Teff - The 'New' Ancient Grain
Move over millet, amaranth and bulgur - there’s a new obscure ancient grain on the scene.
Teff, or eragrostis tef, is the world’s tiniest grain native to Ethiopia. Similar to wheat, it belongs to the grass family but is naturally gluten free. Teff is about the size of a poppy seed but packs a punch of calcium, protein and iron. It’s also quite fibrous so you stay full while regularly taking care of business. One of the most interesting health benefits of teff is that it’s a resistant starch which means it isn’t digested in the small intestine. Instead the good bacteria in your gut process it into molecules that help balance blood sugar and keep your gut flora in good health.
Traditionally, Ethiopians mill the teff grain into a flour, mix it with water, let it ferment for a couple days then bake it into a large pancake called injera which they use to scoop up stews and vegetables. Injera has a sourdough taste with a slightly spongy texture. Teff has naturally occurring yeast so when fermented, it creates deep flavor and color while giving off enough carbon dioxide to help the dough rise.
So why are you just hearing about teff now? Well it’s incredibly challenging to grow so it’s not super popular in the States yet. And how do I know that? Because in 2015, my dad and I started to grow it on our farm in southern Michigan. We were facing plummeting corn prices and he knew that if he wanted to save the land seven generations of Smiths had accumulated, he was going to have to try something different. Neither of us had heard of teff before and there are only a handful of people growing it in the United States - we talked to most of them.
The trick to growing teff is figuring out what it likes and doesn’t like in terms of when it’s watered and how much, the temperature, humidity and how it’s harvested. Furthermore, the soil composition has to be considered as well. In Nevada, they have a lot of sand whereas Michigan has more clay. That coupled with what crops were grown in that particular field the year prior all contribute to how well the teff will grow. And this isn’t in a greenhouse where we could control most of that. The first year, we planted 33 acres of ivory and red teff - that’s 25 football fields and a small fraction of our 2,300 acre farm. We’ve grown more teff each year since then but what’s important to us is high quality teff that makes excellent product.
Healthy and fresh products are in high demand thanks to consumers like you. With the alternative grains trend showing no signs of stopping, teff will be in the spotlight more especially with it’s range of nutrients and deep flavor profile.
Wondering what it tastes like in granola? Head over here to try it!