I first tasted the delicious, gluten free grain known as teff shortly after my husband and I were married. We met after work at an Ethiopian restaurant that we’d been wanting to try for quite some time. My husband was born and lived his early years in Uganda, and he was eager to introduce me to some of the flavors of his home continent.
I was immediately enthralled and delighted by the basket of soft, spongy flatbread that was brought to our table to use as an edible utensil for our meat stew.
Never having experienced the light, slightly nutty flavor of teff before, I asked the waitress about the bread’s origins. She proudly explained that injera is a traditional fermented bread made from teff flour that is a staple in Ethiopia.
Teff Consumed for Thousands of Years
According to the Whole Grains Council, teff is thought to have made its debut in the human diet around 4000 B.C. in what is today the country of Ethiopia. Ethiopians obtain approximately two-thirds of their dietary protein from teff. The ultra tiny grain, smaller even than a chia seed, is what Ethiopia’s famously competitive long distance runners credit for their energy and stamina.
The tiny size of the teff grain, which can appear dark reddish brown to yellowish brown to ivory, made it the ideal food for the semi-nomadic life common throughout Ethiopian history. Only a handful of the seed as shown in the picture above will sow an average size field no matter whether water-logged or dry, thus making teff a dependable staple no matter what the environmental conditions.
In addition to climate, teff will grow at a variety of altitudes – from sea level to nearly 10,000 feet (300 meters). The incredible versatility and hardiness of teff has resulted in its cultivation in diverse areas around the world such as mountainous Idaho, dry Australia, and low lying, wet areas of the Netherlands and India.
Teff a Nutritional Powerhouse
Despite its tiny size, teff leads all other grains, gluten free or not, in calcium by a wide margin. It also has high levels of magnesium, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, choline, Vitamin B3 (niacin), Vitamin B6, Thiamin, Pantothenic Acid, and Riboflavin.
Teff’s biggest health benefit, however, may very well be in its unique type of starch.
Teff is high in resistant starch, a special type of dietary fiber only recently getting much attention from the research community. Resistant starch benefits blood sugar management, weight control, and overall health of the large intestine.
Up to 40% of the carbohydrates in teff are composed of resistant starches!
The only downside of teff in my experience cooking and baking with it is that it is so tiny that most grain mills can’t even grind it into flour! Unless you have a special grain mill that can manage teff’s ultra miniscule size, it is best eaten in whole form as a delicious, mild, slightly nutty tasting porridge or added to soups and stews to thicken and add texture.
Teff Porridge (a Great Place to Start)
Porridge made from teff is my personal favorite beating out even that old stand-by – oatmeal. It is easy to make and a great place to start with teff in your kitchen if you don’t currently have a grain grinder that permits easy grinding of fresh teff flour. I don’t recommend purchasing teff flour, as much of the nutritional benefit is lost within a few days of grinding.
1 cup teff grains (where to find)
3 cups filtered water
1 Tbl butter
1/4 tsp ground cloves (optional)
1 tsp lemon juice or apple cider vinegar (optional)
1/4 tsp sea salt
Sprouted Teff: Teff only requires 36 hours or less to sprout – the shortest time of any grain. This is likely due to low amounts of mineral blocking phytic acid, although I was unable to find definite numbers on this to confirm.
If you would like to sprout your teff grains before cooking to add additional vitamins and render it even more digestible, follow these steps before cooking:
- Place 1 cup of teff grains in a glass sprouting jar (I like these).
- Rinse the teff grains several times with filtered water until thoroughly wet. Drain completely.
- Lay the sprouting jar on its side to allow the circulation of air.
- Every few hours, rinse again and reset the jar on its side.
- Anywhere from a few hours to at most 36 hours (depending on the time of year and warmth/humidity in your home), the tiniest of buds will appear (they are very hard to see) and the sprouted teff grains will be ready for cooking (see toasting step below).
Toasted Teff Porridge: Heat a large saucepan over medium heat, add sprouted (or unsprouted) teff grains and toast, stirring frequently until the grains begin to pop which takes just a few minutes.
Add the water, sea salt, butter and optional cloves.
Bring to a boil, cover and cook for 8-10 minutes stirring occasionally.
Soaked Teff Porridge: You also have the option to make soaked teff porridge if desired. Simply place the teff grains, filtered water, and lemon juice (or ACV) in a pot, mix well and cover overnight. In the morning, add sea salt, butter and optional cloves and cook for about 10 minutes until the water is absorbed and the porridge is of desired consistency (very similar to Cream of Wheat).
Whether you choose to make sprouted, toasted or soaked teff porridge, serve with your favorite whole sweetener (I prefer raw honey) and/or fruits and nuts of choice.
I have just finished a bowl of soaked teff porridge as I type this. I hope you enjoy this delicious, warm, and satisfying way to mix it up for breakfast!
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
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