Wednesday 20 November 2019

There's a new gluten-free supergrain on the block

Never heard of teff? You soon will – it's making waves for all the right reasons, writes Rozanne Stevens

Rozanne Stevens
Rozanne Stevens
Teff Apple Cinnamon Pancakes
Wholegrain teff flour

Rozanne Stevens

Move over quinoa! There is a new super-grain on the block and his name is teff. He's new to our Western neighbourhood but he's already making big waves in the world of nutrition and food.

Teff is a tiny poppy seed-like grain, cultivated for centuries in Ethiopia and surrounding countries, and forms a staple part of the traditional diet. From our modern-day perspective, teff is an exciting grain as it is gluten free, packed with calcium and vitamin C and is a slow-releasing carbohydrate highly beneficial for people with Type 2 diabetes.

High in fibre and plant protein, teff is the antithesis of our modern, refined, over-processed, nutrient-poor Western diet.

Teff is thought to have originated in Ethiopia as far back as 4000BC. Its name is often assumed to be related to the word "lost" in Amharic – because of the tiny size (less than 1mm diameter, similar to a poppy seed) of its seeds.

Teff is a highly resilient, high-yield grain, which is ideally suited to semi-nomadic life in areas of Ethiopia and Eritrea where it has long thrived.

A handful of teff is enough to sow a typical field, and it cooks quickly, using less fuel than other foods. Teff also thrives in both waterlogged soils and during droughts, making it a dependable staple wherever it's grown.

No matter what the weather, teff crops will likely survive, as they are also relatively free of plant diseases compared to other cereal crops.

Teff can grow where many other crops won't thrive, and in fact can be produced from sea level to as high as 3,000 meters above sea level, with maximum yield at about 1,800-2,100 metres high. This versatility could explain why teff is now being cultivated in areas as diverse as dry and mountainous Idaho and the low and wet Netherlands.

Teff is also being grown in India, Australia and Canada. Growing in the fields, teff appears purple, grey, red or yellowish brown. Seeds range from dark reddish brown to yellowish brown to ivory.

Top Reasons to Try Teff:

* Gluten free: Teff opens up a whole new world of delicious foods for coeliacs and those following a gluten-free diet. Teff is milled down into a flour and used to produce a variety of delicious, gluten-free baked goods. Teff flour won't work in all recipes, such as yeast bread, but can be substituted for wheat flour.

* Valuable source of plant protein:

Teff has a high protein content – about 14pc of the grain – which makes it a valuable source of plant protein. The protein in teff is very easy to digest and assimilate, similar to how the body digests egg whites.

* Calcium rich:

Teff leads all the grains – by a wide margin – in its calcium content, with a cup of cooked teff offering 123 mg, about the same amount of calcium as in a half-cup of cooked spinach. This makes it the ideal food for children, pregnant women and those with a family history of osteoporosis.

* Vitamin C rich: It's also an excellent source of vitamin C, a nutrient not commonly found in grains. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, which has to be constantly replenished. Modern diets are lacking in vitamin C as our consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables – the most abundant source of vitamin C – is pitifully low.

* Resistant starch: Teff is high in resistant starch, a newly discovered type of dietary fibre that can benefit blood-sugar management, weight control and colon health. It's estimated that 20-40pc of the carbohydrates in teff are resistant starches. A gluten-free grain with a mild flavour, teff is a healthy and versatile ingredient for many gluten-free products, which can be over-processed and highly refined.

* High fibre: Since teff's bran and germ make up a large percentage of the tiny grain, and it's too small to process, teff is always eaten in its whole form.

It's been estimated that Ethiopians get about two-thirds of their dietary protein from teff. Many of Ethiopia's famed long-distance runners attribute their energy and health to teff.


Experimenting with Teff in the Kitchen: Traditionally in Ethiopia, teff is usually ground into flour and fermented to make the spongy, sourdough bread known as injera. The natural yeasts in the seed ferment the grain – very much like the bloom on grapes.

In Ethiopia and traditional Ethiopian restaurants, they have the wonderful tradition of using injera as an edible serving plate.

Food is piled on a large round of injera on a tray in the middle of the table and different foods are served directly on to the injera.

The diners eat by tearing off bits of injera, and rolling the food inside.

Ethiopians also use teff to make porridge and for alcoholic beverages, including tella and katikala.

Today, teff is moving way beyond its traditional uses. It's an ingredient in pancakes, snacks, breads, cereals and many other products, especially those created for the gluten-free market. You can also buy teff wraps, which are so versatile.

White or ivory teff has the mildest flavour, with darker varieties having an earthier taste. Those who have only tasted teff in injera assume it has a sour taste, but when it is not fermented (made into a sourdough), teff has a sweet and light flavour. Ivory and brown teff are sweet-tasting grains unlike any other.

Brown teff has a subtle hazelnut, almost chocolate-like, flavour and a moist texture similar to millet (but more exotic).

Try experimenting baking with teff flour by swopping 25pc of the wheat flour in the recipe for teff flour. Start off with easy, resilient recipes such as banana bread, muffins and fruit cake.

For crunchy teff to use on salads, soups and like poppy seeds in baking: combine one cup with one cup of water. Cook for six to seven minutes then let it stand with the lid on for five minutes.

For creamier, porridge-like teff or to use as a side dish: cook one cup of teff in three cups of water or stock for 20 minutes until creamy and softened. Serve as a sweet porridge or as a savoury side dish.

You can find teff and teff flour in health shops and ethnic shops or order it online. The brands that I have come across are Suma and Bob's Red Mill.


Teff Apple Cinnamon Pancakes

Makes 15 pancakes


* 2 cups of teff flour

* 1 tbsp baking powder

* 1 tbsp arrowroot (available in health shops)

* 1/2 tsp sea salt

* 1 tsp ground cinnamon

* 1 grated apple (leave the skin on)

* 2 tbsp sunflower oil

* 300ml apple juice


* Mix the wet and dry ingredients together.

* Brush a large frying pan with sunflower oil.

* Pour dollops of pancake batter on to the pan and turn over when golden underneath and slight bubbles appear on top.

* Serve with fresh fruit and yoghurt.

  • Recipes and research taken from Rozanne Stevens 'Green Living'. Log on to to book a place on the course
  • Twitter: @RozanneStevens

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