Teff could be the right stuff

An age-old grain may be ideal for the modern age.

November 6, 2014 16:39
3 minute read.
A Roll of Injera

A Roll of Injera made from black teff on a white plate. (photo credit: INGIMAGE)


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If you hail from Ethiopia, then teff is no stranger to you. In fact, it is the stuff that the local staple bread – injera – is made from.

The 4,000-year-old teff, or by its botanical name Eragrostis tef (literally meaning “the grass of love”), is an annual grass indigenous to the highlands of the Horn of Africa, namely Ethiopia and Eritrea. The seeds do not resemble the more common triticum grains (wheat, rye, oats, etc.) but look very much like bird seed. Some 3,000 seeds weigh a measly one gram. In fact, the word “teff” comes from the Amharic word teffa, which means “lost.”

That is, the seeds are so small that they can easily get lost.

For a food to be a staple in any part of the globe, it must be sufficient to sustain life. Teff is such a food, having very high calcium content, complete proteins (all eight essential amino acids), carbohydrates and other minerals such as phosphorous, magnesium, iron and zinc. It is also a rich source of dietary fiber. Unlike regular grains, it also has vitamin C.

In comparison, teff has twice the amount of protein, five times the fiber and 25 times more calcium than brown rice, the staple of the Far East.

Something that will especially endear it to many is that it is totally lacking in the protein gliadin, making it gluten-free and suitable for celiac sufferers.

A promising, high-yield crop, teff can be grown in almost any climate that is frost-free.

It has been receiving worldwide attention not only for its benefits to humans but also as a nutrient-rich foraging crop for livestock. Locals even use the straw, mixed with mud, for building purposes. The yield is so high that in 12 weeks, half-a-kilogram of teff seeds can produce one ton of crop, hundreds of times less than the requirements for planting wheat.

The famous Ethiopian bread injera, a flat bread, very similar in appearance and texture to a pancake, is prepared with the consistency of pancake batter and baked in a skillet on a hot stove or fire. That’s where the resemblance with pancakes ends, though, because injera is not a sweet bread. In fact, it is quite sour (for Ethiopians, the more sour the better), made with sourdough, wild yeast.

Used in a similar way to Mexican tortillas or Israeli lafa, injera is eaten wrapped around spicy meat or vegetable dishes.

While injera is the traditional use, teff flour can be used as a wheat flour substitute for anything from breads to cakes.

Since it is gluten-free and thus has trouble retaining its structure, when making bread from it, it’s recommended to use loaf pans to support the shape of the loaf.

Since teff grains and flour remain a marginal market in Israel, they are not easily obtained.

Certain markets in cities with a large Ethiopian representation stock them as do a number of health food stores (although they hike up the prices).

While Israel has only half the obesity rate of the US (14 percent vs 32%), we would still be wise to look south to this promising grain and its effects on the local population – Ethiopia has a 0.7% obesity rate and is world renowned for it middleand long-distance runners.

Perhaps this is because of the overall Ethiopian lifestyle, but it could very well be due to this nutritious staple grain.

✔ 2 cups teff flour
✔ 2 cups water
✔ 1 cup sourdough culture (See http://www.jpost.com/ Food-Index/In-the-Grain-Sourdough- for-dummies-317813)
✔ 1 tsp. salt

Mix well until no lumps remain (consistency of pancake batter). Leave to rise for six to 10 hours, covered, until it is bubbling vigorously. Heat a non-stick skillet on the stove on medium heat. Ladle in enough batter to cover the base of the skillet. Bake until the upper surface bubbles and solidifies.

Do not flip. Remove and let cool. Eat with the filling of your choice.

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