Great things come in small packages
Matthew Kadey, MSc, RD
Teff is a tiny gluten-free whole grain that's big on nutrients and can be used in myriad recipes.
You probably already know that, nutritionally speaking, whole grains spank refined grains. While you might be comfortable with once-seemingly exotic whole grains such as quinoa and farro, there is one seductive grain still flying under the culinary radar.
Teff is another so-called ancient grain that has a long history in Ethiopia, where it’s been a dietary staple for generations. It’s best known for being an exceptionally tiny (very tiny!) grain with a sophisticated flavour. Because of its itsy-bitsy size, machinery is not able to separate teff into its germ, bran, and endosperm layers to create a refined grain similar in fashion to white flour.
In fact, the bulk of the grain is mostly the bran and germ—the most nutritious parts of any grain. This makes diminutive teff a nutritional giant that’s rich in a range of nutrients including fibre, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus. Teff is also higher in iron than most other grains. Iron is known as the energy mineral because of its vital role in helping move oxygen throughout the body, including to the brain and muscles.
As with rice and quinoa, teff is also naturally gluten free, making it a good choice for those who are steering clear of gluten in their diets.
A tough yoga class or cycling session can lead to muscular wear and tear. Beyond coconut water and chocolate milk, there’s another natural drink that can help us recover: tomato juice. Greek researchers have found that the antioxidants in tomatoes are ideal for helping our muscles rebound from strenuous exercise. Enjoy tomatoes in juice form after your next workout, or try them on our Teff Polenta Pizza Stacks for a protein-packed snack.
Know your teff
A single grain of teff is roughly the size of the period following this sentence, making it one of the smallest grains harvested by man. In fact, the name teff is thought to hail from the Amharic word teffa, meaning “lost.”
Teff grains come in three colours: ivory, tan, and deep red, with tan being the easiest to come by in stores. The ivory guise has a sweet chestnutlike flavour, while the brown and red varieties possess more of a malty-nutty taste.
Like amaranth, teff expunges its starch during cooking. This can be exploited to make nutritious puddings, riffs on polenta, or breakfast porridges with a creamy consistency. It can also be used to thicken soups and stews.
Grind up teff into a fine powder and you end up with gluten-free teff flour that can infuse your cooking with healthy amounts of fibre. The flour is most often associated with injera, a sour Ethiopian flatbread, but it excels in all sorts of applications including muffins, pancakes, waffles, cakes, cookies, tart crusts, and brownies. The robust taste of darker teff flour marries well with other bold flavours such as molasses, cocoa, cloves, or toasted hazelnuts.
As with other grains, store teff flour and teff grain in a cool, dry place for about six months, or longer in the freezer.