Teff: What Is It and Why Use It
Picture of teff grain. Photo Credit: BigStock Images
What Is Teff?
Teff is an ancient grain that is naturally gluten free and has a consistency similar to whole wheat flour, yet is a bit more dense. It is small, likened to the size of a poppy seed. It is always eaten whole because it is so small, yet can be ground into flours which make it ideal for baking.
From Where Does It Come?
Teff hails from Ethopia, Africa, with origination dating back to 4000 - 1000 B.C.E.! It an extremely hearty grain, known to grow well in waterlogged areas in addition to regions struck by drought. It is also a grain that could be considered friendly to the Earth, as a simple handful of this grain can sow a standard field. Additionally, teff cooks quickly, which can conserve fuel in areas where this is a potential concern. (Source)
What Does It Taste Like?
Teff has an earthy flavor, with an underlying hint of malt. It almost has a cocoa-esque quality to it. Because of these qualities, Food and Wine magazine suggests pairing it with cocoa, chocolate, brown butter, as well as brown sugar in recipes. In Ethiopian cuisine, it is most known for being part of a staple pancake/crepe, called injera, that is served with each meal as a savory accompaniment. However, because of the cocoa-like element of teff, it works beautifully in sweet dishes as well. (Source)
What Are the Health Benefits?
Teff is rich in calcium, fiber and protein. In fact, Ethiopians rely on teff for approximately 2/3 of their dietary protein needs! Famed long-distance runners credit their endurance and health to this tiny grain. Another bonus is that the nature of the protein found in teff is similar to that of the protein in egg whites, and has been found to be easily digested.
Additionally, it is high in what has been newly discovered and termed “resistant starch”. This variety of starch is ideal because it is a class of fiber that can assist in blood sugar management, and does not cause a blood sugar spike like other starches. This fiber also has been found to benefit weight control and colon health. It has been thought to be a decent source of iron, however, the Whole Grains Council found that the iron content is more linked to the amount detected in the soil. (Source)
Photo of gluten free teff flour.
How Do I Use It?
Teff can be eaten whole, made crunchier for salad toppings, or a creamier version recommends 1 cup of teff to 3 cups of broth or water. Teff can also be ground into flour, which as noted above, is ideal for gluten free baking. Because it is a bit denser, I prefer to use it in combination with other flours, specifically tapioca or potato flour. I only use these latter flours as what I would call an “accessory” flour to round out the teff flour.
Additionally, because teff is a bit grainy (think finely ground cornmeal, but a bit softer), pairing it with textured foods is helpful. For example, I make deliciously fluffy and gluten free Teff and Oatmeal Waffles, and I add in oatmeal to again, help round out the texture. Nuts, chocolate chips, flax seeds, coconut flakes are all great options for pairing when baking and/or cooking with teff.
Photo of Teff and Oatmeal Waffles
If you are substituting teff in for a gluten free mix or a recipe with whole wheat flour, it can work really well. However, do keep in mind the unique qualities of teff; it is denser, a bit grainy and has an underlying earthy tone similar to cocoa. Remember these tips, and you can easily take advantage of teff and the all of the health benefits of this gluten free grain!
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