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 that is a staple in Ethiopia.
Traditional 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 seed as shown in the picture above will sow an average size field no matter whether water-logged or dry! Thus, this practical grain is 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). Its incredible versatility and hardiness has resulted in cultivation in diverse areas around the world. This includes mountainous Idaho, dry Australia, and low lying, wet areas of the Netherlands and India.
Is Teff Gluten Free?
Teff is one of the most nutritious of all gluten free grains.
Teff is high in many critical vitamins and minerals.
Magnesium, calcium, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese round out the top six mineral nutrients.
Teff is extremely rich in B complex. It contains excellent amounts of choline, Vitamin B3 (niacin), Vitamin B6, Thiamin, Pantothenic Acid, and Riboflavin.
Teff Contains a Special Kind of Fiber
The biggest health benefit of teff may very well be its unique type of prebiotic 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 gut strengthening resistant starches!
Milling Teff Grains
There is only downside to this amazing grain in my experience cooking and baking with it. Can you guess? 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. Alternatively, you can add it to soups or stews to thicken and add texture.
How to Sprout Teff Grains
The tiny size of this gluten free grain requires only 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 in a glass sprouting jar (I use these).
- Rinse the 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 or soaked teff porridge is my personal favorite for a hot breakfast cereal. It beats out even that old stand-by overnight oatmeal. It is easy to make and a great place to start with teff in your kitchen.
This is especially true if you don’t currently have a specialized appliance that permits easy grinding of the tiny grains into fresh flour. I don’t recommend purchasing the flour for baking, as much of the nutritional benefit is lost within a few days of grinding.
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