Grains of Truth: Teff

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Grains of Truth: Teff

I know, you’ve probably never heard of teff. I hadn’t either until three years ago when I started reading the blog of a friend with adopted children who still makes their Ethiopian favorites. There, among the exotic names and beautiful faces, was a tiny little grain with big fat nutrition.

Since that time, I’ve come to regard teff as the most nutritious grain you’ve never heard of. It’s so healthy that it’s used to treat malnutrition in Africa. It’s so small that 150 grains equal the size of one kernel of wheat. Today, I hope you’ll come to recognize its health benefits and give it a try for yourself!


While its exact origin is unknown, teff is believed to have arrived in Ethiopia between 4,000 and 1,000 B.C. Some believe that it originated in the Middle East and was brought to Africa during this time period. No matter its home base, teff has a royal history. The grain was even found in the pyramids of ancient Egypt, buried with the pharoahs.

Its recent trip to the US was due to the civil war in Ethiopia. After the death of Haile Selassie, the ruling party of Ethiopia demanded that farmers switch from growing teff to growing wheat to aid the economy ravaged by war.

An American aid worker named Wayne Carlson fell in love with teff during his time in Ethiopia. He resolved  to bring it home with him and managed to smuggle the seeds back to the States in his suitcase.

Since the late 1970s, Carlson has been growing the grain in Idaho, having similar growing conditions to the hills of Ethiopia. All of the teff eaten in America is from Carlson’s company these days.

Our little powerhouse still accounts for 25% of the grain produced in Ethiopia, and is now also produced in India, Australia, and the US. Teff means “lost” because if you drop it into the dirt, it’s lost forever. I, for one, am thankful that it’s been “found” again in the modern world!

Health Benefits

One of the greatest benefits of teff, in my opinion, is that it’s too small to be separate the germ and endosperm from the grain, so it’s always a whole food. In our world of enriched and refined products, that’s certainly refreshing! It’s so small that seven grains can fit on the head of a pin!

Teff is gluten-free, high in protein and complex carbohydrates, and low in fat. One of the great things about it is that its amino acids are balanced. It contains leucine, phenylalanine, valine, isoleucine, threonine and lysine (from most to least)

It has significant amounts of vitamins A and C, niacin, and thiamin.  Teff also has minerals such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium.  In fact, it has more calcium than wheat, rice, oats, and even millet! It is also a great source of iron; just one cup of cooked teff has almost a full day’s RDA!

Best Uses

In following this series, you’ve probably noticed a common theme: hot breakfast cereal. Yep, just like millet, buckwheat, and amaranth, you can make a mean hot cereal from teff. While there are several varieties of teff, brown is the most common in the States. That’s pretty fantastic, since it has a nutty, chocolately flavor that hints at molasses.

You may have had teff and been unaware of its presence in your food. Ethiopian injera is that spongy, delicious bread that serves as both a utensil and a side dish. It often accompanies meats and stews to facilitate easier consumption. Celiacs beware; in the US teff is often mixed with wheat flour, so be sure to inquire before you indulge!

Teff is easy to grind yourself if you’re unable to find its flour (or you prefer to preserve nutrition by using freshly ground flour). Because it’s so small, you can easily grind teff yourself without a grain mill. A clean coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle will serve nicely. Because it’s so small, the flour is unbelievably fine. Give it a shot!

You can substitute 25% teff flour in recipes that use yeast, or 100% in recipes that don’t need gluten to properly develop.


Teff Waffles

Recipe modified from

  • 1 1/2 cups brown teff flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon good salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chia seed
  • 1 1/2 c. buttermilk or water with 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/4 c. coconut oil or butter

Mix quickly, not allowing the chia to absorb too much liquid. Put it in the waffle iron immediately. Teff flour browns more quickly than wheat flour, so check waffles a bit before you would normally!

Ethiopian Injera

Recipe from Bob’s Red Mill

  • 1 cup teff flour
  • 1-1/2 cups warm water
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

Mix flour and water together in a large bowl. Cover with paper towel for 24 to 48 hours at 75° to 80°. Pour off liquid that will rise to top. Add 1/2 tsp. sea salt and stir.

Pour 1/2 cup batter onto a medium hot skillet and cook for approximately 2-3 minutes. Cook until holes appear on the surface of the bread. Once the surface is dry, remove the bread from the pan and let it cool. Makes 4 Injeras.

Mocha Teff Scones

Recipe modified slightly from

2 1/2 cups of teff flour
1/2 cup of  coffee or herbal coffee alternative
1 tbsp. of arrowroot
1 tbsp. of baking powder
1 tbsp. of vanilla
1/3 cup of coconut oil
1/3 cup of maple syrup, palm sugar, or agave nectar
3/4 cup of dried fruit such as unsulphured apricots
(cut into small pieces)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix dry ingredients, then stir in liquid ingredients just until moist. Shape into round patties or 1/2 inch thick cookies. Bake for 20 minutes. Makes one dozen scones.

Variation: use jam, instead of using dried fruit. Gently press your thumb into the center of the scone before baking them. Fill each cookie with 1/2 tsp. of jam.

It Once Was Lost, But Now Is Found

Now that teff is widely available, let’s celebrate this tiny wonder! Whether you’re looking to avoid gluten, add interesting flavor, or experiment with world cuisines, teff is a great addition to any pantry. White, red or brown, they’re all fantastic. Give teff a shot in your next recipe calling for flour and see if you’re not transported to exotic locales (with great taste, of course)!

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