couldn’t lose. I tried “zzzzzzab”  and I still got a hit! Some obscure French site listing statistics about something that I couldn’t read. Unbelievable!