Traditional Ethiopian peoples knew all about Teff, Eragrostis tef. Somewhere between 3000 and 6000 years ago, the Abyssinia people, ancestors of today’s Northern Ethiopia, were the first to begin planting or domesticating this annual grass. It was an easy one for their then nomadic culture to propagate because teff seeds are tiny. A pound of seed can sow an acre-sized field; to make just one gram in weight, you’ll need 3000 grains of seed. That would have been easy to carry and spread.
Beyond that, teff’s a durable grass. It sprouts quickly, within 36 hours, and can handle conditions ranging from damp and soggy to hot drought, making it a grain that doesn’t need special handling or extra care. Teff has few competitors beyond early season weedy plants and fewer insect predators. That, along with teff’s nutrient complex, is fast carrying it into the spotlight across North America as well as other areas of the world.
Teff contains more protein that other grains, weighing in at about 14 percent, along with other nutrients including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sodium, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium along with a compliment of B vitamins and vitamin A. Recent studies show that teff’s compliment of resistant starch, a dietary fiber that’s been recently connected to positive benefits for blood-sugar health, weight control, and colon health, weighs in at 20-40 percent of its total carbohydrate load. What teff doesn’t contain is gluten, which is part of why it’s gaining popularity worldwide.
The flavor of teff varies depending on the variety. Dark teff, which has traditionally been primarily the food of the people and lower income levels, has a nutty flavor reminiscent of hazelnut while white teff, primarily preferred by the wealthy classes and royalty of old, has a flavor more akin to chestnut. A third variety, red teff, has traditionally been considered the least tasty and desired.
Injera or enjera, a traditional flat bread, was and still is made of ground teff flour. Teff grains host their own yeast, so if you’re into sourdough you’re in for a treat. Fermented traditional injera has a wonderful sour flavor much like sourdough. Modern bakers like the sweet, nutty flavor unfermented teff flour lends to their bakes. You’ll find a wealth of breads, muffins, cakes, waffles, and other tasty treats either by searching your favorite recipe sources for teff or by stopping by your local artisan bakery or coffee shop.
If you’re looking to work with teff on a magical level, focus on your relationship to the Sun and Light. Teff is a light-sensitive grass. It needs 12 hours of sunlight a day to fruit. Given the right light, however, this grass is hardy and strong, capable of handling a wide range of environmental conditions and competitors.